The door to the market garden opened, making the bell hanging behind it chime while letting in the hubbub from outside. The noise there had multiplied now that spring had arrived and it was slowly getting warmer, luring the people back out of their houses and onto the streets.
Ying Tao raised his head, looking past the plants to the person that had come in. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see save for a pair of cargo pants at the bottom and a big hat on top. He pursed his lips and turned to the side, swaying up and down. “Big sister Ping Guo! What do you think that person wants?”
Ping Guo who was lying on one of the branches of the tree next to Ying Tao with her arms and legs hanging down on both sides only tiredly glanced at the person that had come in. “Probably some of the flowers.” Then, she closed her eyes again and continued to lie on the branch.
Ying Tao gave a hum and continued to look. The bells would ring out regularly in the market garden, and each time, he would curiously watch everything that happened, wondering what the people coming in might want. In any case, he hadn’t been here for long, just a few days, so everything was new. Save for big sister Ping Guo he didn’t know the others well yet and he didn’t have anything to do either so there was nothing else he could amuse himself with.
The man that had just entered the garden market talked with the clerk at the front who waved at one of the other workers further in the back of the store. The woman rushed forward and then nodded at the customer with a bright smile, motioning for him to follow her.
Ying Tao curiously watched the two of them come closer to his section. He fluttered his wings a few times, lifting off the leaf where he had been sitting, and craned his neck to get a better look at the two people. He had already seen all the humans that were working in the market garden but the customers would look different each time. It was more interesting to observe them.
The employee and the customer stopped just a few meters away so Ying Tao sat on his leaf again, watching with interest how things would unfold.
“You’re lucky!” This was the first thing he heard the woman tell the customer. “We just got a few new saplings a few days ago. Do you have a special kind of tree in mind?”
The man shook his head. “No, I think any kind of fruit tree would be alright. But we have three orange trees at the back of the garden already so it would be nice to get something different. My wife likes to cook and we have two young children. So I thought maybe it would be best if I got something that all of them would be happy about.”
The employee nodded and then motioned for the man to follow her. “Well, we have quite an assortment of fruit trees here, you can just have your pick according to your family’s taste. There are pear trees, apple trees, cherry trees, and also peach trees. Children usually aren’t that picky if they already grow up eating fruits and vegetables and you can use the fruits for all kinds of dishes. I guess apples and cherries might be the most versatile but if your wife likes cooking, then I am sure she would be able to create something amazing with any kind of fruit. Maybe one of your family members has a fruit they especially like? Then I would recommend taking the corresponding tree.”
The man nodded and rubbed his chin, looking at the trees. Finally, he motioned at the one that Ying Tao was sitting on. “How about that one? I think it looks good and my daughter likes cherries quite a lot, even though she isn’t a picky eater in general.”
The employee nodded. “But of course. That is one of the cherry trees that was just delivered a couple days ago. I am sure that you will have a bountiful harvest with this one.” She smiled brightly, already feeling like this purchase was as good as done. For good measure, she added a few more sentences though. “This kind of cherry is very sweet. I’m sure that especially the children will love it a lot. Who knows if your wife will even get to cook much with them? They might all be eaten just like that.” She laughed a little and the man joined in, clearly happy when he thought of the day they’d get to eat their own cherries.
Meanwhile, Ying Tao tilted his head, wondering what exactly they wanted to do with his tree. He looked over at Ping Guo but she wasn’t paying any attention to the two people as if she couldn’t care less. Ying Tao pursed his lips and then flapped his wings to rise into the air again, retreating to one of the higher-hanging branches. He didn’t know that much about humans but from this place, he was able to see them better. No matter what they did, he would find out immediately.
Ying Tao didn’t need to wait long to find out what exactly the humans intended to do. The woman went to get a cart, picked up his little tree, and placed it on top. The whole tree shook, making Ying Tao hold onto the leaf he had just sat on for dear life.
“Help! Sister Ping Guo, what are they doing with the tree?!” Ying Tao stared over with wide eyes, not understanding what was going on. He still remembered that his tree had been brought in here in a similar manner but at that time, he had still been very small and hadn’t registered much. Most of the time, he had even been asleep. By now, this memory was already very faint, he could hardly recall it.
This time, Ping Guo actually flapped her wings and rose into the air, looking at the scene with alarm. “Oh, no! I’m afraid they’re going to take it away.” She furrowed her brows, but she knew that there was nothing she could do. Other fairies had also vanished like this. When she came here, there had been another apple fairy standing in the spot right next to her. But then, he had been carted off after a few days. She herself wasn’t clear on how long she would be able to stay here. But she had heard from the grapevine that these plants would be brought somewhere else to be planted and their fairies could only follow along.
She sighed but then shook her head. “Don’t worry too much. They aren’t going to do anything bad. They’ll just bring it to another place. When you are there, you’ll have to make new friends. I’m sorry for not being able to accompany you any longer. But I’m sure you’ll have a good life in the future!” She smiled and waved at him while Ying Tao was still staring at her with big eyes.
“I don’t want to go! I want to stay here!” Don’t even mention sister Ping Guo, there were other fairies around that he still wanted to get to know better. He absolutely didn’t want to leave!
But no matter what Ying Tao wanted, it was already too late. The man had followed the employee over to the cash register, and soon enough, Ying Tao’s tree was carted outside, stuffed into a car, and the man drove off with the two of them.
Ying Tao was scared silly. He didn’t even bother holding onto the leaf again, and instead just directly hugged the trunk of the tree. Tears gathered in his eyes while he looked around wildly. He still remembered vaguely how he got into the market garden but he couldn’t recall the world outside because it had been dark most of the time on the way there. Seeing the other cars on the streets, the many humans walking on the sidewalks, and the shimmering lights of the stores with all their colorful advertisements strewn in-between, he felt like he was going crazy.
Ah, he was just a little fruit fairy! He absolutely didn’t want to go out into the big world. It would be much nicer to stay in a small place like the market garden where he could play with other fairies. Where was this man bringing him? Would there really be other fairies around like big sister Ping Guo had said? Or could it be that he would be all alone?
Ying Tao fretted by himself but that couldn’t stop the car from slowly approaching its destination. By the time they arrived, Ying Tao had tired himself out with all his crying. In fact, the little fruit fairy was already fast asleep. Thus, he didn’t notice at all when the car stopped and the man got out, opening the trunk to take out the tree. He looked at it with a bright smile and put it down on the ground next to him before locking the car. Then, he picked up the little sapling and carried it inside with elated steps.
As soon as he was through the door, he called out to his wife, who came running over with a little child in her arms. “Look what I got us!”
The woman raised her brows, unsure what her husband had brought over this time. Sometimes, he would just carelessly throw money at something that he saw being sold at the roadside. Nine times out of ten, it would’ve been broken by the following week. Seeing a tree though, it didn’t seem quite as bad this time. At the very least, it shouldn’t break easily, right? She gave him an indulgent smile and then motioned at the little sapling. “Oh? So what exactly is it?”
Her husband immediately puffed out his chest, mightily proud of himself. “You guess!”
The woman gave a hum and looked at the sapling again. “Well, I guess it’s for our garden. Otherwise, it’d have to be a present.” But she really couldn’t think of anyone that they would want to gift a tree to so she still felt that the former was more likely.
Her husband nodded eagerly. “Yes, it’s for our garden. You’re exactly right, my dear! It’s a cherry tree. I figured that if we plant it now, in a few years when it has grown a little taller we’ll have cherries each summer. I’m sure the children will love it! And when they’re grown up and have children of their own, they can bring them over and they can climb up the tree. By then, it should have grown quite big already.”
His wife laughed at that, walked over, and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You, ah! Our oldest is only three years old. What are you doing, thinking of grandchildren already? You’d better help me raise these two first.” Saying so, she stuffed the child in her arms into her husband’s and then turned to the tree. Looking it over, she felt that it was looking quite good. Most likely, if they planted it and took care of it for a couple of years, it should really be able to grow cherries.
Even though she wasn’t concerned with having grandchildren yet, she also felt that when their own children were slightly older, it would probably be nice to have a cherry tree. Also, if the children didn’t like them, she could still make some marmalade with it or bake a cake. “I guess we should go and plant it then. The sooner we start, the sooner you’ll get your cherries.” She patted her husband’s shoulder and then picked up the little sapling herself, carrying it towards the back door.
“Ah! What are you doing? Let me carry it! It’s heavy!”
The woman just glanced over and chuckled. “And you think carrying around a child each day isn’t heavy? You just play with the little one for a moment. Since you just came back, you should also spend some time with him.” With that, she continued walking forward, not giving her husband another glance.
Thus, when the little fruit fairy finally woke up again, he found that the man had vanished and that he was at a green place with a woman kneeling at the roots of his tree.
Ying Tao blinked his eyes, sat up, and looked around curiously. Actually, this place didn’t look so bad. There was green grass at the roots of his tree, a few other trees close by, and he could see rows of other plants not too far away. To be honest, this place was almost as good as the market garden with big sister Ping Guo albeit a little smaller. If not for the fact that there was nobody that he knew here, he might like it.
Right now, Ying Tao was just worried though. Who knew what the fairies around him would think of him? In any case, it really was difficult to move to a new place. It would’ve been much better to stay at the same place. Or, if he really had to relocate, it would’ve been best to relocate together with big sister Ping Guo and the others. But now, only he had been taken away. Now, what was he supposed to do about it?
While Ying Tao was worried, the other fairies in the garden curiously looked over.
“The Madam brought over a new tree,” mentioned one of the shrub fairies at the side of the garden. “What kind of tree do you think this is?”
The fairy of the shrub next to her shrugged her shoulders, leaning over slightly. “Probably another fruit tree. Don’t the Madam and Master like fruit trees? Well, there are already three orange trees over there. Maybe it’s another one of those.”
The first shrub fairy gave a humph. “It’d better not be another orange tree. These orange fairies really aren’t anything good. Out of the three of them, two are complete brats. The third one might still be alright but if the others continue to influence her like this, then I’m afraid nothing good will come of this.”
The fairy of the big oak tree next to them threw down a few leaves. “Sh! Will you stop it already? In any case, the orange fairies are still young. It’s alright to be a little more lively and demanding. In a few years, I’m sure they’ll also become calmer. In any case, you can’t badmouth others when a new family member just arrived. What are they going to think about us?”
The two shrub fairies grumbled a little but finally didn’t continue to badmouth the orange fairies. Instead, they eagerly stared at the new tree, wondering what exactly it was.
Ying Tao hadn’t heard the previous conversation since he was still busy looking around and trying to figure out what was going on. Counting the many plants around him, he figured that there should be quite a few brothers and sisters around him. Even though he was worried, he also couldn’t help being curious. Just what kind of fairies would there be? And would he be able to make a few new friends? Since big sister Ping Guo wasn’t there to accompany him anymore, he couldn’t just stay alone, could he?
Before Ying Tao could decide what to do, another fairy flew up from a row of plants on the ground in front of his tree. This fairy was about twice the size in circumference compared to Ying Tao, with a green dress and dark red hair. He was holding a finger to his lips, looking at Ying Tao curiously, albeit a little confused. “What kind of fairy are you?”
Ying Tao twisted the leaf up, hiding behind it while he examined the other fairy. Seeing that he seemed quite harmless, he let go of the leaf, fluttered his wings, and then flew over, circling the fairy twice. “I’m a cherry fruit fairy, of course! Can’t you see that this is a cherry tree?”
The chubby fairy looked up at the tree and then shook his head, but took down his hand and turned to look at Ying Tao. “I’ve never seen a cherry tree before. I’m Xi Gua. I’m a melon fairy.”
Ying Tao reached out and poked his stomach. “Well, you do look like a melon fairy.”
Big sister Ping Guo had told him that it was quite normal for fairies to look a bit like the fruit they came from. So for a melon fairy to look like this, he felt that it was not a strange thing. On the other hand, of course, a cherry fairy like him would look small and cute. Thinking of that, he smiled brightly and then flew over to grab Xi Gua’s arm. “Are there many other fairies around? I just arrived so I don’t know anyone yet.”
Xi Gua nodded slowly and then grabbed his hand, motioning over to the trees behind the cherry tree. “I can show you around. The first three that you should know are the orange fairies. You should be a bit careful though. They aren’t always very nice. It depends a bit on what kind of mood they’re in.” Saying so, he tugged at his hand and then brought him over, introducing Ying Tao to the three orange fairies and vice versa before pulling him over to the rows of plants on the ground that he had come from. “Come on, come on, I’ll introduce you to the others. The Master and Madam often bring new fairies home. So there are always new friends to get to know. This is big brother pumpkin.” He motioned at a fairy with bright orange hair that was sitting on top of a pumpkin plant, yawning lazily.
Ying Tao blinked his eyes and then nodded his head. “Hello, big brother pumpkin.”
The other fairy just waved his hand, seemingly not interested at all.
Xi Gua didn’t seem to think much of it and just continued to pull him along. “Now, this is cucumber. They’re nice but a bit vain so make sure you don’t say anything bad about their appearance.”
Ying Tao smiled and waved at the fairy with the long green hair. In any case, there wasn’t anything bad to say about cucumber’s appearance. And even if there was, he wouldn’t just go around randomly insulting others.
Xi Gua continued to pull him over to a strange tower-shaped thing where a few smaller plants were growing at different heights. “This is where the herb fairies live. There is sister cilantro, grandmother basil, auntie thyme, and little sister mint.”
Ying Tao followed him up the winding row of plants, continuously nodding his head, and greeting the other fairies.
The herb fairies were a lot more outgoing than the other ones that they had met before. They immediately crowded around Xi Gua and Ying Tao on top of the tower, chattering excitedly. Xi Gua and Ying Tao needed several minutes to finally get rid of the aunties and uncles and stumbled to the next row on the vegetable field.
Ying Tao was clinging to Xi Gua’s arm, feeling that he really wasn’t ready to see anyone else. “Is everyone here like this?” He felt like tears were streaming down his face at the thought of how he might have to go through this very same thing again.
Xi Gua shook his head though. “No, the others aren’t as talkative as the aunties and uncles over here. Well, maybe the shrub fairies at the side of the garden. But everyone else isn’t that extreme. If you’re lucky, then Grandfather Tree will also scold them for talking too much but right now, he has probably gone to take a nap. Just wait until I bring you over to introduce you. Then he will definitely make sure that nobody is harassing you anymore.”
Ying Tao nodded, eager to finally meet this Grandfather Tree. “Can’t we go over immediately?” That definitely sounded like the best thing to do. In any case, he was afraid that some of the others would still try to tell him all the stories about their lives and want to know every detail of his life from the day he had been born to now. He just wouldn’t be able to take it again!
Unfortunately, Xi Gua shook his head. “Grandfather Tree is already very old so he always insists on having this nap. Unless everyone is too excited and wakes him up, he probably won’t come out for a while. He will also be a bit gruff if you disturb him at that time so you’d better be careful. Let’s go greet the rest first and then go to Grandfather Tree after he’s woken up by himself.”
Well, Ying Tao could understand this much. After all, while there hadn’t been that many older fairies around at the market garden, some of the others had had contact with old ones before. So in theory, he already knew that older fairies were often a little more tired and would take naps and such things. “Well, then who are we going to see next?”
Xi Gua didn’t say anything and pulled at his arm to take him down the other side of the tower. At this place, there were some plants that looked quite plain at first sight. Xi Gua framed his mouth with his hands and called out. “Big sister carrot, big brother potato! Come on out! There’s a new addition to our garden!”
Silence answered him and Ying Tao already believed that this big brother and that big sister had no interest in getting to know anyone new. Xi Gua didn’t leave though and just waited, intently staring at the ground. After a moment, a bit of dirt was thrown into the air, and a head with wild red hair emerged from underground. “What?” The fairy in question furrowed her brows, and wrinkled her nose, squinting up at them as if she couldn’t see because of the bright spring sun.
Xi Gua gave a dissatisfied harrumph and turned to Ying Tao. “Big sister carrot and big brother potato are living underground most of the time. When you call them out in the day, they’ll be all squinty and can’t even see you right. They are also not that good at hearing.”
Ying Tao nodded, not sure what to say.
Xi Gua immediately grabbed him again, and pulled him further down, so that they were in front of the fairy with the wild red hair. “Good afternoon, big sister carrot. I said that there’s a new member in our garden. This is little brother Ying Tao.”
The carrot fairy squinted at him, trying to get a clearer picture. After a moment, she finally gave an ‘oh’ and then slowly nodded. “So you’re Ying Tao. Well, welcome to the garden. If there’s something you want, it’s better to tell me at night. In the middle of the day, I’m still too tired.”
Ying Tao nodded politely and promised to do so.
As for that older brother potato … well, he didn’t even come out. Xi Gua shook his head and then led Ying Tao away, not bothering to wait for him any longer. “If big brother potato needs longer than big sister carrot to come out, then he likely won’t come out at all. He’s one lazy bean. Not that beans were lazy but I heard the Madam say that to the Master once. Anyway, if you ever need help with something, don’t rely on him. It’s always better to come to me or one of the others. Big sister carrot would still try but with how shortsighted she is, she’d still have trouble getting anything done.”
Ying Tao continued to nod and then followed him over to the other side of the garden where he finally met the shrub fairies that Xi Gua had talked about before. The fairies immediately circled around them, talking almost as excitedly as the aunties and uncles from the herb row in the vegetable field. Ying Tao smiled wryly and tried not to let it get to him but he also had to say that this was quite scary. If he could, he’d rather stay somewhere silent.
Xi Gua finally managed to pull him out of the encirclement of fairies and the two of them went to sit down close to the roots of an old oak tree.
Breathing heavily, Ying Tao collapsed on the ground, feeling like he really couldn’t go on to meet any more fairies. “Is anyone else left?”
Xi Gua shook his head. “Just Grandfather Tree. But we’ll still have to wait a bit longer to meet him. He probably went to sleep just when you arrived and when we went to see the shrub fairies just now, I noticed that he was still fast asleep.”
Ying Tao nodded, not overly concerned with that. “It’s alright. In any case, I also feel like a break would be nice. There are so many fairies in this garden. Even at the place where I was before, I felt like there were a lot fewer fairies around. At the very least, I never met all of them in a day.” In fact, most of his time had been spent with big sister Ping Guo and the other fruit fairies from the trees close by.
Xi Gua nodded, not surprised at all. “I’ve heard from fairies coming by that most places don’t have as many fairies. Originally, this garden also didn’t have as many. At the very least, that’s what Grandfather Tree said. Originally, there was just him and Grandmother Tree. Then Grandmother Tree withered and he was all left alone. But then, some man and woman couple bought the house that this garden is attached to. And from then on, things slowly got better. They first planted the shrubs over there so a few more fairies were introduced. Then in the last couple of years, they started the vegetable and herb field. Now, the whole garden is full of fairies. They really do have a good grasp of how to take care of our plants. In any case, it’s a good place to live. You don’t have to worry.”
Ying Tao nodded and looked over to his tree that did look quite small compared to the orange trees behind it and the big oak tree that they were currently sitting under. Would his tree also be able to grow this big one day? He really couldn’t imagine it.
Xi Gua excitedly pulled at his sleeve. “Hey! My plant is right below your tree so from now on, the two of us can hang out every day.”
Ying Tao looked over to where Xi Gua was pointing and got excited. Since big sister Ping Guo hadn’t been able to come with him, he had been worried that he would be left all alone. Now, it seemed he had been worrying too much. Having a big brother Xi Gua was also good. Thus, he enthusiastically nodded and held onto Xi Gua’s hand. “Then in the future, you have to take care of me well!”
Xi Gua’s face turned red in response. “Take care of you? Well … if that is what you want, then … then I guess I should do it.”
Ying Tao had no idea what the other fairy was thinking about and just happily hugged him. It was good to gain a big brother that would take care of him. That way, he wouldn’t have to worry about anything at all. With somebody to guide you, the world wasn’t as scary. He would be able to get used to this new place very, very soon. And if there was something that he was about to do wrong, then he was sure that big brother Xi Gua would be able to tell him. Yes, nothing could go wrong at all.
The two of them continued to sit below the tree until they heard a yawn coming from above them. Ying Tao was startled and looked up. A fuzzy white head appeared from a knothole in the trunk of the tree. Ying Tao immediately clung to Xi Gua, afraid of whatever it was that was going to come out. Was it a big bird? He had heard a lot about those! Big sister Ping Guo had said that they were eating small fairies like them.
Xi Gua also looked up but wasn’t worried at all. “Don’t be afraid. That’s just Grandfather Tree. Come on, I’ll bring you up.” He grabbed Ying Tao’s hand again and then flew up into the air, tilting his whole person to look at Grandfather Tree who was slowly climbing out of his little cave in the tree. “Grandfather Tree, look here! We actually got another fruit fairy! This is Ying Tao.”
Grandfather Tree slowly raised his head and gave the new fairy a scrutinizing look. Finally, he nodded, and then patted Xi Gua’s shoulder. “Ah, it’s good that you finally found yourself a girlfriend. It was about time. I already thought that you weren’t interested in getting a partner at all.”
This time, not just Xi Gua but also Ying Tao’s face got red. The little fruit fairy couldn’t help but lower his head and purse his lips. “What girlfriend? Clearly, I would be his boyfriend!” He obviously wasn’t a female fairy at all, ah!
Grandfather Tree looked over when he heard him mumble, and after looking for some time more, he finally realized his mistake. “Ah, so it was Xi Gua’s boyfriend. Well, it doesn’t matter. Girlfriend, boyfriend, or some other kind of partner, you don’t worry about it. Grandfather Tree will beat anyone who dares to say something bad about the fairies of our garden.” Seeing that this wasn’t a girl at all, he happily patted his shoulder as well and then motioned over to the grass. “You young ones, ah, you’d better go and play a bit by yourselves. In any case, Grandfather Tree isn’t that young anymore and can’t always accompany you. Just come back and tell me if you experience something exciting or run into a problem that you need me to solve for you.” Saying it like this, Grandfather Tree took out a small twig, and landed on a branch of his tree, slowly walking forward instead of using his wings to fly.
Ying Tao watched him and then turned to Xi Gua, wondering what this was about.
Xi Gua shushed him and then pulled him over to the spot that Grandfather Tree had motioned at before he explained in a low voice. “You know, Grandfather Tree isn’t just old, he also got injured previously. Thus, his wings don’t work that well anymore. While he can still fly short distances, he isn’t able to do so for a long time. So he often walks on two legs like those humans. Unfortunately, he’s also too old to do that easily so he uses a twig as help.”
“Ah. Well, at least he seems really nice.”
Xi Gua nodded happily, feeling that this was a given. “Among all the fairies here, Grandfather Tree is definitely the best.” In any case, Grandfather Tree had always spoken up for him, even when those orange fairies had made fun of him and brother pumpkin before. So he felt that Grandfather Tree was the nicest of them all.
Ying Tao looked back and then pursed his lips. “Well, about what Grandfather Tree said …”
Xi Gua’s face turned red again when he was reminded of that and he looked down, twiddling his thumbs. “Well, that … you don’t have to take it so seriously. If you do not want to, then I also won’t say anything. But in any case, if you don’t mind, then I also don’t mind being your boyfriend. Whether it’s being a friend or a boyfriend, the difference doesn’t seem to be that big.”
Ying Tao pondered, not quite sure what exactly a boyfriend was but just like Xi Gua said between a boyfriend and a friend, there indeed didn’t seem to be that much of a difference. So most likely, being a boyfriend was just better. Before he could agree, he figured that it might be better to ask about it though. “So if you are boyfriends and not just friends, then what do you do differently?”
Xi Gua pondered for a bit. In any case, he had also never had a boyfriend or a girlfriend before. So he couldn’t speak from experience there. “Well, auntie thyme said that if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, then you will do more things together with them than you would with just your friends. You will be much closer.”
Ying Tao nodded, feeling that that really sounded much better than just being friends. “Then, let’s be boyfriends.” He was so excited, he grabbed Xi Gua’s arm again, and a small blossom popped up on his head, swaying gently between the pink strands of his hair.
Xi Gua looked up, not quite sure what to make of that but he felt that it looked quite cute. He squinted at his own head but couldn’t see anything. Well, he’d wait for the next rain to see if he also had one.
Meanwhile, Ying Tao was excitedly making plans for them. “We can ask auntie thyme about it later. She seems to know quite a lot about it.” In any case, even though those aunties and uncles herb fairies were chatting quite a lot, he would surely get used to it in the future. Maybe they could even make her come out from the field so they could ask her about it away from the others. Or maybe if they asked the question, the others would quiet down. It was worth a try.
Xi Gua didn’t think about the little pink cherry blossom anymore and just nodded.
With that, it was decided. On that beautiful spring day, the two young fairies officially entered a relationship, making the aunties and uncles that had been quietly listening in laugh quite a bit.
Flowers bloom when one is happy.
*blooms a flower* ೭੧(❛▿❛✿)੭೨
Thank you for reading!