Everything looked the same: The wooden tables with the guests, the counter at the side with the doors to the kitchen and the preparation room next to it, the staircase to the second floor … The woman carrying a tray over to one of the tables.
Jing Yi’s eyes teared up again. He might not have realized before what he had done to her but he had thought of her very, very often. He had missed her so much!
“Mother …” Jing Yi couldn’t think of any decorum. He ran over and flung his arms around her neck, breaking out into sobs.
Madam Zhong was stunned, unable to grasp what was happening. Someone had just run into the teahouse and hugged her before she was even able to see his face. But then, the person started to produce heartrending sobs. Even though Jing Yi had always been a quiet child and never cried much, she still knew it was him. Maybe it was just the instinct of a mother.
Madam Zhong sighed, lifted her hand and patted his head. It shouldn’t surprise her but after five years of not seeing him, her son had grown as tall as her. In a few years, she might need to crane her neck to look him in the eye.
“It’s alright. Mother is here.”
“Mother …” Jing Yi cried even harder, hugging her as tight as he could. “I’m sorry! I … I should have come home sooner. I … I should have … should have at least sent a message!”
Madam Zhong chuckled. They both knew that that was complete nonsense. She couldn’t read so what good would a message do? She’d still need someone to read it to her. Moreover, Jing Yi couldn’t write a single word. He hadn’t needed to in the capital and in the Yun Zou Sect, nobody would teach him how to write. They didn’t even take the time to teach somebody like him how to cultivate. So why would they waste time on something that would be a worthless skill to them?
Thus, it would have been difficult to keep in touch even with way. Jing Yi might have been able to find somebody to write a message for him once or twice but would he be able to do so more often? Anyway, Madam Zhong felt that it was better this way. If her son managed to write to her, would he ever become independent? No, it was still good that he had gone and tried to make his own fortune outside. For this child that had grown up so sheltered and protected … maybe it was the best course of action.
“It’s alright.” Madam Zhong patted his back again, his gaze growing even softer. “Come on. I’ll take you to the preparation room. You can slowly tell me everything. How much time —” Before she could finish her sentence, she finally noticed the other person that had silently walked into the teahouse.
He had been so quiet that she might not have seen him at all but some of the sharp-sighted female customers had spotted him and were stunned into silence. By now, that silence had spread around the whole floor, enveloping the teahouse in a strange bubble of inactivity where nobody seemed to dare to even breathe loudly.
Qiu Ling ignored them but smiled at his mother-in-law. She remembered him. Great! Now he wouldn’t have to work as hard. He just had to let her have a good talk with her son and then nothing would get in the way of their love!
Jing Yi wiped the tears from his cheeks once again and took a deep breath. He didn’t want to make such an impression on his mother after finally seeing her again. He dropped his arms and stepped back, looking at her apprehensively. “Mother,” he called out in a low voice, afraid how she would react.
Madam Zhong just smiled and patted his cheek. “You’ve grown taller. Now, come on in. Don’t just stand there like a stranger.” She motioned at the door to the preparation room but halted and turned back to Qiu Ling. “You too.”
“Mn! Thank you, mo—” Qiu Ling picked up on Jing Yi’s warning glare and stopped himself before he could call her mother-in-law. Right. His beloved didn’t want him to call her that for now. Mn, he’d have to wait until they were officially married before he could do so. What a pity. His mother-in-law in the Nine Heavens had always liked it when he called her that way. His mother-in-law here was really missing out! He could only hope for her that his beloved would make up his mind soon.
“Ah, mother, I hope you don’t mind. This is my senior martial brother from the Yun Zou Sect, Qiu Ling. We’re supposed to travel outside together after my visit, so I brought him with me.”
“Senior martial brother,” repeated Madam Zhong and smiled wryly. This man certainly didn’t mind whatever identity he took on. It seemed he was still intent on winning her son over. “Well then, come with us, please.” She took her son’s hand and led him into the preparation room, ignoring all the customers that were focusing with wide eyes and strained ears on her son and Qiu Ling.
The three of them walked inside and were greeted by the sight of Nie Huang brewing tea.
Jing Yi smiled. Yes, it really was just like back then. If not for Qiu Ling following him, it would have seemed as if he hadn’t left at all.
He didn’t know yet that Qiu Ling had already been following him around back then. So, actually, there really wasn’t anything that had changed. All of them had just grown a little older.
Thinking back now, his biggest trouble back then had been how to avoid Zhong Guanyu. Now he had come back to ask his mother for advice on how to deal with Qiu Ling. So, yes, nothing had changed. He was still being chased by people who had fallen in love with him and he still didn’t know how to face them.
It was just … this time, it wasn’t that detestable. Actually, he liked that feeling of having someone close to him … quite a bit.