Soon enough, after coming to some conclusions with Gao Yi, Yujia left Three Inks with her face veiled once more. She also took a few pencils before leaving— the ones she had been using all along were getting used up pretty quickly.
As she walked back to Lingxin, she thought back to how Zhizhong looked, painted as a cat, and couldn't help but drop her head down and laugh. He was too cute.
That was when, in the midst of looking down, she bumped into someone. The pencils in her hand fell to the ground.
Hastily, Yujia lowered herself and picked up her pencils one by one before they rolled away. Then, she looked up to see who she bumped into.
It was a young woman who looked familiar. She dressed in russet orange robes and had her hair styled up into a neat bun. She had soft features— large, doe-like eyes, blushing round cheeks, and a thin, short nose above her painted lips. Yujia stared at this face for two seconds, recognition clicking in her mind.
Yet prior to any response that came from her, another younger girl jumped out from behind, berating loudly, "Who are you to bump into our Madam like that? Do you walk without eyes? Apologize immediately!"
Yujia blinked, looking at the younger girl with the sharp tongue. She looked back over at the woman she recognized, putting on a warm smile and greeting, "My fault for bumping into you. Miss Zhou— or, I should call you Madam Zhou now?— how are you? It's been a while."
The person she bumped into was Zhou Luowei, the woman that she first sketched a portrait of as a commission, and also the one who recently got married with Bo Zhiyuan, Zhizhong's older brother.
Zhou Luowei's eyes widened when she recognized who Yujia was. "Ah, it's Miss Yang! It has indeed been a while." She turned her face and quietly scolded, "Jiucai, do not be so disrespectful. Keep those words to yourself." She turned back to Yujia. "I'm so sorry about that."
The young girl behind her, presumably her maid, Jiucai, looked down in shame. She probably didn't expect that she chided someone her madam actually knew.
"It's fine." Yujia continued to smile. There was no need to take offense to what Jiucai said. It would only cause extra unnecessary conflict. "I heard about your marriage with Young Master Bo and wanted to congratulate both of you; I just never found an opportunity to. So I'll leave my congratulations here," she continued.
"Oh, thank you." Luowei held a handkerchief up to her face and blushed. "And for that beautiful portrait as well; I don't think I ever had a chance to properly thank you for that. Both my husband and I love it."
"That makes me happy to hear."
Luowei glanced and gestured in the direction she was heading, asking, "I was just about to go to a gathering with a few other friends of mine. Would Miss Yang be interested in accompanying me? We do need some new faces occasionally."
Yujia thought about it. She admitted that she was getting tired of being stuck in Lingxin and only chatting with her master and Yunhe. She also admitted that she needed more connections in life. It probably wasn't good to only know a couple of people. Because of these two reasons, going to the gathering with Zhou Luowei would be a good idea.
Thus, with a nod, Yujia walked along with Madam Zhou.
They arrived at a secluded pavilion near the outskirts of the capital. It was shaded with a few willow trees, resting over a pond, and when Yujia neared, she could hear the quiet giggles and discussion of soft voices. Upon crossing a bridge and entering, she saw that there were around five young ladies inside, sipping at tea and sampling pastries.
They looked up and paused in the midst of their conversation. One girl wearing apricot yellow happily called out, "Older Sister Luowei! How come you only arrive now? Your Bo Villa is the closest to here; you have no excuse."
Luowei smiled and bowed apologetically. "An hour ago, I went further in the capital to buy some pastries for you all. On the way back, the carriage broke, thus causing my late arrival. I hope you sisters can understand my difficulties."
Another woman, looking slightly older in age, perhaps in her late twenties, replied, "That's alright, Younger Sister. We were just discussing where you were when everyone else had already arrived. It's a good thing you're here now."
Luowei smiled again. "I knew that Older Sister would understand the most." She glanced over at Yujia and introduced, "This is Miss Yang. Younger Sister Yujia is really a splendid painter, and since I knew that Older Sister Qianzi said that she wanted to improve in painting last gathering, I brought her over."
Yujia bowed politely, taking off her veil at the same time. "Yujia greets each sister."
Qianzi— the older woman who Yujia thought looked in her late twenties— waved her hand for the two of them to sit. "Why are you two still standing? There are a few empty seats around still."
Luowei and Yujia complied. Both ended up sitting in different places. Luowei sat next to Qianzi, while Yujia ended up next to the girl who was dressed in yellow. The girl, who saw that Yujia was seated near her, grinned brightly and asked, "Miss Yang would probably be my older sister, right?"
"How old are you this year?" Yujia tilted her head and asked in response.
"Me? I'm only sixteen!"
Sixteen? She was even younger than Xiaoyi, then. Even so, Yujia smiled fondly at the girl. Her mannerisms and behavior all seemed like Xiaoyi.
"I suppose you're right," Yujia affirmed, "I'm nineteen. How should I call Younger Sister—?"
"I'm the Second Miss of the Rong Family, Rong Tianyu!"
All of a sudden, the image of Rong Yuan, a very persistent and somewhat irritating Senior Brother surfaced in Yujia's mind. He was from the Rong Family too— so he was Rong Tianyu's older brother? Thinking about it, both were very eager and energetic from the start. Yujia could see the similarity between them.
Tianyu leaned forward, her eyebrows raising. "You've heard of my family, right? We're pretty famous throughout the capital."
Yujia shook her head with a soft smile. "Not that. You have an older brother, right? He is my senior brother."
"What?" Tianyu's eyes widened so large that they looked like they were about to pop out. She suddenly stood up, pushing her chair back which scraped loudly against the floor. "My older brother— is your senior brother? You— you're a student at Lingxin Pavilion?" Her gaze turned into one of admiration. "You're not joking, right? How—?"
Her sudden and loud exclamation caught the attention of the others in the pavilion. They turned to look. One woman dressed in light and dark green called out, "Right, we don't know much about Miss Yang yet. Instead of hogging her all to yourself, Tianyu, why don't you let her introduce herself? Miss Yang, are you from… the Yang Family? I don't believe I've heard much of a Yang Family in the capital, though I know there's one in Luoyang. My cousin recently married into that one."
Another one in green as well pointed out, "I did hear recently about some young miss from the Yang Family marrying into the Yu Family. Wasn't that something? But it couldn't be you, right, Miss Yang?" She covered her mouth and lowered her voice. "But there's more exciting gossip recently. One young miss of the Yang Family has her engagement cancelled with the Yu's First Young Master. It couldn't be because of the other marriage, I don't think…"
The previous girl dressed in green replied, "Then what other reasons are there?" She looked back at Yujia. "Back on the topic, though, Miss Yang…"
"I'm not that young miss who had her engagement cancelled that you may be thinking of," Yujia responded with a forced laugh. Right. She wasn't the one with the engagement cancelled, but the one who was supposed to be married already. It wouldn't make sense for her to claim an identity as any other young miss from the Yang Family, so she lied, "I'm indeed a student of Lingxin Pavilion. My parents abandoned me when I was young, and my master— the founder of Lingxin— adopted me as a disciple since. So, to be honest, I'm not sure which Yang Family I'm a part of either."
The young ladies covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs at this tragic backstory.