When Meifeng began to feel a splitting pain in her side, she realized that she had ran for too long and too far. Stopping to look around, she didn’t recognize any of the buildings or scenery. Meifeng was never the fastest runner so this realization frightened her because it meant no one had chased after her.
Forget Leikhan, but shouldn’t at least Huian have come after me? Meifeng thought to herself.
Looking around she saw all sorts of faces, but nothing she could recognize. At least Meifeng guessed that she was still in the teahouse district since she could identify all manner of different teahouses lining the street.
“I’ll just backtrack,” Meifeng muttered to herself.
After a few minutes of wandering around, Meifeng accepted that she was completely lost. At this thought, her heart started beating rapidly in her chest, and she found it hard to breath. Quickly, she sat down in a crouch in one of the alleyways and tried to steady her breathing. She hadn’t had a panic attack since she left Shanghai as a little girl. If she had one now, that would just be the icing on the terrible cake her supposed new life had become. At that thought, the terrible feelings from the earlier conversation resurfaced.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to go! Of course, Meifeng had never been foolish enough to expect a deep love like in novels and dramas. At the very least she had hoped for a little kindness and amiability with her new husband. Once more, Meifeng felt the tears prick her eyes.
This time, she could not find the strength to stop their flow and began crying a river of tears. Feeling them drip down her face, she began to feel mucus begin to drip from her nose onto her hanfu. Still, she continued to cry in some strange alleyway, far from anything that was familiar to her. In some part of her brain, Meifeng knew that she must look very foolish, but the part that was bawling her eyes out simply didn’t care.
“Big sis, why are you crying,” suddenly asked a childlike voice.
Wiping the tears from her face with the sleeve of her now ruined hanfu, Meifeng somehow found the strength to stop her tears and face the child.
As to be expected, the child was not like any other child she had ever seen. His hanfu was as white as the color of his hair and rather than having eyes like a person, the whites of his eyes were black with the color of his eyes white and without a pupil.
Meifeng, you’ve fallen so low that even a demon child finds you pitiful. As the thought entered her mind, more tears began streaming and Meifeng went back to crying into her knees.
“Sis, did someone bully you,” the demon child asked.
“Bully me,” Meifeng asked before letting out a strange laugh and answering, “Yes, I guess I was bullied.”
“Who bullied you?” asked the demon child.
“Why do you want to know?” Meifeng responded.
“Mama says that a gentleman should always help out a damsel in distress,” the child said, trying to appear taller than his stature.
Laughing at his display, Meifeng said, “How wise your mama is. If only that man had a fraction of your morals.”
“It was a man? Mama always says that men who bully women are scum who deserve to rot in the dungeons for eternity,” the child recited.
Laughing louder, Meifeng said, “Your mama sounds like an interesting lady.” Thinking about the situation, Meifeng followed up by saying, “Little One, where is your mama or baba right now?”
“At work,” the child responded.
Frowning, Meifeng said, “Then what are you doing here all alone?”
Shrugging the child responded, “I was on my way to mama and baba’s teahouse, but then I saw you.”
Meifeng nodded and said, “Well, thank you. I’m fine now so please continue on to your mama and baba. They might get worried if you take too long.”
Scratching his head, the boy paused before offering, “Do you want to come with me?”
In surprise, Meifeng paused. Her first instinct was to refuse, but when she considered the situation, she was lost, hungry, and alone. Moreover, she really didn’t want to go back to either the estate or the noodle shop. At least the child’s offer gave a safer alternative.
Convincing herself, Meifeng nodded, and took the child’s hand. He proceeded to lead her through the alley, each road winding with the other. At first Meifeng thought that she could keep track of where they were going, but as the road continued to twist, she gave up.
Well, if I wasn’t lost before, I sure am now, Meifeng thought to herself.
Out loud, she asked the boy how much longer until they reached his parent’s teahouse.
Placing a hand securely on his backpack, the boy responded, “We’re almost there, see.” Meifeng noticed that the boy had cocked his head towards a teahouse with red lanterns on the front.
When they approached the door, the boy opened the sliding doors to reveal a sort of waiting room. The furniture inside feeling more like the Republican era with decorative couches, low wooden tables and mats rather than the ancient style furniture that the estate was decorated with. Stranger still, Meifeng could hear music faintly playing from somewhere. At first, she couldn’t recognize it, but the longer she listened, the more familiar the sound became.
“Is that jazz music?” Meifeng exclaimed out loud in shock.
“En, when mama was alive she was a singer in an Earth city they called Shanghai,” the boy responded.
“Does she still sing,” Meifeng asked.
The boy nodded and said, “Mama said that although baba looks scary he’s kind enough that he gave her this teahouse to live out her dreams in.”
Meifeng was about to ask the child another question when she heard a shrill male voice exclaim, “Young master, what took you so long?”
Looking up, the two were greeted with a man dressed in a western style suit. Meifeng assumed that he must have been a human soul as he looked no different than a clean-cut man in his 30s. The only strange thing about him was the old-fashioned style of his suit.
“I was helping a damsel in distress,” the child said handing the man his bag.
Looking at Meifeng’s haggard appearance clutching the boy’s hand, the man muttered, “Your mother is going to kill me and then your father is going to laugh while watching.”
“Did you say something,” the child asked.
“Nothing, young master. Now let’s get you inside,” the man said.
The child was going to agree, but then he looked back at Meifeng and said, “Wait, I want mama to help her.”
“Young master, what do you mean,” the man asked with sweat pouring down his face.
“A man bullied her. He also made her cry. Mama will fix it,” the boy said confidently.
The man was about to open his mouth to respond to the child when a feminine voice called out, “Yong-er, where have you been?”
The boy immediately took off running towards the voice and jumped into the arms of one of the most beautiful women Meifeng had ever seen while yelling, “Mama!”
The woman caught the child, but immediately after asked, “What did you do?”
In his mother’s arms, the boy said, “I didn’t do anything. How could you doubt your own son?”
“Its because you’re my son that I doubt you. Now speak,” the woman ordered.
“Someone bullied a girl so I brought her back,” the child said then pointed at Meifeng.
The sharp black eyes of the woman turned to look at Meifeng, examining her for a moment. To Meifeng, it felt as if a mother fox was examining an intruder in her territory.
“Your name,” the woman then said.
“Huh?” Meifeng responded lamely.
“I assume you have one,” the woman said.
Nodding, Meifeng said, “Yes, its Jia Meifeng.”
The woman put down the boy and then circled her and asked, “Now are you a soul awaiting judgment or a newly conferred demon?”
Meifeng’s shifu had told her about how some souls were able to stay in Diyu and even marry and have children with demons by giving up their right to reincarnation. Since Meifeng was clearly not dead and she didn’t want to say who she really was, she decided that the latter was a better option.
“I was just conferred as a demon yesterday,” Meifeng responded. At least this way it was only a half lie.
Nodding, the woman asked, “Did you get any special ability?”
“I can predict a person’s future when I trace the lines on their hand,” Meifeng responded, revealing her bridal gift.
The man remarked, “How do we know you’re not a hack. There’s plenty who claim to know the future.”
The woman flashed the man a smile which caused him to visibly shudder before saying, “Excellent deduction Mr. Jiang. Now, give her your hand.”
“Madame Tian, why do I have to?” asked the man Meifeng now knew to be Mr. Jiang.
“Because I’m the Madame and you’re the waiter,” the woman called Madame Tian responded.
Sighing Mr. Jiang replied, “Very well. Can I at least have a raise for this?”
“Mr. Jiang, I pay you more than half the city gets to see in their entire afterlives,” Madame Tian retorted.
“Very well,” Mr. Jiang said giving his palm to Meifeng.
In response, Meifeng traced her finger on the lines on his palm and a scene of Mr. Jiang being scolded appeared in her head.
Releasing his hand, Meifeng asked, “Can you promise not get angry if I say what I saw?”
“Young miss, this Mr. Jiang is a proud waiter of the famed Tian Teahouse. I would not be so petty as to hold a grudge for something I, myself, wanted to confirm,” Mr. Jiang responded.
Shrugging, Meifeng said, “Yesterday he broke an expensive blue vase on accident and today, Madame Tian will find a shard that he forgot to clean up when walking down a hallway.”
Mr. Jiang’s face paled to the point that he could not even muster the ability to deny Meifeng’s claims.
Nodding, Madame Tian said, “From your reaction, the young miss is telling the truth. Mr. Jiang we’ll discuss this later. For now, tell a waitress to bring some tea and osmanthus cakes while I talk with the young miss.”
When Mr. Jiang stayed where he was, Madame Tian said, “I meant now. Oh, and take Yong-er to his room. I want him to be doing his homework by the time I’m done.”
Taking the young demon boy’s hand, Mr. Jiang said, “Yes, Madame Tian.” Meifeng did notice that the man gave her a particularly dark glare before leaving to do what he was ordered. She had the strangest feeling that despite Mr. Jiang’s earlier words, he would surely be holding a grudge for what just happened.
Sitting on the couch, Meifeng took notice to how elegantly Madame Tian sat, with not a wrinkle in her white and crimson qipao. Patting the space next to her, Meifeng went to sit next to her, trying to keep some of her dignity and teachings in place.
“Now, Yong-er says that you were bullied. Tell me all about it,” Madame Tian requested.
“With all due respect, Madame Tian, how does this matter concern you,” Meifeng responded.
Flipping her short permed black hair, Madame Tian said, “I am the Madame Tian. If there is one thing I can’t forgive, its bullies. You won’t be the first person I’ve interfered with and you certainly won’t be the last. If you doubt me, just ask my husband and Mr. Jiang.”
Nodding, Meifeng decided that while she couldn’t tell her everything, she could at least tell Madame Tian some of the truth. Besides it would be nice to have someone to confide in.
Just as she had made this decision, a young girl with an apron around her qipao came in and placed some tea and cakes on the low wooden table in front of them.
After the girl left, Madame Tian took a cup of tea and Meifeng took a bite of the sweet cake, feeling it melt in her mouth and remind her of her earlier hunger.
“How is it?” Madame Tian asked.
Covering her mouth while chewing on the cake, Meifeng responded, “It’s so good.”
Nodding, Madame Tian said, “I’ll be sure to relay your compliments to the chef. Now, who was it that bullied you?”
Gathering her thoughts, Meifeng said, “I was supposed to be married. I was really looking forward to it. Some of my friends said that I was making the wrong decision and that I should have run away, but I wanted to believe that he would be kind.”
“Did he hit you,” Madame Tian asked.
Meifeng shook her head.
“Did he curse you?”
Again, Meifeng shook her head.
“Then what did he do?”
“A-After the c-ceremony…” Meifeng’s voice trailed off unable to voice out what she now knew to be true.
“Did this floating rotten corpse cheat on you on your wedding night?” Madame Tian asked with a vengeful gleam in her obsidian eyes.
Meifeng shook her head and said, “No, No. Though I think I would have preferred it if he had. At least then I would have understood.”
Dumfounded, Madame Tian responded, “Well then, what did he do that you would rather have had him cheat on you then whatever happened?”
Taking a sip of tea to wash down the sweet taste of the cakes, Meifeng responded, “He left.”
“What do you mean he left,” Madame Tian asked in confusion.
Feeling her voice rise in anger, Meifeng exclaimed, “Exactly as it sounds. After the ceremony, he just left without saying two words. I mean, who does that? I wasn’t a stranger, I was supposed to be his wife!”
Madame Tian eyes widened at this news and exclaimed an exaggerated, “Oh no.”
Not expecting this reaction, Meifeng asked, “What do you mean by that?”
Putting two fingers to her temples to calm herself, Madame Tian responded, “Miss Jia, it would appear that we are bound by fate.”
Cocking her head, Meifeng said, “I’m sorry Madame Tian, but I don’t quite understand your meaning.”
“Never mind about that. How would you like a job?” Madame Tian suddenly asked.
“Do you normally offer strangers jobs,” Meifeng asked.
“No, but your story reminds me of something I’ve heard before and that floating corpse…Regardless, do you want one or not?” Madame Tian cryptically explained.
Even though Meifeng was angry, she still didn’t really think running away was the appropriate thing to do, even if Madame Tian did seem like a good person.
Seeing the reluctance in the younger girl’s eyes, Madame Tian said, “You’d sit at one of the tables and read people’s fortune for 5 liang a person and the shop would get 30 percent of your daily earnings. You’d be able to meet all sorts of people.”
“Its not that I wouldn’t like to, but my house is far from here and I don’t know if I’ll be able to come here again,” Meifeng tried to reason.
Laughing, Madame Tian said, “Is that all? So what you’re saying is if I give you a method to be able to work here without trouble, you would agree?”
Thinking on her words, Meifeng responded, “Yes, but I don’t really see how that’s possible.”
Smiling, Madame Tian reached into her pockets and pulled out a set of keys, the most peculiar thing about these keys was that they all looked the same. Madame Tian then unhooked one of the keys and tossed it to Meifeng.
Catching it, Meifeng asked, “Why did you give me a key?”
Placing the keys back into her pockets, Madame Tian replied, “You said that all you were lacking was a method. This key when placed into any lock will open a doorway into this teashop and when you want to return, the key will open a doorway to the place you originally came from.”
“Why are you willing to go so far for me? I don’t know you,” Meifeng inquired.
“You’re right, you don’t. It would also be a lie if I said I was doing it out of the goodness of my heart. That said, it’s an opportunity and its not one many people are often given,” Madame Tian said.
Thinking about everything that had happened in the past two days, Meifeng replied, “Then I choose to take that opportunity.”