“This knowledge doesn’t deserve the attention, but I hope that Mother will not take it too lightly!” Sang Wan smiled and gently explained the cooking process.
As Wang Shi listened, she praised Sang Wan and held her hand with her own hands. “You’ve done well to come up with such a recipe! I’d expect nothing less from a daughter of a scholarly family; a mind different from many others!”
Wang Shi was extremely pleased to have such a good daughter-in-law married into the family. She thought about when she should invite Old Mistress Zhuang over to enjoy her flower garden. At the same time, she would introduce Sang Wan to her and wrong her for mocking the ties between the Shi family and the Sang family.
The thought gave her a better impression of Sang Wan. Feeling more satisfied, she praised her daughter-in-law a few more times.
On her other side sat Gu Fangzi, who was extremely angry. Just recently, she had gotten wind of a great way to prepare bean curd with mahogany and was planning to cook it two days after Sang Wan had gotten into trouble with Wang Shi for the winter melon soup. However, things did not go her way; the winter melon soup was not served and Sang Wan was instead praised by her aunt. How did Sang Wan learn to cook the dish the exact same way as what she had discovered? And what’s more, Sang Wan had even beaten her to it!
Holding back her bitterness, Gu Fangzi remained silent. But upon seeing Wang Shi praise Sang Wan generously, Gu Fangzi blinked a few times before smiling. “Cousin Sang Wan sure is both virtuous and skilfull! Aunt Wang is right. None other than her filial daughter-in-law would have been able to come out with such a method to cook the dish that can please you! Still, did the winter melon soup happen to splatter on Cousin Sang Wan?”
The crowd could not help but turn their attention to Sang Wan, and Shi Fengju was no exception. Concerned, Shi Fengju asked, “Were you hurt anywhere?”
Before anyone else could speak, Gu Fangzi continued, jokingly saying, “Ah yes. Cousin Sang Wan, were you hurt anywhere? It would break my cousin’s heart if you were!”
The broad smile on Wang Shi’s face immediately turned slightly sluggish.
Sang Wan did not feel anything amiss at first, but upon glimpsing Wang Shi’s annoyed expression, she was taken aback! No mother liked to see her son express his explicit concern towards his wife in front of her, even though that “explicitness” was Gu Fangzi’s own implication.
Shi Fengju secretly chided himself for being talkative and immediately clamped his mouth shut. Helplessly, he looked towards Gu Fangzi and managed a smile.
To Wang Shi, that smile undoubtedly represented his agreement with Gu Fangzhi’s comment, and she could not help but feel a little annoyed.
Although Sang Wan was her son’s wife and Gu Fangzi was her son’s would-be concubine, Gu Fangzi was still her niece, who had been by her side for many years. As such, her heart was somewhat biased against Sang Wan. For her son to cast aside his cousin, whom he had spent lots of time with, and pay so much attention to his wife, who had recently married into the family, how could she feel pleased?
Sang Wan intentionally pasted a foolish smile on her face. Looking towards Shi Fengju, she spoke. “I’m fine; I wasn’t hurt anywhere! Anyway, I promise to prepare another bowl of winter melon soup for Mother-in-law! Mother-in-law’s son sure is filial, to remember in mother-in-law’s stead that if I were injured, I would not have been able to prepare another winter melon soup! Mother-in-law, be at ease, for your daughter-in-law shall prepare and serve winter melon soup personally tomorrow and guarantee that it’ll taste better than the one before!”
Once Sang Wan said her piece, Wang Shi immediately laughed and the tiny seed of annoyance disappeared.
“The days ahead for you as a member of our family are long. Though I’ll remember this, the thought is enough for now. You have your homecoming tomorrow, so I’ll not trouble you.” Though the words Sang Wan had spoken might have been a little exaggerated, it would not stop her mother-in-law from listening; or rather, it was something she liked hearing! And as for what Gu Fangzi had said just then, wasn’t it all just something she had said jokingly?
Wang Shi giggled to herself. As one aged, did they become more narrow-minded? To have treated a joke as if it were true!
Gu Fangzi followed along and laughed, but beneath that laughter was a sense of anger. She had wanted to craft a few more sentences to harass Sang Wan, but the thought of Shi Fengju made her endure. The bitter smile that he had produced just then… if she did not keep her act together, Shi Fengju might feel disgusted with her! She must not do anything that would put herself at a disadvantage!
At the same time, Sang Wan heaved out a sigh of relief discreetly. Look at that, that was the way Gu Fangzi was! A composed person who harbored ill intent; never could she lower her guard against such a person! That person’s words sounded pleasant to the ears; if not for the suffering she had experienced in her past life, she would not have thought too deeply and been incredibly inclined to foolishly listen to those pleasant words.
Afraid that Gu Fangzi might say something foolish again, Shi Fengju smiled at his mother and coaxed, “Mother, the food will turn cold if we talk any further; why don’t we start eating? As an old lady, aren’t you hungry yet?”
“Ah, yes! Yes! Let’s dig in, let’s dig in first!” Wang Shi smiled. Looking at Sang Wan slightly, she spoke, “My daughter-in-law, have a sit and let us eat together! You must be tired today after preparing these dishes! Quickly, have a seat!”
Sang Wan agreed humbly and smiled before sitting next to Wang Shi, but not without using a clean pair of chopsticks to serve her mother-in-law occasionally. In turn, this scored a few more points in Wang Shi’s heart.
Dinner ended perfectly with a gentle and relaxing atmosphere.
Together with Shi Fengju, Sang Wan left the courtyard. While holding her hand, Wang Shi had instructed Shi Fengju to accompany Sang Wan through the homecoming. Sang Wan had hurriedly given her thanks.
Everything ended the moment the chamber doors closed. With yesterday’s start and their purpose stated, they were now in the same boat and were now comrades-in-arms. With that established, it was much easier to get along this time around.
While laying the mattress on the floor, Shi Fengju chatted aimlessly with Sang Wan. In his mind, he acknowledged that even though they were a fake couple, Sang Wan did not have to serve his mother so faithfully, but that would be deemed as neglecting the duties of a daughter-in-law. However, seeing how much praise and respect Sang Wan gave his mother, his heart was delighted and grateful. After all, why would he dislike someone who gave respect to his own mother?
“Rest early today. You’ll have to wake up early tomorrow!” Shi Fengju sat on his mattress and pulled the quilt over his body while giving Sang Wan a smile.
The bed curtain had yet to be pulled. Sang Wan was wrapped in a light blue embroidered robe, with the pink inner nightgown still a little exposed, and her hair was draped over the right side of her chest. Her relaxed posture and peaceful facial features would have made even strangers too comfortable with her.
“Lord, I have a few words I’d like to discuss with you!” Sang Wan smiled as she spoke those words. In her tone, there was a sense of embarrassment.
Looking at a beauty under the dim light was not something Shi Fengju was used to. He was not someone who looked only at a person’s appearance, but a beauty with a kind heart was not something his eyes and heart could resent. He couldn’t help but sneak glimpses at Sang Wan before sitting up straight and nodding. “Please continue. Just speak your mind.”
Sang Wan thought over her words slightly before smiling. “I’d like to thank you beforehand for accompanying me for my homecoming tomorrow!”
Hearing that, Shi Fengju understood that Sang Wan had some things she’d like to discuss for the next day and spoke generously. “That is what I should do, so no need to thank me. If you have something you’d like me to do, please tell me.”
She was respectful towards his mother, so how could he not return that favor? An opportunity for him to do so had come right up to his doorstep, so why not accept it?
Hearing that, Sang Wan was secretly relieved. Keeping the smile on her face, she went on. “Then I’ll continue. I’m sure you know my family’s current situation, so I was thinking that we should only bring a small number of people for the homecoming; maybe one or two maidservants to follow us there, as there is no need for a big crowd to follow us into my humble home. If a large number of people follow us there, I’m afraid it might become inconvenient for my brother’s wife, who will be doing the hosting! There isn’t any other reason behind it, just that my brother and sister-in-law have already done so much for me, so I don’t wish to trouble them any further.”
After telling him what was on her mind, she darted a sincere look at Shi Fengju. In her past life, her homecoming had been carried out impressively, but were the servants from the Shi family not full of pride? Upon arriving at the Sang family’s residence, their eyes had been filled with distaste and the tip of their tongues was filled with criticism!
How could Sister-in-law Fang bear to hear those criticisms? At that time, her face had been furrowed as her anger built up. Even Sang Wan had not been spared from that anger. But what could Sang Wan have done? She was like a rat, stuck between both parties.
The homecoming ended with both parties parting on bad terms.
It would have been great if the matter had ended there. But unfortunately, the servants who had followed to the Sang family had spread rumors within the Shi family, and there had even been some who had defamed the Sang family in front of Wang Shi, saying how smelly it was there, and how arrogant and mean the Sang family members were. What’s more, they had even gone on to say how disrespectful the Sang family members were, just because they had read a few books, and that the Sang family members had ridiculed how the Shi family members stank of money!
Those few words pierced Wang Shi’s heart and she became furious. She gave a scolding to the Sang family members and called forth Sang Wan to give a good lesson, before declaring that she wished not to see Sang Wan unless called.
After hearing what Sang Wan said, Shi Fengju remembered the state of her house on the day he had gone to receive her during the wedding ceremony. Though he hadn’t cared about its state then, he could somewhat picture what he had seen back then.
Two small courtyards and a few trees planted at the entrance. Behind the house, a fenced garden. The house was built with grey bricks and tiles, and though old, it was still well maintained and clean. Among the other villagers, that house was the most well-off.
However, that was nothing compared to the Shi family’s household. That kind of house might not even be as good as a respected maidservant’s here.
This was definitely a problem! If many people were to go there, that was not a homecoming, but an event to embarrass her!
Shi Fengju had never been a petty person, but disdained the children from rich families who liked to brag about how well-off their families were and he refused to bend and become like them.
“It is my bad for not looking at the bigger picture.” Shi Fengju smiled and continued, “I’ll arrange it properly tomorrow, so don’t you worry!”
“Then I’ll give my thanks to you again!” Sang Wan’s heart leaped with joy and she openly displayed her happiness towards Shi Fengju by giving him a broad grin.
Shi Fengju smiled and shook his head.
Taking advantage of the opportunity in front of her, she went on to describe her family. “My family is fairly simple. My second brother studies in Wenchang Academy and was present on the day I was married. However, he left right after the whole ceremony ended. As such there’s only my oldest brother, sister-in-law, together with their two children, a son and daughter, and a nanny to take care of them. There are no exquisites in my house. On behalf of my family, I apologize for the rudeness and hope that you will excuse us!”
Shi Fengju laughed. “I don’t care about any of that. But hearing you say everything in such a rush makes it seem like you’re nervous! You even brought up exquisites; so what if there are exquisites!”
Sang Wan smiled as she listened. “Maybe I’m just being a little too paranoid!”
“Yes, you are.” Shi Fengju smiled in response.
With that, the two returned to rest and the room was once again blanketed in silence. Well, Sang Wan rolled her eyes behind the bed curtains. Deep down, she thought: If you were like me and remembered the experiences and memories from our past lives, I’m sure you would not think that I’m being paranoid.
This time around, that past life seemed a little more distant, just like a dream fluttering into nothingness. However, Sang Wan felt a little uneasy. She was unsure if it all really was a mirage or if she had actually experienced it.