Yujia watched as the expression on Zhizhong's face morphed into one of pure confusion.
"What?" he gawked.
"You heard right," she affirmed, the smile on her face only spreading further, "You agreed to the terms that the winner could do anything. Can't go back on your words now. I want to draw on your face. And you can't wash it off for the whole day, alright?"
Zhizhong immediately stood up, shaking his head. "That's unreasonable! You want to use ink— to draw on me? No. No. No." He waved his hand in the distance. "Look, anything else! I'll give you taels, or fancy art supplies, or treat you to a good meal— just don't draw on my face! And to ask me to not wash it off for the whole day?"
"Why can't I?" Yujia pretended to pout, "You think I'm that materialistic, that I'd rather have all these objects instead?"
"No! But come on, drawing on my face won't give you anything."
"It'll give me entertainment."
"Ah, so my public humiliation is your happiness?"
Yujia shrugged. "Sure."
"Look, I have an event tonight, a banquet. I can't go looking with ink on my face to the banquet. My father would kill me. I'll let you draw on my face, but you'll have to let me wash it off right afterwards!" he attempted to negotiate.
"What fun is there in doing that, then?" Yujia sighed. "How about you let me draw on your face, walk back to your villa with my masterpiece on your face, and then get to wash it off?"
"Why do you insist on torturing me?" he griped.
"It's not torture. Losers always get a punishment; you lost the game. You said yourself that you wouldn't go back on your words. Be a man— what has been said has been said already."
Zhizhong was silent for a long while, probably quietly contemplating his life up to this moment. Finally, he looked up, exhaling in defeat.
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Yushang didn't understand why he had to put himself in this situation. Why had he accepted to play that stupid game and stupid bet in the first place? If he hadn't, then he wouldn't be stuck in this current situation right now.
But as he looked at Miss Yang's expectant expression, he relented.
Miss Yang excitedly clapped her hands. "I was just waiting for you to say this word!" She waved her hand and pulled his chair, which was on the opposite side of the counter, to her side. "Come, sit here!"
Yushang dragged himself and sat down at the chair, anticipating the worst outcome that would come from this scenario. On the other hand, Miss Yang had a completely opposite expression, her eyebrows raised and her lips turned upward with delight.
"Noble Bo, what do you say that I should draw?" She tilted her head while tracing her brush in the air. "Should I draw a giant mole under your eye, or just paint your whole face with this ink? Both would surely make you look hideous, don't you think?"
Yushang imagined how he would look with her descriptions and shuddered. "Don't make me regret allowing you to do this," he warned.
"Alas, it seems like you're already regretting from the very start though? When have you not regretted this decision?"
She had a point.
Miss Yang gave him a little smirk, holding her brush closer to his face. "I think I've decided."
Yushang sighed deeply and awaited embarrassment, and perhaps Miss Yang's constant mockery as she did her work. Instead, a serious expression appeared on her face— the kind he saw when she was painting or thinking hard. She put her left hand under his chin, holding his face in place while she moved a little closer.
She was so close that he could count her eyelashes. Her fingers against his skin felt cold to touch, making Yushang instinctively flinch a bit.
"Don't move," she instructed.
Yushang looked her in the eyes. Her irises, reflecting light shining through the paper windows, were like the night sky, while her long eyelashes fluttered as she blinked. Her gaze never met with his while she worked, constantly focused on his other features, as if he was her canvas.
The ink on the brush felt even colder to touch. He felt a dot of coldness on his nose first, then streaks of ink against the sides of his cheek. Lastly, she went to his eyes and carefully outlined the edges.
While she worked on his eyes, Yushang's gaze moved down to her lips. They were softly parted. He gulped.
Before he could tear his eyes away, she moved back, setting the brush on the table. "I'm done," she hummed. She glanced back to him, wiping her cheeks. "Why are you looking like that at me for? Unless I somehow managed to get ink on my face too?"
"What?" Yushang snapped out of it, shaking his head. "N-no."
She stepped further back, nodding her head in admiration. "You look good. My skills are indeed excellent— I've created an absolute work of art."
"What did you draw on my face?" He narrowed his eyes.
"Unfortunately, there seems to be no mirror here. I don't think I'll be able to describe the masterpiece on your face enough with my clumsy words, so I'm afraid Noble Bo can only see for himself when he returns home," she teased.
Yushang set his face blank. "You know that I'm going to wash it right away once I have the chance to."
In response, Miss Yang widened her eyes in disbelief. "You want to destroy my incredible artwork?"
Before he could retort with something, the front doors suddenly creaked open. Yushang jumped a little on the inside, turning quickly to see who it was.
It was Gao Yi.
Gao Yi stared back at him, frozen in movement. He stared for a long time at Yushang's face, then at Miss Yang, then back over at Yushang. One of his hands reached up to his mouth to muffle a laugh that suddenly burst out.
"What? What are you laughing at? Tired of your job?" Yushang snapped, wanting to cover his face.
He had never gone through such embarrassment through his entire life! Which person would dare to do this to him? Not the maids, not his siblings, not his mother. To see a mere clerk like Gao Yi snickering at his appearance certainly made Yushang's face begin to burn. How dare this Gao Yi? How dare this Miss Yang?
"Nothing, Boss." Gao Yi averted his gaze and dropped his hand, though his smile never dropped. He shuffled forward towards the counter, attempting to cover up his previous laugh. "So both bosses are here today?"
"We were discussing things with the decree," Yushang explained, "I suppose your family matters are settled now. Where did you put the record book?"
Gao Yi looked up, then headed behind the counter. "Is it not here? I thought I left it where I usually leave it, in the shelves right here." He arched over and came up with the same conclusion Yushang reached a few moments ago. "Funny, where did it go?"
"You ask me, but I'm the one who's asking
At the end of those words, it seemed like Gao Yi remembered something. He hurriedly headed in the direction of the storage room. "Yesterday, I was counting the storage, and I left the books here! I forgot."
"Really?" Yushang rubbed one of his temples, then looked over at Miss Yang. "So, we just wasted all our time here waiting for him to bring the accounts over when it was here all along?"
She grimaced. "I guess. But it wasn't a waste of time— look how handsome you are now with my work."
Yushang wanted to scowl, but instead, he chose to stop giving her the satisfaction of seeing his frustration. It would probably make her stop speaking those words if he responded happily. Smoothly, he slouched against the counter and leaned his head on his hand. "What about before? Wasn't I even more handsome?"
She looked at him with no amusement on her face. "If you did, I never noticed." The blank expression shifted into a bright smile. "Except now— you're not just handsome, but cute. Quite fluffy."
"Fluffy?" Yushang drew his head back. "What does 'fluffy' mean, Miss Yang?"
"You'll see when you look in the mirror," she paused, then added on, "Also, we're already co-owners for so long. And I'm no longer any proper young miss— so calling me 'Miss Yang' this,' Miss Yang' that, isn't appropriate."
He tapped his fingers on the table. "Then… what do you want me to call you? Your… name won't be appropriate either."
"How so?" She frowned. "We have a good connection and share a business together. I see you almost as a little brother; you can see me as your older sister. But calling each other 'sister and brother' would seem awkward, yet in private when we talk, all this 'Misses' and 'Nobles' just seems too foreign. Better that, in private, we can use our names, but in public, you calling me 'Miss Yang' won't be bad either."
"I can work with that, if that makes you more comfortable." Yushang looked down at his hands, breaking their eye contact.
Gao Yi walked back over, presenting the record book in his hands. "If the two bosses will take a look."
Yushang took it from him first, spending a few moments flipping through it. After that, he handed the book back to Miss Yang— or, should he call her, Yujia— then glanced outside. "It's getting late. I spent way more time than planned here. There are still matters back at the—
— for me to take care of."
Yujia looked back at him, her eyebrows knitted. "But about the decree…"
"We can discuss it at a later date. Or, no need to discuss it with me. Speak with Gao Yi and come to an agreement. I'll agree to whatever you want to do with these matters."
"Then, see you later." She stood up, bowing politely. When she looked back up, her eyes met his face and she immediately snickered.
Yushang almost forgot about that cursed ink on his face. He gave her a scowl with a nod, then swung his sleeves back and walked out of the shop. Screw all the previous thoughts about thinking of her as an older sister. His older sisters at the palace all treated him kindly and showered him with pastries, little gifts, and affection. Which one of them would be as reckless as her?
As he walked down the streets, Yushang quickly picked up his pace and kept his face low.
Internally, he wanted to curl up and die.
Things were not better when Yushang arrived back at his palace. Upon seeing him, Si Shen, who he specifically told to not follow and watch over him today, smiled.
His smile was nothing as overbearing as the snickers Yushang heard from Gao Yi and Yujia. Except, it was perhaps the worst thing he saw all day long, the thing that bothered him the most despite everything that happened throughout the day.
The thing was, Si Shen
He had a face that was stiller than stone. Just like the fact that he barely talked unless Yushang asked him to, Si Shen never smiled or laughed either. Yushang was used to him being the emotionless block of stone, constantly following him around and guarding him. The unwavering smile on his face right now… Yushang had to admit that it was almost terrifying to see.
When was the last time Si Shen had smiled? Was it when Yushang was eight and fell into a pit of mud, which turned out to be cow dung, while the servants were not looking carefully? That was a memory that stuck hard with Yushang. It had to be in the top list of embarrassing things that he experienced, right next to what happened today.
Heavens, that was ten years ago. And even then, Si Shen only cracked a brief smile that faded away within a second.
Yushang stared at Si Shen with wonder. "I didn't expect that you even
how to smile."
"Hm?" Si Shen raised his eyebrows, though the smile on his face didn't vanish.
Next to them, Yushang began to hear the sound of whispers. He whipped back around, throwing his hand out at the other eunuchs and maids waiting at the opening of his room. They covered their mouths and lowered their heads, discussing the scene in front of them.
"What are you all staring at?" he snarled, "Still not bringing this prince a mirror and towel?"
The servants immediately dropped to their knees while a few ran out to get what he asked for. The whispers ceased.
That was more like it.
Yushang turned back to Si Shen, waving his hand. "This prince isn't in the mood to see you today, not with that smile on your face."
Si Shen only nodded, the smile— which only appeared infuriating now— remaining while he backed away.
When the servants came back with the materials, Yushang commanded, "What you see today on this prince's face will not be spoken of anymore. Is that clear? If I hear of any word of this in the palace, none of you will have a good life. Not even the crown princess may know."
The servants all bowed once more, murmuring assent while leaving Yushang alone.
It was only now that Yushang got to see the true appearance of his face. His eyes widened while he stared at the mirror, realizing what Yujia meant all along.
What 'handsome', what 'cute', what 'fluffy'?
She had clearly drawn him like a
There was a dot on his nose, whiskers on his face, and his eyes were lined long and sharp like a cat.
? She dared to draw this crown prince into a mere pest? What was a cat? Wasn't it something not even better than little accessories for his father's concubines to parade around?
Yushang was not a little accessory or a pretty little pet! He was the honored crown prince of the whole country! Millions would bow at his feet, yet here he was, painted as a… cat.
Yushang threw the mirror on the floor and grabbed a towel, soaked with water, rubbing it against his face and smearing all the ink. Yujia— this girl— was too audacious! She may not have known his true identity, but next time, he would not allow her to step over lines like this again. What if others in the palace heard of his unkempt appearance? What if his father heard? How would his reputation still last, if all of this spread?
He angrily threw the towel back in the basin as well, stomping over to his bed and falling face forward into it. All he came for today was a business meeting, not a public shaming!
As he thought about what happened, Yushang rolled over and looked up. Memories of Yujia surfaced back in his mind as she painted his face, from her gaze, to her skin, to her… lips.
Yushang's face morphed into one of horror. What were these thoughts? Begone! What pretty women had he not seen?
He clutched his face and rolled back over to bury his face into the blankets.
No, no, no.
He could not start viewing her this way! She said it herself— he was like a little brother, and she was like an older sister. They were close friends or business partners. There was nothing more, nothing less.
Besides, he had Siying! Wen Siying was all he needed. She was everything that Yujia was not, from her gracious demeanor to her polite attitude. Yushang didn't need someone to bicker with him all day and draw on his face.
No, no, no.
No no no no no no no.
Yet as Yushang rolled over again and stared up at the canopy fabric, he realized that these aggravating, bothersome, unnecessary, and completely improper thoughts were not going away.
What was all of this? Witchcraft?
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