A cat was too simple for her? What was that supposed to mean? Was this a compliment? Or was he saying that she was too fierce and brash like a tiger, unladylike and undesirable traits for a girl in this time period? Was this some form of backhanded compliment, then? Or did she interpret his words wrong again?
Yujia wrinkled her nose. "Thank… you?"
Zixu responded, seemingly reading her mind, "It's a compliment. Don't worry." He then stood to put the ink and brush away.
While he did so, Yujia narrowed her eyes, which were fixed on him. How come she never understood what Yu Zixu was trying to say, but he always seemed to know exactly what she was thinking?
This was injustice!
She remembered what he said before about practicing his observation skills. Maybe she needed to practice more. She thought her observations were already getting much better, but after seeing all of this, she felt like she was far behind Zixu in terms of her capability to notice and understand what others were thinking.
Or, then again, maybe it was just Zixu's fault for being too vague, misleading, and puzzling.
A while later, Chef Hong eventually returned, carrying some more vegetables in a basket. She definitely had plenty of questions, mostly about how when she left, Yujia still had a clean face, yet when she returned, Yujia was looking like a freak who scribbled ink on her own face.
Zixu surprisingly had a set of logical answers to give the chef. His answers were so solid— though not entirely truthful— that even someone as talkative and questioning as Chef Hong couldn't come up with anything else to say. Yujia figured that after Chef Hong heard Zixu's answers, she just gave up on trying to question why Yujia's face looked that way.
Regardless, it was still a large moment of embarrassment for Yujia, knowing exactly what her face looked like. She wished that she could wash her face clean, but she really couldn't, while Zixu was still here.
For now, she would just have to deal with the judgemental stares and questions. Chef Hong was only the first one to see her face outside of Zixu, so Yujia could only imagine how many more questions she would have to deal with throughout the day.
A few more moments later, the soup also finished cooking on the stove, and Yujia took this as an excuse to take her mind off of her face. She helped the chef ladle the steaming soup into two bowls. When the soup was in both bowls, she walked over to Zixu with a tray, placing his bowl of soup along with a spoon down on the table.
The soup looked delicious. Inside the light, simmering base of the soup, there were many ingredients: tender tofu, bamboo shoots, two eggs, preserved vegetables, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, some delicately sliced pork, and lastly, a few herbs which helped to cure a hangover. A sprinkle of chopped green scallion scattered over each bowl brought a touch of bright green to the mellow color of the soup.
Neither Yujia nor Zixu spoke many words as they took a spoonful of the soup. Yujia gently blew on hers to cool it down a bit, but when she drank hers, it still burnt her tongue a little.
Still, she had to admit that the soup tasted just as good as it looked. Despite having tasted Chef Hong's hangover soup a few times in the past, Yujia still found herself startled at just how good the soup was.
A touch of vinegar and pepper in the soup brought a tangy and spicy hint, increasing her appetite. The soup was flavorful, but it was not greasy or heavy to drink down. It warmed her throat and stomach as she drank it, spoonful by spoonful. And though there were many ingredients packed into this soup, it didn't feel like these ingredients clashed at all. None of the flavors overrode each other, creating a satisfying blend of spices filling up her taste buds.
Ah. This, the soup in front of her, was the definition of heaven.
And to think that with all the herbs packed inside— which she couldn't even taste— the soup was healthy for her mind and body as well, Yujia felt even more joyful eating it.
Halfway finished with drinking her soup, Yujia glanced up at Zixu. "What do you think?" she asked.
"It's wonderful," he said with a content sigh. "Better than any hangover soup that I've had before."
Yujia put on a grin. "What did I say? But… have you had many kinds of hangover soup in the past? You don't seem like one to drink frequently."
Zixu stirred his soup. "I don't. But I will drink with people that I trust."
Hearing this confirmation— that he trusted her— made Yujia's smile grow a little brighter. She quickly looked down at her soup when she realized how wide her grin was.
Today, she felt like such a fool, smiling so easily at the slightest things.
Ultimately, Yujia and Zixu finished their soup, and it was time to part. Yujia offered to walk him to the front doors of Lingxin, and he accepted. Only a moment later did Yujia realize that this meant dealing with more people who would see her ink-scribbled face, but it was too late to back out now.
As Yujia walked behind Zixu, almost covering her own face up, Zixu spun to face her. He walked backwards, saying to her, "You shouldn't cover your face like that. You look cute."
She raised her head up for just a moment, eyelid twitching when she noticed how Zixu was wearing his teasing smile. "No, I look ridiculous," she objected, "You know, I know, and everyone else who sees me will know."
He turned back around. "Well then, if you think so, then that shall be it."
The two reached the front gates of Lingxin. Zixu faced her again.
"Thank you for treating me to a bowl of soup, Junior Sister." He bowed.
"No problem. Treat it as my payment for the pendant that you returned." She touched the jade pendant, which now hung at her waist again.
"Next time, if I have a few more drinks than usual, will you treat me to this same soup again?" he inquired, partially joking.
Yujia answered quite seriously, "Of course. You are my senior brother; a bowl of soup should be no problem."
Zixu tilted his head. "Alright then. I'll look forward to it. Farewell for now, then, Junior Sister."
"See you later, Senior Brother." She waved her hand.
Just like that, Zixu left with another brief bow.
Yujia stared at his figure, which was slowly becoming smaller, vanishing into the distance. She exhaled deeply.
Then, someone yelled out from behind her, "Hey, who's that?"
Yujia flinched. She spun around and came face-to-face with Bo Zhizhong.