“I don’t mean it that way!” Sang Yufei quickly replied, “Of course, I believe in sister-in-law’s capability. It’s just, just that, I don’t want to think about it yet! Big brother and big sister-in-law, please help me to refuse any offers about arranging a marriage for me of any sort. Anyway, let’s talk about this only after my metropolitan exams next spring.”
Sang Yufei laughed self-deprecatingly, “Who knows, I may not pass the metropolitan exams. Won’t it be embarrassing if the family, whose missy is betrothed to me, looks down on me or decides to break the engagement after I fail?”
“Shh, don’t jinx yourself!”
Sang Hong and Fang Shi both glared at him.
“Don’t speak that way, who talks about himself in such a way!” Sang Hong was very disgruntled.
“That’s right!” Fang Shi said, “If that’s what you are fretting about, then don’t worry! Even if you don’t pass this time, nobody will dare look down on a top escorted examinee. Besides, it doesn’t mean that you won’t pass on the next try! Am I right? The years pass by quickly and you are really not young anymore. If not now, then when? Once your marriage is settled, we can start the preparations early at home too!”
“Really, there is no need for that!” Sang Yufei became even more anxious even as he tried to be patient and keep his cool, “Maybe, maybe there will be a better girl for me in the future, so why the rush? I really don’t have the mood for this matter right now!”
Perplexed, Sang Hong and Fang Shi looked at each other. This young man must have eaten the wrong medicine. Why was he getting all edgy? They had never seen him lose his cool before!
“Second brother, tell me honestly, do you already have someone else on your mind?” After all, Fang Shi was a lot more perceptive than Sang Hong, and she asked, quickly smirking.
“No, no! Big sister-in-law, what are you saying? Why would I?” Sang Yufei hurriedly shook his head and denied profusely.
Fang Shi was even more certain of her own speculation. She smiled and said, “If you do have someone on your mind, that’s fine too! Tell me which household she’s from and I will arrange for the matchmaker to propose marriage. Won’t doing that put you at ease? ”
“Big sister-in-law,” Sang Yufei smiled wilfully, “Where will I meet a missy when all I do is study? Really, I don’t want to think about this right now.”
Sang Hong and Fang Shi coaxed him repeatedly but Sang Yufei refused firmly. After a few failed attempts, the couple could only put his marriage matters at rest.
Meanwhile, in the carriage, Sang Wan felt grateful for what Shi Fengju had done for her family. She diligently served tea and snacks to him.
“Will your business be affected? After all, you’ve been away for quite awhile.” Sang Wan inquired with a smile.
“Nope, I’ve already made the necessary arrangements beforehand. If there was anything urgent, someone would have ridden a fine steed to bring news to me. Don’t worry about it!” Shi Fengju smiled and replied.
“That’s good to hear!” Sang Wan smiled in relieved and said, “Otherwise, I would have felt bad for troubling you.”
Shi Fengju suddenly sighed and said, “But when I return, there are sure to be many things to settle! After all, some decisions cannot be made by the workers and will have to be put on hold until I return!”
Sang Wan immediately felt a sting of guilt, “Won’t that tire you out?”
“It surely will!” Shi Fengju pressed his temples and grumbled, “The Shi household is an enormous empire. From the small to big matters, there are hundreds to handle in just a single day. But there isn’t a choice, this is my responsibility as the eldest son!”
Sang Wan felt sorry for him, “Sir, have the workers make the decision for matters that aren’t so important, so don’t tire yourself out! You didn’t have a good rest these past few days so remember to take some rest when you’re back. It’s not a laughing matter if you fall sick!”
“No,” Shi Fengju glanced at her meaningfully and smiled, “I actually had a good rest these past few days, really!” I had a good sleep lying beside you every night. I’m afraid I’ll have to return to sleeping on the floor tonight——
Shi Fengju raised his eyebrows unwittingly. He might not be able to adjust back to the previous lifestyle after sleeping so comfortably for the past few days.
Sang Wan was stunned for a moment, but finally understood the meaning behind his expression. She blushed and looked at him askanced.
Shi Fengju saw her quick glare at him, but he found it coquettish and adorable. He instantly felt an urge to caress her face but he restrained himself. He coughed and asked jokingly, “I lent a big helping hand to your family this time, have you thought about how you are going to return the favor?”
Return the favor? Sang Wan’s heart skipped two beats. Of course she had to, but——
“Sir, how would you like me to do so?” Sang Wan asked calmly but her insides turned to jelly as she thought about all the different requests he might make.
Shi Fengju raised his head and deliberated, “It actually isn’t anything too difficult, how about cooking a meal for me?”
“Certainly!” Sang Wan felt relieved. She smiled and said, “Tomorrow, I will go to the kitchen and cook a few good dishes for Sir.”
“Alright!” Shi Fengju smiled and said, “You don’t have to accommodate to my taste, just cook the dishes you’re best at!”
Sang Wan thought about it and chuckled, “I don’t seem to have any dishes that I cook best, so I think I will just cook your favourites! It definitely won’t be as good as the chefs at home, so please don’t be too picky about it!”
The two laughed and joked throughout their journey. The carriage was light and fast and they arrived at the Shi Household not long after.
As the horse carriage entered through the gates, Shi Fengju got off first before reaching out to help Sang Wan off. Sang Wan was momentarily shocked, but gave her his hand on reflex as she got off the carriage with his help.
“Let’s wash up first before greeting Mother”
Hearing that, Sang Wan nodded with a smile. Before she had the chance to reply him verbally, Gu Fangzhi appeared in her grieving clothes. She bowed elegantly to greet them, her eyes shimmering as she smiled, “Big cousin! Sister! Welcome back!”
The smile on Sang Wan’s face froze and she immediately felt like her high spirits were brought down. She smiled politely and nodded, “Sister, why have you come?”
Gu Fangzhi glanced flirtatiously at Shi Fengju but took the initiative to hold Sang Wan’s arm as she laughed gently, “I came to welcome you and Big Cousin when I heard that you’re back! Is your family doing fine? While you were gone, Aunt missed you dearly!”
“We will go and greet my mother in awhile. If there is nothing, you can head back first!” Shi Fengju creased his eyebrows. In the past, he saw her as a damsel and felt the need to protect her. These days, he felt uncomfortable even looking at the lovely face he had once adored in the past, almost as if there was a fake mask plastered on her face.
“Then I shall not disturb Big Cousin and Sister!” Gu Fangzhi smiled and left.
Shi Fengju and Sang Wan remained silent on their way back to Ning Garden. What remained between them had always existed; avoiding it did not mean it had entirely disappeared! There was a bitter taste in Sang Wan’s mouth.
Back in Ning Garden, they went to Wang Shi’s place after getting themselves properly dressed.
When Wang Shi saw that they had returned, she had a bright smile and asked numerous questions. When she heard how bustling and joyous the it was, she sighed happily and said, “I wonder if Fenghua will manage to pass the provincial exams. If he does, that would be great!”
“Mother, don’t worry! Third brother is smart, surely he will pass! Who knows, maybe he will become a top escorted examinee as well!” Shi Yumei smiled and said.
“Hehe, that will be great, that will be great! When that time comes, our Shi household will get to celebrate too!”
“No doubt!” Shi Yumei chimed in.
After sitting for awhile, Shi Fengju excused himself to settle some matters in the business. Wang Shi reminded him to take care of himself before letting him leave. However, she had Sang Wan remain to chat with her and the subject naturally revolved around Sang Yufei.
As they were spoke, Shi Yumei coughed a little and gave a seemingly harmless smile while asking, “I assume a large sum of silvers was spent on this occasion with all the many guests and the huge banquet?”
Sang Wan’s face froze, but she admitted without denying, “That’s right. It wasn’t a small amount. Most of the arrangements were decided by Sir, so I am not too sure about the exact amount.”
“Oh, how could you not know? All these were done especially for your blood-related brother!” Shi Yumei said sourly.
Wang Shi signalled at Shi Yumei to stop, with a look of warning, and criticized her before smiling generously at Sang Wan, “Sang Wan is a married into our family, how can she intervene in her parent’s home? Anyway, she is now the eldest daughter-in-law of Shi Household so there’s no way she can appear in front of strangers to make the arrangements. It is right that Shi Fengju settled it! Your brother can always be counted on, hehe, to not embarrass our family. How many silvers can be spent on throwing a spread in the village? Maybe just one or two thousands!”
“That isn’t a small sum!” Shi Yumei acted ignorant and asked, “Isn’t your big brother and big sister-in-law there? This matter should have been settled by them! How could Shi Fengju take the spotlight. Aiya, your brother and sister-in-law won’t get angry over it, right?”
Sang Wan immediately felt ashamed, but she couldn’t put the eldest daughter of the Shi family in a difficult spot right in front of her mother-in-law. As such, she could only smile and say, “Although the final decisions were decided by my big brother and big sister-in-law, Shi Fengju had lent a great amount of assistance and my family is immensely grateful! My second brother has said that he will be coming over soon. He has also mentioned that he would like to express his gratitude to Mother and Sir upfront!”
“Your brother and sister-in-law are too polite!” Wang Shi smiled and said, “It is only right that relatives help one another; we are one family so there isn’t a need for such courtesy! With a top escorted examinee to guide our Fenghua, I’ll be extremely grateful if our Fenghua can get through the next provincial exams!”
“Certainly!” Sang Wan smiled and said, “We are one family after all, Mother-in-law is being too courteous as well!”
“Ah? Hehe, yes, yes, let’s stop here!” Wang Shi smiled and reminded Sang Wan to clean up the guest room and asked for the day that Sang Yufei would be heading to the capital. She also asked if there would be someone accompanying him to the capital. Sang Wan patiently answered them all.
Shi Yumei was feeling extremely unhappy at how Sang Wan was able to change the subject back so quickly in just two or three sentences. Listening to them talk about “one family” made her feel like an outsider. With her heart full of resentment, she could not help but to raise her voice to switch the subject back. Smiling like broadly, she said, “I think I still have to say this, but your brother and sister-in-law should really thank Shi Fengju for his help! If not, the grand spread would not have been fixed so quickly! I do wonder what kind of dishes were prepared; what alcohol was served; and where were the chefs from? Ai, it’s such a pity, that village of yours, whatever it’s called, is so far away from our Qingzhou. If it wasn’t in such a remote place, we could’ve sent our Yuhei restaurant’s head chefs down and whip out many delicious dishes! Isn’t that more appropriate for our status! Hehe! Oh wait, villagers are all practical people; they love fish and meat, and may not have seen sea cucumber and abalone. Who knows, maybe the villagers wouldn’t value such food and may deem the Sang family as stingy! Throwing a grand spread yet not serving any good dishes with fish and meat? Oh, let’s just forget it!”