“That’s right! I was too preoccupied with picking the plum blossom flowers just now! Sister Sang Wan, I picked these myself! Aren’t they beautiful?” Shi Yulin smiled brightly as she pulled on Sang Wan while pointing at a vase.
“They sure are beautiful. Fourth Sister, you have a good eye for flowers!” Sang Wan smiled and complimented her before speaking again, “Next time when you want to pick flowers, ask the servants to pick them for you. Don’t do it yourself, or else you might end up injuring your hand!”
Shi Yulin raised her head and said haughtily, “I’m not afraid! There’s no way the servants know which are the best! They have no eye for it!” Everyone laughed as she spoke.
They talked and laughed, grilled and ate meat, until Shi Fengju came to look for them. Only then did they realize it was already afternoon and they hurriedly bid one another farewell before leaving for home. Of course, they could not miss out on teasing their brother and sister-in-law. Shi Fengju scolded them jokingly with a few words while Sang Wan’s face turned red with embarrassment as she lowered her head and smiled slightly without saying a word.
“There I was, thinking where you went! I didn’t think you’d be hanging out with those brats!” Shi Fengju smiled and said, “You like to eat grilled meat? Once it’s after the New Year, I’ll take you to the country house and grill some wild meat. What do you think?”
“Sure, then I’ll be waiting for your invitation after the New Year!” Sang Wan smiled and said before asking hurriedly, “I thought you would be eating outside with Young Master Zhuang. In a blink of an eye, I didn’t think it’d be this late already!” Sang Wan smiled with a hint of embarrassment.
Shi Fengju grinned as he leaned close to her all of a sudden, “Were you afraid of Big Sister coming to find you?”
Sang Wan was taken aback and felt embarrassed. She nodded her head honestly and said pitfully, “You saw through me! Yes, I was indeed hiding away from her! If she comes and find me, there’s no way I can handle her!”
Shi Fengju’s heart softened. He held her hands and said softly, “If she goes to find you, you just have to push it all to me! My big brother-in-law is too despicable! Always finding trouble for others! Yesterday, Fenghua said that he wanted to come back, but I told him not to and to delay for as long as possible. Otherwise, my big brother-in-law would definitely bother him everyday!”
“I don’t think it’ll be as bad as you think!” Sang Wan was surprised and smiled, “ Big Brother-in-law and Third Brother are not like-minded, why would he want to find Third Brother!”
Shi Fengju sneered slightly and said, “In our Shi family, only Third Brother is a scholar, and so only Third Brother is worthy to speak to someone like him! He looks down on me, so it’s only natural that he would want Third Brother to look up to him at all cost! And of course, if Third Brother can flatter him, admire him, and listen to his advice, he would be very pleased!”
“Oh,” Sang Wan sounded, but she did not utter another word. She looked somewhat dejected.
Shi Fengju first found it strange, but he soon understood that his words seemed to have mocked those families of scholars, which was making his wife uncomfortable.
Shi Fengju felt apologetic, but he did not know how he should explain himself. As such, he halted her before saying with a smile, “The plum blossom flowers bloom beautifully this year. Since we’re here, let me break a few branches and put them in a vase for you.”
Sang Wan shook her head and said with a smile, “Why spoil the plum blossom flowers that bloom so beautifully here? These flowers are only beautiful when they’re in the garden, unlike flowers like the rose or lily, they’ll only lose their elegance and grace if you place them in the house!”
Shi Fengju smiled and asked, “You like roses and lilies? There should be a number of those in our greenhouse. I will have someone to send a few to Ning Garden!”
Sang Wan giggled before scolding him, “For something like that, there’s no need for any more trouble! I have already assigned the flowers to be placed at various places in the household. Once the month is almost over, most of them should be readied and placed! If another order were to be passed down by you, how would the gardener go about it? Those who don’t know might think that it’s my idea!”
Shi Fengju frowned slightly as he grumbled, “ Why do we have to be so concerned about taking things from our own household? We are becoming more like outsiders while the outsider is becoming more and more like the opposite!”
Sang Wan knew that he was referring to Ren Zhixian again. She went and held his hand before saying gently with a smile, “This isn’t about me being concerned. It’s about respecting the elders. If their houses are not yet decorated with flowers, our house naturally shouldn’t be too. Plus, I’m the one managing the household, I have to be fair and impartial so that others will follow suit. Outsiders will always be outsiders; they can never be the master! Besides, why should we lower ourselves to that person’s level!”
Shi Fengju smiled as he went in to pinch her cheek, “This Young Mistress is right, there’s no point in lowering ourselves to his level!”
“Stop, your hands are cold!” Sang Wan was startled and she leaned away to avoid his hand. Deep down, she was relieved that those who were present were her trusted aides.
Shi Fengju was insistent on pinching her cheek. He smiled, “Is it? It’s obvious that your face is the colder one!” While the two were enjoying themselves, they suddenly heard a cough behind them. Gu Fangzi’s soft voice gently followed, “Big Cousin, Sister Sang Wan!”
Sang Wan’s body stiffened, so did her smile as she slowly turned her head around. She saw Gu Fangzi in a white dress and cloak moving towards them with Lan Xiang. She greeted Sang Wan and Shi Fengju gracefully, “Big Cousin, Sister Sang Wan, what a coincidence!”
Shi Fengju could not help but cast a glance at Sang Wan and sighed in his heart. He faced Gu Fangzi and nodded his head before asking dully, “Why are you out here in this cold day?”
Gu Fangzi smiled sweetly and softly said, “Big Cousin, thank you for the concern. There’s no need to worry, I will take good care of myself! Being cooped up in the house for so long, I just wanted to take a walk but ended up here unexpectedly! Big Cousin and Sister Sang Wan sure are refined and elegant!”
“If there’s nothing, hurry up and go home. We should leave too!” Shi Fengju was speechless in his heart. How did he not notice in the past that she was someone who takes criticism for herself and reassures herself by nature? Every word of hers always found their way to him and she would even do it on purpose in front of Sang Wan!
“Right,” Gu Fangzi smiled and said, “Sister Sang Wan is frail and may freeze in this cold, it’d be best to return early! Big Cousin, can you do me a favor?” Gu Fangzi faced Sang Wan and smiled gently as she spoke, “Sister Sang Wan wouldn’t mind, right?”
Sang Wan was full of disgust and her heart was full of anger without a reason. Hearing her, she looked askance at Shi Fengju from the corner of her eyes with what seemed to be a smile. She shook her head and smiled at Gu Fangzi, “Go ahead, I’ll be going off first!”
Shi Fengju held her hands tightly without any hesitation to prevent her from leaving. He faced Gu Fangzi and said, “What is it!”
Shi Fengju was furious at heart. Gu Fangzi really did not deserve to be treated well. How dare she anger Sang Wan in front of him. In the past, he did not have Sang Wan in his heart, so he naturally would not spare a thought for her. At that thought, he felt guilty for that and could not imagine the amount of unfairness Sang Wan had faced in the past.
In that moment, Gu Fangzi felt unhappy. She did not expect her big cousin to not even give her a chance to speak to him alone! He held tightly onto Sang Wan’s hands in front of her, which clearly explained everything to her! In his heart, Sang Wan was the most important! He did not wish to let Sang Wan suffer from any grievance!
Cold as the weather might be, Gu Fangzi’s face turned pale, but she smiled, “Actually, it isn’t anything much. I just spotted a plum blossom flower that bloomed beautifully and wanted Big Cousin to pick it for me to put in a vase. Big Cousin is best at it; the branches picked in the past year was excellent. The shape was wonderful and it did not wither for half a month! Big Cousin, can you help me again!”
Sang Wan did not wish to hear anymore. She could not help but struggle to free her hand, but Shi Fengju’s grip tightened. She raised her gaze and looked at him unhappily but he was not bothered.
“You are still in your mourning period so it’s best not to have it in your house now. You should hurry up and go back! We should be going back too!” Shi Fengju pulled Sang Wan and walked away right after.
Sang Wan twitched her lips but she did not say anything as she let him pull her away.
Gu Fangzi was stupefied as she stared blankly at the two figures leaving while being close to each other. In the moment, her world felt empty! She was that lonely and miserable person, someone who no one would value or miss!
He rejected her in front of Sang Wan and was even unwilling to help her with a matter so small! Was he trying to affirm his feelings to Sang Wan? Gu Fangzi felt pain in her heart like never before, to an extent that she could not even fool herself!
She seemed to have really lost him! She had lost to Sang Wan! All her years of relationship with him could not compare to the half a year since Sang Wan entered the household! How could she be resigned to that fact!
Lan Xiang was worried and glanced at Gu Fangzi. Her missy looked pale and malevolent. She quickly went to hold her arm and said softly, “Missy, let’s return as well!”
Gu Fangzi remained silent as she turned and left for Peony Park quietly. Unable to hold herself back, she raised her head to gaze at the forest of brightly-colored plum blossom trees as her heart surged with anger: Mourning! Again with the mourning!
Unless she was a fool, she would not believe in it again. It was clear that that was just his excuse!
Sang Wan finally managed to free her hand from Shi Fengju, but his warmth still lingered on her hand.
“Sang Wan,” Shi Fengju turned his head to look at her before saying gently, “Don’t worry, I will properly handle what I promised you.”
“Okay.” Sang Wan forced a smile as she raised her gaze, “I didn’t say I don’t believe in you!”
Shi Fengju was relieved and exclaimed with a smile, “But you weren’t happy just now. I thought you were angry with me.”
Sang Wan’s face stiffened slightly, and she said dully, “I’m not angry, my heart just felt uncomfortable!”
Shi Fengju was glad when he heard her. He grabbed her shoulder gently and said, “There’s no need for you to feel uncomfortable with things that don’t matter. My good Sang Wan, your husband will only feel distressed!”
Sang Wan blushed as she gently pushed away his hands and said unhappily, “What are you doing! Others will see us!”
Shi Fengju laughed and released his hand. The two returned back to Ning Garden together.
Sang Wan just had grilled meat with the rest of the sisters and was feeling full. Seeing the table full of dishes once the servants had finished serving, she sat by the side to accompany Shi Fengju and to help him pick some food from time to time. However, she did not eat at all.
Shi Fengju said with concern, “You women are too much. How could you be so boorish; to have eaten so much grilled meat? Be careful not to get a stomachache!” As he said, he ordered the servants to simmer a bowl of red dates in porridge with an earthenware pot and serve it to her when done.
His actions warmed Sang Wan’s heart. As the small bowl of porridge went into her stomach, she felt better and that small amount of unhappiness dispersed as well.