When Yunhe left, Zixu tapped the basket of pastries he bought and explained, "I actually came to see you."
Yujia relaxed her expression, calmly facing him and wiping all internal screaming from her mind. "What for?" she asked.
"Didn't you promise me before to help me out? I heard that Young Miss Jing likes sweets, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth. So help me try these out and see which one is best, alright?" His hands reached over to the basket, pulling apart the layers to reveal a variety of different pastries.
Yujia pursed her lips together. "Could you not ask your younger brother? Did he not have a sweet tooth?"
Zixu leaned backwards, blinking. "Ziyang is sickly. I'm sure he would like to eat all these sweets, but I don't want them to upset his stomach."
She looked at the food, then shrugged. Though she was reluctant to help, it was free food. Besides, she promised to help as well, and she couldn't really go back on her words without it being awkward.
"Alright, alright," she relented. "I'll taste test for you. What's the first row?"
"They're a variety of cakes," Zixu explained, "They all have different fillings. The light violet colored ones here," he pointed, "is black sesame paste. Over here, with the pink ones, are red bean paste. The green ones are lotus seed paste. The yellow ones have a salted egg center with bean paste."
Yujia reached her hand forward for the pink cake, but she paused when she looked at all the paint smeared over her fingers. Zixu, meanwhile, pulled out a pair of chopsticks and picked up a pink one for her, lifting the cake up to her face.
She stared at him. He looked at her innocently, eyebrows raised.
There was no way she was going to let him feed her.
Yujia stood up, raising her hands up and saying, "I'm going to find a basin of water. Will be back soon."
Zixu chuckled, setting the chopsticks and cake back down. "Take your time."
Upon hearing his laugh, she narrowed her eyes. He was teasing her again. Regardless, Yujia went to wash her hands— it took a little bit of extra soap and scrubbing to get all the oil paint off her skin— and moments later, she came back with clean hands and an open mind to try all the good food.
This time, she used a pair of chopsticks, carefully picking the tiny pink cake up. It was still warm when she bit into it, the soft red bean filling crumbling into her mouth. The cake, being bite-sized, fit into her mouth entirely, and her eyes lit up when she ate it, her head nodding enthusiastically. When she finished chewing and swallowing, she exclaimed, "It's really good!"
Zixu smiled. "That's good to hear. I did buy these pastries from a new shop this time, and though I haven't ever tried them, they said that the red bean paste cakes were some of the best." He nudged the basket closer to her. "Try the other flavors too."
Yujia picked up the dainty lilac-shade cake, tasting the aromatic sesame filling coupled along with the sweetness of the sugar. She tried the green one after that, and then the yellow one, with the salted duck egg. Upon eating the yellow one, Yujia nodded even more enthusiastically. She gestured at the other yellow cakes, saying, "The yellow one is the best, I think. The saltiness of the duck egg and the sweetness of the cake and filling match really well. The sesame one is delicious too, but if I had to pick a least favorite one, it would probably be that one."
Hearing this, Zixu gave a thoughtful nod. "Do you not like the sesame flavor in general? The second layer has some sesame balls. It's a recipe from the imperial palace, or so I've heard."
Yujia had sesame balls in the past, and she did enjoy them. So quickly, she pointed out, "I do like sesame. Let me give those a try."
As Zixu pushed forward the layer with the sesame balls, Yuija's eyes were greeted with perfectly-round desserts. The dough of sesame balls were made with glutinous rice, which was then rolled in white sesame seeds and afterwards deep-fried into a crispy perfection. Inside them, while she took a small bite, there was a sweet red bean paste filling. The contrast of textures from crisp to soft and chewy made it a delight to eat. Yujia had to give her approval for this classic snack.
Next to the sesame balls were more pastries, some an outer shell of thin golden layers and an inner sweet filling, others with stamped patterns and beautiful dyed colors. Below that layer, there were cakes that were translucent like crystals, molded into delicate patterns and looking almost too beautiful to eat. After that, there were even more pastries, cakes, candies, custards, and jellies.
As Yujia sampled through all of them, Zixu just kept on bringing out more and more layers of baskets and varieties out of seemingly thin air. It felt like he was presenting a whole store— no, a whole street— of snacks and desserts to her.
She could never stop eating. There seemed to be no end to the amount of pastries that Zixu had brought.
At one point in time, after sampling another kind of dessert, Yujia really had enough. She was too stuffed, and Zixu was pulling out yet another layer, explaining about the peach-blossom-shaped cakes on the plate.
It was too much. Really too much. This was not what she imagined for lunch, and at first, she didn't mind sampling the pastries, but she could not be more full than her current state of being. Even a foodie like her had a breaking point.
Yujia held out a hand, another hand resting on her stomach. She declared, "I'm stuffed. If you give me any more desserts, I will die."
"Ah, really?" Zixu grinned, his eyes shining. "I was afraid I didn't bring enough."
"You've got to be kidding me," Yujia managed a laugh.
Zixu only shrugged a shoulder, not giving an answer. He pulled the layer of cakes back, closing it with the other layers as a lid. Once he stacked that basket up, he leaned forward, resting his arms over the basket and his chin on his arms.
"So," he questioned, "which one did you like best?"
Thinking back to all the sweet things she just ate, Yujia winced. She was going to get diabetes at this rate, and right now, anything not sweet sounded awfully good.
"Probably the first layer," she admitted, "with the salted duck egg."
"Great. I'll keep that in mind." Zixu smiled a little more now.
Yujia thought back to the original reason for why he asked her to sample all these cakes and brought it up. "You're going to buy those for Miss Jing?"
His smile faltered by a slight degree. "Yes. Probably."
"I hope she'll like them," she replied.
There was brief silence for a moment, then Zixu suddenly said, "I've been wondering for a while now. Junior Sister, you looked quite… interesting when you walked in here. What were you doing?"
Yujia looked down at herself, staring at all the purple pigment powder that dusted her robes. "I was inventing," she confessed honestly.
"Inventing what? Would you mind telling me?" Zixu asked, giving a charming smile and looking into her gaze attentively.
"It's hard to explain, but another kind of ink, I suppose." Yujia stood up, turning to face the courtyard's exit. "Would you like to come along with me to see? It'll be easier to understand then."
He blinked, then stood up as well. "Of course. I would love to see."
Yujia brought Zixu to her courtyard, waving at the messy table of paints, mullers, paper, brushes, pigment, and oil.
"This is it," she declared, "It might not look like much, but I promise you— it's revolutionary."
Zixu walked to the opposite side of the table. He lifted a page where Yujia had tested her colors on, brushing his long fingers over the blue shade. When he lifted his hand, the blue paint had left a stain. "It's not dry?" he mused.
"No. It's a kind of ink made of oil. Oil paint. This kind of paint will be different than all the water-based ones, since water dries fast in air, yet oil takes much longer to dry," Yujia told him.
"I see." He set the page down. "A slower drying time would give the painter more time to paint, wouldn't it?"
"Exactly! That's one of the benefits of painting with oil. You could leave a painting overnight and come back to it." Yujia propped an arm on the table, using the other arm to wave at certain things in her messy station. "By mixing the oil and the pigments, I managed to create the paint. It's stored in a liquid state, so it'll be much more different than traditional inkstick and inkstone." She grabbed a paintbrush, dabbing it in a bit of the sapphire paint she managed to create. "You can give it a try on the paper over there."
He took the paintbrush from her, the warm skin of his hand brushing against hers for a brief moment. Very carefully, he moved the brush against the page, watching the way the paint transferred and observing the smooth application of paint.
"Isn't it amazing?" Yujia proudly stated.
"I've never seen anything like it before," Zixu responded, "It's marvelous. You're marvelous."
Yujia looked down, unable to hold back her grin. Her cheeks reddened, and she murmured, "Thanks."
fun fact, in a much, much earlier planned version of puay, yujia was supposed to still be in the yang villa when she was inventing the oil paint, and zixu was supposed to see her invention process there. :D
clearly, changes in the plot delayed the scene until now, but :)))
This's an experimental test for reading assistance in case.
We highly recommend you to enjoy the beauty of the original words.