Perfect World Chapter 17 – Amendments of Understanding

on 08 21, 2010

Seeing his appointed guest arrive, Xiao Yao rose from his chair and bowed with his eyes downcast towards the full tea cup on the table.  He had been waiting at the restaurant for the past half hour.  The other man was not late; in anticipation, he himself had arrived much earlier than the meeting time to ruminate on things some more.  Lin Bao Zhu took his seat across from Xiao Yao, noticing the full tea cup with the hot steam long gone.  They were seated in a corner of the restaurant, shaded from the blazing sun.

“You said in your note you had something to say to me.  Did you wait long?”

“Oh, no, not too long…”  Xiao Yao’s voice trailed off as he furled his lips and took quick, spanned glances across the table.  His thumbs began twidling themselves as he struggled to say something else.  Sensing his apprehension, Lin Bao Zhu called the waiter over and ordered a cup of tea for himself and one to replace the cold serving that laid in front of his companion.

“Ling Er tells me you had some sort of disagreement last night.”

Xiao Yao’s tense actions suddenly ceased as he became overcome with guilt.

“Oh, she told you, did she?  Last night…” Xiao Yao hoped that the old master would continue for him; however, Lin Bao Zhu only sat straight in his chair, waiting for him to continue.

“Well, I mainly called you out here to discuss my attitude towards you last night.  It seems I wasn’t making too many good impressions, to say the least.”

Lin Bao Zhu continued to sit silently, laying his eyes on Xiao Yao

“Look, I know I can be too arrogant at times and come across as some foolish boy.  I know I need to change that, okay?”  Xiao Yao’s tense behavior returned just as quickly as it had left, causing him to fidget with his tea cup.  The waiter returned with a hot pot of tea, which Lin Bao Zhu told him to leave at their table.  After a few moments of staring at the pot, Xiao Yao picked it up and poured its fragrant contents into Lin Bao Zhu’s cup and then his own after gulping down the cool tea.  Taking a small sip, Xiao Yao slouched a bit more into his chair, looking directly at Lin Bao Zhu.

“Master Lin, I’m not very good at apologies.  I’m not really used to making them, except to Ling Er…” Xiao Yao’s expression turned very serious as he glanced away and then returned to stare Lin Bao Zhu in the eyes.  “But you can at least say something.”  Lin Bao Zhu looked at Xiao Yao for a while, and then chuckled as he took a nice, satisfying drink from his tea cup.  Xiao Yao’s face turned cold.

“What’s so funny?”  He was thoroughly confused.  What was going on?  And, should he be confused about the old master’s behavior or be insulted?  Lin Bao Zhu smiled at him.

“Well, at least you’re growing, I’ll give you that.  Slow progress is better than no progress.”  He raised his cup at Xiao Yao and took another small sip.  Now Xiao Yao was really confused.

“I beg your pardon?” Xiao Yao blinked curiously.

“You say you understand you can be overly arrogant at times, and that you need to change.  A common child with any sense knows the difference between right and wrong, Sir Li.  What you need to work on is how you express yourself.  I applaud you for taking the initiative and making such an effort to make peace with me; however, you need to learn to remain calm, especially when events are not unfolding as you wish.  Do not misunderstand, you do have your shining moments, such as what you said at Gu Ma’s shop.  Most men have difficulty expressing how they truly feel, especially to the ones they care about most, myself included.  But if you cannot harness your emotions correctly, you’ll always be only a second rate swordsman, and will leave your loved ones worried and secretly wanting more.  You have the potential to be great – truly great.  But I’m afraid you’re limiting yourself.  Do you understand, Xiao Yao?”

The young man tried to absorb every word he was being told.  Although it seemed as though Lin Bao Zhu was picking on his faults again, surprisingly, he was only a bit offended.  Xiao Yao nodded his head slightly.

“I think so…”

“I do not wish to intrude into your personal matters, Xiao Yao, but if I may…”

With a cocky grin, Xiao Yao replied, “I have nothing to hide.”  Though, secretly, he wished he had said no.

“Last night, what exactly happened between you and Ling Er?”

Yup.  He knew it.  Xiao Yao let out a heavy, but determined, sigh.  He was a man.  If he did it, he should be able to discuss it.  Gritting his teeth, Xiao Yao forced himself to tell the truth.

“When I returned to the inn last night, I drowned my anger and frustration with wine.  Ling Er came to comfort me, but I didn’t want to hear it from her.  She latched herself onto my arm.”  Xiao Yao’s gaze became aloof as he described how he almost struck his wife.  Clenching his left hand, Xiao Yao resisted the temptation to pound the table with his fist.

“Sure, I was drunk, but that doesn’t excuse…”  Xiao Yao’s eyes watered as another helping of shame landed on Xiao Yao’s plate of guilt at the moment as he realized the situation.  Here he was, Li Xiao Yao, being counciled, consoled, by his best friends’ father and uncle.  Ah Qi had always been there to guide him.  Yue Ru never left his side, willingly sharing in every ounce of his pain.  Neither of them asked for anything in return.  And now, Lin Bao Zhu was acting like he actually cared about him.  Xiao Yao never knew what it was to have a father.  His master was the only male model he’s ever had.  He felt he owed this family far too much.  Lin Bao Zhu poured himself another cup of tea.

“She’s waiting for you,.  You know that, don’t you?”

Xiao Yao nodded.

“No matter how badly I screw up, I know Ling Er would always forgive me without a second thought.  That’s how she is…makes me feel even more guilty.  She’s so…perfect.”  Xiao Yao scoffed and laughed at himself for not fully being able to appreciate his wife.  Lin Bao Zhu recalled his attention with an authoratative voice.

“May her perfection stand as conviction, as motivation, for you to strive.  My wife was the same way…”  A sudden nostalgia filled the old man’s voice.  “I didn’t know how to appreciate her until she was gone.  And even then, I couldn’t make it up to her.  Look at what I allowed to happen to Yue Ru…”

Xiao Yao remembered the conversation between he and Yue Ru concerning the late Madame Lin.  They both remained silent for a moment before Xiao Yao scooted his chair next to Lin Bao Zhu.  Patting the old master’s shoulder, Xiao Yao smiled goofily and reassured him that Yue Ru would be okay.  Lin Bao Zhu looked at the hand that was  resting on his shoulder and then at Xiao Yao’s face.  Smiling gently, he agreed before shaking his head at the young man’s silliness.

Xiao Yao smiled deviously as he dipped the small paintbrush into the bowl of murky water, draining its tip of the light blue paint that he just finished using.  Dabbing the brush again in the green paint on his pallette, the tip of his tongue darted to the side of his mouth as he squinted closely at the canvas in front of him.  After roughly six hours, his masterpiece was nearly complete.  He felt himself about to laugh out loud as he mentally ran over his plan again and quickly brought his hand to his mouth, forgetting he still had the paintbrush.

“Ah CHOO!”  Putting his fingers to his nose and forehead, Xiao Yao frowned at the spots of green that appeared at their tips.  Then, laughing heartily, he skipped to the other side of the room and wiped his face with a wet rag.  Everything was going according to plan.  Guo Bing was no where to be found, fortunately, and Xiao Shi Tou and Lin Bao Zhu had kept Ling Er away from their room at the inn for the entire day on long, petty errands.  Though they stayed in town a little longer than expected, Xiao Yao wasn’t worried, as they estimated the trip to Mt. Shu requiring only a few more days at most.

Sniffing the air, Xiao Yao quickly rushed downstairs to a large stove.  After much pleading, the innkeeper finally allowed him to use the inn’s kitchen to prepare a special dinner for Ling Er.  He lifted the lid from the bubbling pot and took a small taste with the wooden spoon he had been stirring with.  Satisfied with the seasoning, he turned his attention to a stack of steaming baskets.  The aroma of mantou/buns filled the air as he chuckled at how soft and firm they were.  He expected the buns to turn out okay, but not the other dishes.  Surprisingly, they turned out okay.  Xiao Yao suddenly sensed himself being watched.  Turning quickly, he dashed through the kitchen door, startling the old woman who was peeking through the cracks.  She lost her balance and landed on her butt.

“The innkeeper’s wife?  What were you doing?”  Xiao Yao looked from her to the kitchen and twirled the spoon in his hand.  The old woman stared wide-eyed at Xiao Yao before stammering out her reply.

“P-p-p-please, sir!  Don’t tell my husband!  I-I-I-I was only – only trying t-t-to help!”  She lifted herself to her knees and put her hands together, shaking them back and forth in front of Xiao Yao.  Blinking, Xiao Yao stared at the woman questioningly.  Wait a minute.  The sauce he just tasted had a hint of ginger in it.  He didn’t put in any ginger.

“You…you seasoned my dishes?”

“I’m so sorry, sir.  But I overheard you talking to the old man and the monk.  I…I think it’s just wonderful what you’re doing for that sweet girlfriend of yours.”

“Actually, we’re married.”  The old woman’s speech changed abruptly to rapid chatter as she stood up and wiped the dirt from her apron.

“OH!  Even better!  Hm, my husband was saying how there was nothing going on between the two of you youngins’ – but I didn’t believe him, no-sir-ee-bob.  I knew it.  I knew it!  You two are madly in love!  Oh, this is so sweet of you!  How utterly adorable!  I wish my husband did these sorts of things for me once in a while, that antiromantic old geezer.  But you’re different.  You’re young and spirited and I just think that – ”

Xiao Yao stared at the old woman for a while before interrupting her.

“Uh, madame?  Madame?  HEY!!!  What did you do to my dishes?”

Blushing intensely, the innkeeper’s wife scratched her head as she let out a playful cackle.

“Well, to be honest, young man, your dishes were quite horrible.  If I haven’t lost most of my taste buds already, oh boy, I would have croaked!”

“They couldn’t have been that bad!”

“Have you tasted your own cooking before?”

“I – actually, no…not food I prepared by myself.”

“That’s what I thought.”  A hint of ‘I told you so’ echoed in her words.

Xiao Yao stared into the kitchen.  Could his cooking be that bad?  The old woman, who had lost all of the hesitance she once had, gave an exasperated sigh as she walked up to Xiao Yao, grabbed his arm, and led him stumbling into the kitchen.  She was going to give him a crash course in the basics of food seasoning and the culinary arts.  If Ling Er ate the food he had prepared, it wouldn’t be a pretty night.

A pair of excited eyes scanned the room.  Everything seemed to be in order.  The room decorations were finished.  His art work, which took most of his time, was laid in the corner next to the bed to finish drying.  The sweet aroma of fresh food had filled the room and was escaping out of the open window.  Xiao Yao checked his attire one last time.  His shirt had been cleaned and pressed by the innkeeper’s wife after their crash course in the kitchen and he was feeling good.  Ling Er should return at any moment now and Guo Bing still had not returned.  Things were indeed running smoothly.  He walked over to the window and stuck his head outside for a breath of fresh air.  Inhaling deeply, Xiao Yao beat his chest a few times before looking down at the welcome message he had prepared for his wife.  An assortment of stones laid in a perfect circle surrounded more stones and a large collection of flower petals he had picked in a meadow by the pond that morning.  The stones in the middle read, ‘Welcome back, my love’ with a goofy smiley face next to it.  His eyes followed the stones to the end, where a trail of leaves and flower petals led the way into the inn, up the stairs and through the door to their room.  The innkeeper’s wife had promised him that his gestures would not be disturbed by the other guests, assuring Xiao Yao that she would beat even  her husband should he try anything funny.  Xiao Yao laughed to himself as he wished for Ling Er to return quickly.  Looking across the street, he gave a wave to the musicians that he had hired after leaving the restaurant with Lin Bao Zhu.  According to the old master, most women loved music, and he did not suspect Ling Er to be any different.  His excitement was brimming over as he stepped away from the window and sat down, still facing outside.  He wanted to see Ling Er as soon as she turned the corner.  Rubbing his chin, he suddenly felt as though he was forgetting something.  What was it?  Oh, right!  Xiao Yao jumped over the bed and picked up a bead bracelet from beside the drying canvas.

Ling Er was famished from her day of running errands.  Xiao Shi Tou and Lin Bao Zhu took turns the entire day asking for her help.  The two now walked along beside her, one on each side.  She looked to her left.  The little monk was surprisingly giddy as he skipped merrily along with the various packages they had purchased.  Blinking a few times, she glanced at the ground before turning her head to her right.  Lin Bao Zhu walked with perfect posture, with his eyes staring straight forward.  Sensing her curiosity, the old master looked over and nonchalantly thanked her for all of her help that day.  Yue Ru rested softly on his back as he smiled at Ling Er sincerely.  They came upon the last turn before the inn entrance.  Ling Er’s compansions gave each other a knowing look and nodded ever so slightly.  Ling Er continued to walk, confused at the two men’s behavior.  Turning the corner, she stopped abruptly at the sight in front of her.  ‘Welcome home, my love (^_^)’ she read as she slowly walked towards the stone structure.

“I wonder what …” she started.

“Welp, gotta go.  Come, Master Lin.  It’s getting late, isn’t it?”

“It is, indeed.  Let us retire for the night.”

“Yes.  Let’s.”

Xiao Shi Tou and Lin Bao Zhu hastened their pace, leaving Ling Er behind as they continued to make smalltalk.

What’s going on?  Ling Er walked into the inn with her eyes locked onto the trail of flowers.  Her eyes followed the trail up to the second floor.  Lin Bao Zhu and Xiao Shi Tou were no where to be seen.  Walking up the stairs, she saw that the trail led down the corrider to her and Xiao Yao’s room.  She looked towards Lin Bao Zhu’s room.  No light was emitted from beneath the doorway.  Looking further down, she discovered Xiao Shi Tou’s room to be dark as well.

‘Strange…was this all part of some plan?’  Her heart fluttered as she wondered if her Xiao Yao gege had anything to do with it.  ‘Of course he did, silly.’  she assured herself as a smile cracked on her face.  Taking small steps towards her room, she quietly stuck her head around the doorframe, peeking inside.  Her jaw dropped instantly.  The bed was covered with the same flower petals that she followed just now.  Candles lined the perimeter of the room along the floor.  On the table was a variety of dishes with two plates, each set on opposite sides.  On the other side of the bed lay an object that she couldn’t make out.  In the center of the room was her Xiao Yao gege, facing the window on the side of the room.  Apparently, he had missed her coming into the inn.  His elbows were tucked in at his sides as he shimmied back and forth towards the window, bobbing his head to and fro with his eyes focused and lips puckered.

Ling Er tried in vain to control her laughter as a high pitched squeek escaped her mouth.  Xiao Yao stopped abruptly, turned to the door and let out a surprised scream.

“AHH!  Uh.  I.  Er.  Welcome back, Ling Er.”  He cleared his throat as he tried to stand up straight.  Ling Er was speechless.  She could only stand there, trying not to hyperventilate.  She could feel the tears well up in her beautiful, bright eyes as Xiao Yao approached her with his hands behind his back.  Bowing towards her, he extended his hand.  Ling Er fought to regain her self-control as she took his hand, allowing him to lead her to the table.  The candles’ dim lights danced in her eyes as she sat down.  Smiling sincerely at her, Xiao Yao closed the door, filled their cups with wine and took his place across from her.  They sat without speaking for a while, just taking each other in as they ate.  Until now, Xiao Yao had not truly looked at Ling Er’s new dress.  The evening breeze swayed her hair and the light blue ribbons that led to two neatly formed buns on top of her head.  Secured by a yellow-green sash, the solid, light blue dress hugged his wife’s petite body as a set of outer sleeves stopped where her shoulders ended.  She was stunning.  He watched as she placed a tender piece of meat in her soft, pink lips.  His mouth hung open without him realizing it.  Ling Er tilted her head down and stared into Xiao Yao’s eyes.  His bangs covered some of his right eye.  A darker blue robe wrapped his body with a brown sash outside of a pure white shirt.  The couple continued to eat in silence as they smiled at one another.

Xiao Yao’s expression suddenly turned to one of seriousness and urgency.

“Ling Er…about last night…”

Ling Er stopped eating and looked at him with saddened eyes.

“Listen to me, Ling Er, I – I’m so sorry, Ling Er.  I – I don’t know what came over me.  I would never lay a hand on you, never!  But I won’t use the excuse that I was drunk, either.  It should never have happened, Ling Er.  There’s no excuse, no explanation that I offer.  Only…I – I – I’m so, so sorry…”

Ling Er continued to look at Xiao Yao, watching as his eyes watered, searching frantically for seemingly nothing at all.  Getting up, she walked to her husband and, bending down, took his left hand in hers.  Lifting his chin so that their eyes met, she smiled gently.

“I know, Xiao Yao gege…I know…”  She held his head against her chest as she caressed his cheek.

“I promised to bring you happiness, joy.”  Xiao Yao broke from her embrace and held her hand tightly, looking deeply into her eyes.  Their gaze was broken by a light that illuminated the room from their hands.  Looking down, the ‘Ling’ character resonated intensely in Xiao Yao’s left hand.  Smiling, Xiao Yao regained his self-control and helped Ling Er to her feet.  Wiping the tears from their eyes, he led her to the window sill and gave an enthusiastic wave.  With Xiao Yao holding Ling Er from behind, they looked up at the night sky, with the moon shining brightly down at them amidst countless twinkling stars.  A few moments later, a slow ballad reached their ears.  Turning around to Xiao Yao, Ling Er asked her husband if he had arranged for this as well.  Tapping her nose, he nodded and led her to the center of the room.  Taking her into his arms, Xiao Yao bent down next to her ear and whispered.

“Dance with me…”

Ling Er reached under his arms and pulled him closer against her, leaning her head against his chest.  Rubbing his fingers against her back, Xiao Yao placed his lips against her forehead and stroked the side of her face.  He pulled her into his embrace again as he continued to sway them to the music.  To Ling Er’s surprise, Xiao Yao placed his cheek against her so that his mouth was next to her ear as he started to sing to her.  His smooth, baratone voice filled her mind, lulling her eyes to close.  She held him tightly as his presence enveloped her being.  She could disappear into him at this moment.

“There will come the day, when you’ll finally believe me…that I love you.”

As he finished his song, the music from outside slowly faded away as well.  Taking her hand, Xiao Yao reached into his robe and retrieved the green, yellow and white bracelet.  Sliding the charm around Ling Er’s hand, he cupped both of his hands around hers.

“Just in case you need a small reminder of how much I love you, Ling Er.”  His voice was filled with passion, sincerity, desperation.  Hearing him say that last line was all Ling Er could stand.  The tears came streaming down her face.  Wiping the new tears from his wife’s face, Xiao Yao kissed beside her eye and told her the night wasn’t over.  He walked over to the other side of the flower petel covered bed.  Ling Er looked at him curiously as she was reminded of the object that was hidden from her view when she first peeked her head in.  A giant grin painted itself on Xiao Yao’s face.  He held the back of the canvas towards Ling Er.  She smiled suspiciously at him as she walked over to him.  Xiao Yao’s silly expression was replaced with one of sincerity as he flipped the painting around.  Ling Er gasped and stared at the portrait.  Xiao Yao stood on the left with his arm around Ling Er, who had Yi Ru in her arms.  Xiao Yao’s other hand supported Ling Er’s where Yi Ru was.  They were all smiling tenderly.

“I promise you this life.”  Xiao Yao stood in front of his wife without blinking, searching her delicate eyes.

“Xiao Yao gege – ” Ling Er stammered as she hugged him around the waist, causing him to lift the painting high into the air.  Placing the piece of art on the table, Xiao Yao picked her up in his arms and spun around again and again.  They giggled as they fell into their bed, still in each other’s arms.  Smiling mischieviously, Xiao Yao took another look at his wife’s dress.  He could have sworn it looked familiar.  Seeing a confused look on his face, Ling Er asked him what was the matter.  She laughed as he tried to figure out why the dress was so familiar.  Finally, Xiao Yao snapped his fingers and chuckled.

“Xian Ling Dao!”

Ling Er nodded.  “This dress has the same design as the one you first saw me in.”  Ling Er blushed as she looked down, away from her husband’s piercing gaze.  Xiao Yao reached behind him.  Turning, he hid them from the world beneath a blanket covered in flower petals.

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