Having chit-chatted until nine o'clock, Li Du stood and prepared to take his leave.
Mr. Martin, who sat on the sofa and kept warm by the fireplace, smiled. "It's so cold and latewhy go back? Sleep here. We still have to open our presents together tomorrow."
Li Du became very excited after hearing his words and said, "Is this a good idea? Sophie and I have only held hands."
Sophie, who was teasing Ah Meow, understood his meaning and looked up. "What do you mean by that? I mean, what relation is there between the two sentences that you said?"
Mrs. Martin smiled. "We have a lot of guest rooms here."
Only with that did Li Du realize he had misunderstood. He awkwardly and hurriedly added on, "I know, I mean . . . "
He racked his brain trying to come up with an explanation but was really unable to think of any. He was only able to say that he had been carried away by the compliments Mr. Martin had given him during the day.
Ah Ow saved him from the awkwardness. The wolf cub had her eyes closed and was dozing off when she suddenly jumped up. Her ears stood upright and she looked, Argus-eyed, at the yard outside.
Li Du took the opportunity to change the subject. "Ah Ow, what's the matter?"
Ah Ow looked back at him before trotting over to the door. She pushed against the transparent window above the door and tried very hard to look outside.
Mr. Martin glanced at his watch and smiled. "The people singing carols are most probably here. Ah Ow heard it, right?"
Ah Ow answered by opening her mouth and letting out a deep howl. "Woooo!"
"Still knows how to answer me? Such a good child," Mr. Martin said, pleasantly surprised.
For Christians, caroling was an important part of celebrating Christmas Eve.
It was believed that on the night when Jesus was born, a shepherd suddenly heard voices coming from the heavens while watching over sheep in an open field. The voices informed him of the good news that Jesus was born.
The angels told the shepherds that Jesus was here to become the king of people on Earth and requested the shepherds to spread the news to more people.
Subsequently, people began following the example of the angels and went around spreading the news of Jesus's birth on the night of Christmas Eve.
Caroling had undergone changes. People no longer reported the news of Jesus's birth and instead, reported good news regarding their churches.
After a while, the sound of footsteps could be heard outside. Li Du went forward to open the door and to call Ah Ow back at the same time. As there were children in the group of people singing carols, Li Du wanted to prevent Ah Ow from scaring them.
Mrs. Martin stood up to receive them. Around 20 youngsters, who were dressed in a simple and clean manner, walked in. With their headscarves and hard leather scandals, the youngsters were dressed like ancient shepherds.
At the back of the group was a little girl with golden hair and blue eyes. She was dressed like an angel with her spotless white down jacket, which had two wings coming out from the back, and gold powder on her face.
The difference between this group and traditional groups was the addition of a jolly looking Santa Claus . . .
After entering the villa, the group gathered in the living room before the little girl opened her mouth and sang in a clear and crisp voice. "A ray of hope flickers in the sky. A tiny star lights way up high . . . "
As the sound of her singing resonated, the youngsters also began to sing. "All across the land dawns a brand new moon. This comes to pass when a child is born . . . "
Following which, Sophie and her family started singing along. The very famous song was called "When A Child Is Born."
After singing a few lines, the song ended and Mrs. Martin greeted the group. "Please take a seat. Carolers, I have prepared some hot tea and rye gingerbread cookies for you guys."
The little girl licked her lips and asked expectantly, "Can it be hot apple juice? I've drunk hot tea all night. I wish to drink hot apple juice."
"This is tradition, my little angel." The Santa Claus, who was about to go and hang a gift, smiled.
Mrs. Martin waved her hand. "Although it's tradition, I think that the little angel's request also conforms with tradition. When the shepherds sang carols, who said that they only drank hot tea and didn't drink hot apple juice?"
Mr. Martin nodded. "Yeah, especially so for apple juice, which is historically accurate. As a matter of fact, 300 years before the birth of Jesus, the Romans had already begun planting and grafting apple trees."
Sophie went into the kitchen and poured a glass of apple juice before warming it and handing it to the little girl. The little girl cheered and happily drank the apple juice.
The rest of the group, who either sat down or remained standing, were eating gingerbread cookies and drinking hot tea. They were taking the opportunity to replenish their energy.
Caroling was an activity that tested endurance. They had to go to the house of every Christian that went to their church, which lasted from the start of the Christmas Eve feast to three or four o'clock in the morning.
Mrs. Martin was chit-chatting with the youngsters. The youngsters spoke about interesting things happening in the church while Mrs. Martin recounted some interesting stories from her life and from teaching.
Li Du quietly sat at the side listening to them; he felt that these people were not caroling and were instead spreading gossip:
"Uncle Zickerman is celebrating this year's Christmas with Aunty Susan. I think they will be together next year . . . "
"The female samoyed dog that Gregor's family raised has given birth to five little puppies. As one of them is black, the male dog in their house has been whining. I suspect that the fella thinks he has been cheated on . . . "
"Durham is prepared to sell his house. Seems like he is determined on going to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of being a star . . . "
While these people were chit-chatting, they were simultaneously surveying Li Du and Sophie with a radar-like gaze.
Li Du was able to guess the conversation topic they would be having in the next house they went to: Dr. Sophie from the Martins had found a Chinese immigrant boyfriend . . .
They didn't chit-chat for long and took their leave after waiting for the Santa Claus to finish hanging the presents.
With that, Christmas Eve had ended for the Martin family and they were able to sleep.
Mrs. Martin prepared the most spacious guest room for Li Du. "We didn't install a thermostat in our house," Sophie said, "so it will be colder."
Li Du responded, "No problem. I have three furry children here."
"Two," Sophie said.
Li Du did not understand what she meant. In the end, Sophie carried Ah Meow away.
Seeing this, Mr. Martin added, "One."
He went over and tried to carry Ah Ow away. However, as Ah Ow was too heavy, he dragged her instead.
Indeed, there was only one furry child left in the end. Crispy Noodles raised his head and stared, with his small eyes, at Li Du's large eyes.
After a good night's sleep, Li Du woke up very early in the morning and brought Crispy Noodles out for a run.
By the time he returned, his body drenched in sweat, Mr. and Mrs. Martin had woken up. Seeing him wake up early to work out, both of them were even more impressed with him.
When they were working at the university, they had seen a lot of students who led an irregular lifestyle by sleeping and waking up late. As such, they especially admired people who led this type of lifestyle, where they went to bed early and awoke early to work out.
Following this, the most important Christmas activity, which was the exchange of Christmas presents, was about to begin.