When evening came, Yujia expected to be given her usual small portion of food for a meal. Except, contrary to her expectations, she was surprised by an invitation to join the main family for a meal together.
The maid who told Yujia of this invitation left as quickly as she came, simply explaining that they were having a meal in the East Courtyard, and she could come if she wanted to.
It was obvious that the main family, which was probably her father, Madam Zhang, and Xiaoyi since Qingxia ate separately, ate better food than what Yujia was given every day. So, even though Yujia was unsure of what purpose they were trying to serve by calling her over to eat with them, for the sake of good food, she went with Hui'er to the East Courtyard.
When they arrived, Yujia wasn't sure where to go, so Hui'er led her to the center room. The doors were half open, and when they were pushed open, Yujia's eyes met with a table of three people and lots of food. The people she expected to see sat around a meal of four dishes and one soup. The meal wasn't as necessarily as lavish as the lunch Yujia had with Zhizhong, but it looked like a decent meal for all of them to be full with.
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Amongst the dishes, there were three dishes of mostly vegetables— a dish of bok choy, a dish of bean sprouts, and a dish of dry tofu stir-fried with ground pork, carrots, and mushrooms— as well as one dish of sweet braised pork. Yujia recognized the bok choy and sweet braised pork of being frequent parts of her dinner, and seeing what the main family had, she realized that this was probably the reason why.
Thinking back to all the things she learned about etiquette from Hui'er, Yujia stopped in front of the door, folding her hands and bowing to her father, Madam Zhang, then nodding at Xiaoyi.
"Father," she addressed him first, "why was I called here?"
He looked at her blandly, then cast a look at Xiaoyi, the corners of his mouth curving up. "You should ask your younger sister about it."
Xiaoyi grinned and explained, "I thought that Older Sister might want to eat with us, so why don't we all start eating together as a family starting from today?"
Why call her over now, where for the past eighteen years the Fourth Miss lived through, she didn't eat with her family even once? She knew that Xiaoyi called her over since their relationship was better now, but if only Xiaoyi wanted to eat with her, what point was there to sit with the other two individuals?
Madam Zhang was the one to speak up in the midst of Yujia's silent response. "Do you wish to decline?"
Yujia looked up, trying to think of what to say. Was it a good thing to eat with them? Or was it a bad thing? Her mind went back to her questions from earlier that day. What if this turned out to be one of those key events in her life, where her decision between "yes" or "no" would map out the rest of her fate? It seemed like a simple question with a simple answer, but what if it just wasn't?
Seeing that she was still struggling with a response, Madam Zhang continued, "From the start, you were the one who chose to eat separate from us. If you want to continue doing so, that's all your choice. No one will stop you."
Her words echoed in Yujia's mind when she finished speaking.
Back in the day, it was the
who separated herself from the family? But all along, hasn't Hui'er told her that her family was the one who pushed her away?
This was a new piece of information with too many new possibilities behind it. Looking at how her Father agreed with Madam Zhang's words, it didn't seem like she was lying either.
With this strange thought, Yujia realized that besides all her thoughts about herself and how she needed to grow as a person, there seemed to be some part of history behind the Fourth Miss that she didn't know about yet. She had blindly accepted the things Hui'er told her about the Fourth Miss and her entire backstory in the villa, but what if Hui'er… was the one that lied?
Quickly, before she could go too far with these new thoughts, Yujia brought herself back to the moment. Putting a smile on her face and bowing again, she replied, "I was ignorant then. Since I'm given a chance again, why would I not take it?"
"Have a seat, then." Her father waved to the empty seat across from Madam Zhang and next to him and Xiaoyi.
Yujia walked over and took a seat, then cast a glance at Hui'er who stood behind her. Servants were not supposed to sit amongst their masters, and they weren't supposed to be a part of the meal either. Yujia just wanted to see Hui'er's expression to see if there was anything off about it.
Nothing seemed to be too different, though. Hui'er looked back at Yujia, her eyes devoid of hidden meaning and her head tilting as if asking Yujia silently if she needed anything.
Without revealing any of her thoughts, Yujia smiled and shook her head, then looked back to her family who began to eat and chat. Picking up her own chopsticks and attempting to blend in as if she ate with them every day, she reached over to the plate of bean sprouts and listened to their conversation.
It had been a long time since Yujia sat at a table of people who were related to her by blood, eating together with them. Back in the modern world, besides occasional New Years, she barely saw her parents. Perhaps it could be said that they were never too supportive of her. Her father never wanted her to be an artist, and her mother sided along with her father every time. Ever since Yujia went to college, they never supported her, their relationship distancing.
It wasn't filial of her, but Yujia blamed them for many things. It seemed like they made no difference whether or not they were there, and as much as they were disappointed in her, she was disappointed in them too. And maybe, besides being disappointed in them, Yujia was disappointed in herself for never being filial. For never being loving. For never being the child they wanted.
That, along with many other things in her life, pushed her onto a road of recklessness, arrogance, and having all of her thoughts centered around herself. In her past life, she continued to try to push herself up, to assure herself, and to convince herself that she was better than everything everyone else thought of her as. That instead of hearing what they had to say, the better— and easier— way was to listen to her own self-assurance. It was just easier to believe that she was too good for them to understand.
If they said her art was bad, they were wrong! They just couldn't see the beauty and the talent in her work. If they said her paintings were expensive, they were wrong! They just couldn't see the value behind every stroke. If they said that her mindset was toxic, they were wrong!
All of them were wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
to believe in herself. That at least, in art, she could think of herself as the one who was always right. What privilege did they have to criticize her? It was
art. Only she— and all those people who've said complimentary things towards her— could understand.
And so, she needed to continue believing that she was right.
Yet behind all that high self-esteem she pushed herself to have, all she had was a crumbling image of herself, held together by so much fake overconfidence she forced into her beliefs.
It didn't take long for her trembling beliefs to fall apart, for the constant "wrongs" from others to grow into too much doubt.
That was when alcohol came in and solved so many of her problems, if only temporarily.
Now, in this whole new world, Yujia looked at the new family in front of her right at this moment, happily eating together as if nothing was wrong.
In this new place, with new family and new people, she seemed to see a hazy image of her own family reflected back at her.
From the start, if she had listened even the slightest bit to what others had to say, would she be here, where she was, today?
Yujia discovered that nearly all her memories of the past were wrong. They were shattering apart at a speed faster than she could catch up with, replaced by the cold, harsh truth that she denied for so long, whether by avoiding her thoughts or drowning her thoughts away with alcohol.
The truth that she was wrong all along.
Along with all the compliments she took in with her art, there was the criticism.
Along with all the support she saw from teachers and friends, there was the true advice of change if she wanted to succeed.
Along with all the connections she tried to make, there was the fact that her personality was just too ugly for any of them to want connections with her.
Along with all her talent, hard work, and determination, there was all of her hubris, pride, and vanity.
Things began to go wrong from the start.
All from the very start.
Yujia didn't want to face herself with that yet.
She didn't want to look at the truth she knew all along. She wanted to keep all of those thoughts pushed deep inside her, to keep herself from meeting just how ugly she was on the inside.
Yujia thought she wanted to change. She thought that she wanted to improve. She thought that with this new chance at life, she could make herself so much better. Except now, standing in front of the locked door that could lead to her to change, holding the key in her hand, Yujia didn't want to face this change.
that she could change— but she couldn't, and she knew exactly why.
It was because she was a coward.
A coward who didn't have the courage to acknowledge all the fault in herself. A coward who was given so many opportunities but refused to take them. A coward who would be forever stuck in this cycle of running from the truth and ruining herself.
At that second, Yujia never hated herself more.
But, nevertheless, she still put a smile on her face, still ate the food in her bowl, still started a conversation with the people next to her, still acted like nothing was wrong, and still ran away from herself.
Until evening came, Yujia worked on finishing all of the sketches. She also had Hui'er buy the largest and highest quality scroll of paper that she could find, which she used to start her largest sketch. Due to the size of the sketch, Yujia only got the basic lines and beginning shading put down on paper, but she decided that her pacing was alright. She could definitely finish by the deadline.