"I used to think that these 17 years have been horrible. I've lost things that are precious to me, and I have arrived at a place I do not want to. Yet, I've noticed recently that when God takes something away from you, he'll compensate your loss with something else. For example, I've met good people and have had good things happening. I've met you. You all."
Meng Fuyao smiled, raising her cup once more as the audience broke out in applause. She turned her crystal clear eyes toward Yuan Zhaoxu.
'I've met you.'
Yuan Zhaoxu returned her gaze, his fingers slowly and meticulously brushing across the glazed cup in his hand.
"This is a day to reunite, and I've once felt regret over my loss. Perhaps my future reunions would too be broken up by Fate, but this day might just be able to make up for it."
There was a layer of gloss in her smiling eyes, but it was hardly noticeable.
"I'd like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude. Thank you to those whom I've met, those who have helped, protected, and been generous to me. I thank those who have cherished me, accompanied me and been tolerant. Because of them, I do not feel completely abandoned by the gods. At the same time, I feel ashamed for accepting their kindness while not being able to reciprocate. As such, I've gathered all of you here to borrow your blessings in order to extend my thanks."
Some smiled while more fell deep in thought.
Meng Fuyao diverted her gaze away from the corner, but she could still feel the warmth and light of the gaze radiating toward her, threatening her willpower.
Her voice became gentler. "I would like to thank this person. He must be living a lonely life on a tall building that overlooks the horizon. He can see everything and thus does not derive joy and meaning from it. This is his fate and gift. I can't do anything about it and feel a foreboding that my existence will add hail to snow. As such, I'm about to make it up to him first. My gift to him is a lively and bustling scene. It is an experience that he might never get to go through no matter what he possesses. The joy and fulfillment are unique and irreplaceable, and they contain the most ordinary yet dear and heartwarming flavors."
She raised her cup again and shut her eyes. Sighing, she finished, "Hope you like it."
Silence filled the garden as the ladies and gentlemen looked on at their usually cheerful and lively mayor. There was a foreign and shocking expression in her eyes, and her short speech contained deep meaning and unexplainable sadness. The more emotional ladies had already started to sob. They did not understand Meng Fuyao's words and who she was referring to, but they felt their heart sink. Nevertheless, they were indescribably moved, and there seemed to be a ball of mist rising from their chest and congealing into a layer of cool dew.
They raised their cups and echoed sincerely, "Hope you like it."
The gentle wave of their blessing rolled up small gusts of wind. Yuan Zhaoxu's hands, which had always been as steady as a rock, trembled.
The cup in his hand almost slipped from his hand, and a few drops of alcohol splashed onto the hollow of his palm before flowing along the vein lines on his skin.
Yao Xun, who stood beside him, hurriedly handed a dry towel. Yet, instead of wiping his hand Yuan Zhaoxu used it to wipe the nonexistent stain on the table.
Yao Xun opened his eyes wide. He had never imagined that Yuan Zhaoxu could also fall into a state of disengagement. Nevertheless, the latter maintained a calm look, no different from his usual self.
Yao Xun felt a slight heartache and finally understood what the later part of Meng Fuyao's speech meant. Apart from his naturally calm disposition, a man like Yuan Zhaoxu must have had grown up in a different environment and educational system from the rest.
Was it possible for anyone to be born graceful and flawless? Was it possible for anyone to reach such a state of calmness and confidence? And what had he sacrificed to achieve it? His life would inevitably lack the richness and plethora of emotions that ordinary citizens experienced.
Yao Xun sobbed, thinking about how Meng Fuyao's coarse and careless attitude was merely an exterior front. Deep down, she was delicate and meticulous.
How rare was it for two individuals to understand each other?
Yao Xun sighed, slowly retreating. He planned to see if the fresh flowers in the meditation hall had wilted due to the candle flames. If so, he would get them replaced, in order not to spoil the perfect gift that she had so specially prepared.
The alcohol in Yuan Zhaoxu's palm gradually dried up. He looked at Meng Fuyao, who raised a toast in his direction before gulping her drink down. He raised his own slowly but did not drink it straight. Instead, he sipped on it bit by bit, as if that was his last cup ever.
The dance party had started, and the youths who had finished learning the dance left the stage in pairs. The exquisite mounted soldier uniforms and the fluttering skirts drew fast and colorful circles in the air while releasing the scent of fresh clothes.
These were all part of the "bustle" she had so painstakingly prepared for him.
With the faint fragrance of alcohol lingering on his hand, Yuan Zhaoxu felt as though he was in a beautiful dream.
He did not drink much but felt intoxicated.
Opposite of him, a young girl walked toward him with a cup in hand and plopped down beside him. "I spoke well, didn't I?"
Her face was flushed, and her smile did not seem natural, as though she was feeling somewhat embarrassed.
Sidestepping the question, he responded, "Alcohol's good."
Meng Fuyao looked at him, stunned. He was acting strange, but she couldn't point it out. Just as she was about to invite him to a dance, a clamor broke out at the entrance.
Meng Fuyao turned her head in that direction and caught sight of a beautiful silhouette flashing past. It was Hu Sang. Ever since the incident on the god worshipping festival, she had fallen sick, and upon recovery, she hadn't failed to visit Yuan Zhaoxu every day. Naturally, he opposed to meeting her, and despite Meng Fuyao's decision not to invite Hu Sang to this party – to prevent pissing Yuan Zhaoxu off and wasting the lady's efforts – the latter had arrived.
Meng Duyao narrowed her eyes, studying Hu Sang's dance outfit. She could tell that Hu Sang had sewn it on her own, and it was rather out of place. Nevertheless, the outfit had effectively preserved Hu Sang's slender waist and plump bosom, which bounced like a pair of doves as she moved.
She was stopped at the door but insisted on entering. The guards cast an awkward glance at Meng Fuyao, who then awkwardly looked up to the sky.
She had no guts...
"A bustle is the gift you've prepared, Fuyao?" Yuan Zhaoxu's question disrupted her thought.
"Ah?" Meng Fuyao whipped her head toward him. "I've almost been moved by my own words, and yet you're not pleased?"
Yuan Zhaoxu only smiled, his gaze turning toward a cluster of flowers behind the meditation hall. The window was half covered, and a flower popped out tenderly.
Meng Fuyao shook her head, smiling. "Your life is uninteresting, isn't it..." She stood up and pulled him with both hands. "Willing to follow me somewhere? I can finish the deal there, but it's your choice."
"Just don't finish the deal with your body," he acceded with a slight curl on his lips.
They sneaked into the meditation hall, and Hu Sang was forgotten. Upon entering, Yuan Zhaoxu was taken aback. It was much brighter in the room than in the garden. Crystal glass was embedded in the walls, and there was a row of copper lamps that produced a sparkling and resplendent effect. Huge, light purple curtains hung down and fluttered like the movement of water and were matched with a same-colored carpet with exquisite floral pattern. Fresh flowers filled the hall and were held in white porcelain vases, which enhanced the beautiful colors of the petals and leaves.
Meng Fuyao made a twirl in the hall, saying, "I'll present to you other gifts first, and I'll save the best for last."
She smiled and pointed to the wall, squinting her eyes and indicating that he should find it himself.
Yuan Zhaoxu scanned across the wall briefly. He had long noticed a secret door. He reached a hand out to knock it, and a drawer shot out with a clap. With another clap, a box popped out from it, and with another clap, an even smaller box popped out...
Cold beads of sweat formed on Meng Fuyao's forehead.
It was almost done, and as Yuan Zhaoxu was about to pick the final box, the gift within popped out by itself out of excitement. It was noble and gentleman-looking, fleshy, and dressed in a black swallow-tailed coat. Lord Yuan Bao.
The world's smallest swallow-tailed coat looked legitimate, and the world's most eye-catching guinea pig appeared even more dignified than its clothes.
It was an important day for him. Very important day.
Lord Yuan Bao pulled at his coat, covering his round tummy and plump tail. He felt handsome and outstanding, just like his owner.
Of course, Meng Fuyao had a part to play in making his costume. On a day where he had been spying on her, he had seen her handing a drawing to the sewing lady, and he was impressed by the swallow-tail coat that she had casually drawn. It suited his majestic aura, and he bugged her to actualize that design of hers. Seeing that Lord Yuan Bao was having his period, she eventually agreed.
However, it was his gift and not his outfit that was the main show.
Lord Yuan Bao energetically took out a long piece of paper roll from the box, and in lightning speed, he opened it before Yuan Zhaoxu's table. Proud of himself, he went to the side to take a set, eagerly waiting for his master to be touched by his surprise.
Meng Fuyao was curious since the guinea pig hadn't revealed anything to her at all. She turned to look at his surprise, her eyeballs instantly popping out.
'Love... a love letter.'
Small biscuits were stuck on the letter. Some were filled with holes while others had a character on them. Arranged in rows, while crooked, she could still recognize it as a love letter.