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86 And the Winner of the Fourth Miss’s Drinking Competition Is…

    Silence joined the table once again after Bo Zhizhong said the last phrase about being married. Yujia was quietly eating and drinking, and no one seemed to have the intention to speak up again, which made for a not-so-pleasant mood over the entire table.

    After a few more minutes of this dreaded silence, Yujia decided to start the conversation again. "I didn't expect that you would be married," she laughed, "The Second Young Master is only engaged, and he's older than you by how many years?"

    "Seven years," he answered without much thought, "I guess my older brother just cared for finding himself an actual love rather than listening to what my father planned out for him."

    "You don't love your wife?" The moment after Yujia blurted out the question, she regretted it. That was way too personal of a question. How could she ask something like that to this person who she barely knew? "S-sorry," she stumbled, "that wasn't a proper question for me to ask."

    Bo Zhizhong leaned his forehead on his fingers, smiling a smile that didn't quite reach his ears while shaking his head. "It's alright," he mumbled. Perhaps it was the alcohol encouraging him, or perhaps it was the fact that he never truly told anyone about this that urged him to continue speaking. "What you said has some level of truth to it. I got married only a few months prior, but it was a marriage for political advancement. I treat her kindly, and she returns my kindness, yet at times, I can't help but question if she truly holds me in her heart or if it's all just an act so that her family can be raised higher."

    "If it makes you feel better, I'm engaged to someone three times my age, so my situation isn't much better than yours either." Yujia set the chopsticks in her hand down, looking at him with a serious gaze.

    He glanced up, eyebrows furrowed. "Really? How come?"

    Yujia decided to be completely honest with him. "I'm illegitimate, and I'm not a pampered young miss from a rich household either. Maybe it's like your situation a little- I exist to bring more business connections to my family."

    "That's-" He shook his head, a mixed expression surfacing on his face. "When are you getting married?"

    "In less than a month." Yujia couldn't help but smile.

    She didn't know why she was smiling. There was nothing celebratory about the fact that she was going to be married to some old man in less than a month. Maybe it was the fact that her situation seemed so dire, and now that she was facing the reality of it all, she didn't know how to respond, only putting a smile on her face instinctively.

    "But you're still... inventing and selling art?"

    "That's the reason why I'm so desperately trying to sell art to earn money. I struck a deal with my father. As long as I can give him five-hundred taels before the wedding, he'll cancel it all for me." Yujia took a deep breath, straightening her posture. "So, if you were to really think about it, you're in a better place than I'm at. At least you have a wife who's around your age- I'm guessing- and you have hope for love. If I fail, and I don't cancel the wedding in time, do you think that I still have any hope for anything at all?" She wrinkled her nose with a frown. "Just thinking about having to get... involved with a man that old makes me disgusted."

    Bo Zhizhong didn't say anything after she was finished, only reaching over for the jug of wine and pouring both of them yet another bowl. They drank their wine in silence, the meaning behind Yujia's words being rather clear.

    Everyone had their own struggles. There was always someone at a worse place.

    In a way, that was the best consoling that Yujia could come up with, both for him and for herself. She needed to take on this positive mindset to get through all of her conflict. Giving up now, when there were so many others in worse situations than her yet still struggling, was not a route that she should allow herself to take.

    After they finished the bowl of wine, the two began chatting again over all sorts of topics just to pass the time and keep away the silence. Jugs and jugs of wine were poured and emptied, replaced by more jugs filled with sweet wine.

    Five large jugs of wine later, Yujia found herself stuck in a situation. Hours should've passed by now, yet neither of them looked drunk enough to be named the loser of this drinking competition. The only sign that the two of them even drank anything was a faint blush of red across their faces and necks, but other than that, they both looked sober enough to drink until morning came.

    At this point, Yujia was getting tired of all the alcohol. She wasn't feeling depressed or in the need of using wine to bury away all her thoughts, so there really wasn't any point in drinking more. Right now, she would prefer a good long sleep than more bowls of wine. This competition needed to end soon, but how?

    Yujia took one more large gulp of wine, then decided that she didn't really want to win anymore. From the start, she never cared about what the results of the competition were. If he wanted to fund her pencils, that was only one extra investor. If he lost, then she wouldn't lose anything either. All along, she just wanted to get a good drink of wine, and now that she had her fill, there was no more need to keep going.

    Pulling up her acting abilities, Yujia set the empty bowl in her hand down with a clatter, then slumped against the table. "I- lose," she said, her speech as slurred as possible.

    "Seriously?" Though her head was on the table, she could hear the faint amusement in Zhizhong's voice. "You were talking just fine to me about how you had a strong resentment for society a moment ago. Even if your acting skills are so refined, then you need to at least match it up with what you were doing in the past."

    "Ugh, fine." Yujia sat straight up. "I'm not that drunk. But you're not that drunk either. I don't know about you, but as fun as it is chatting, I'm starting to get sleepy. Can we just end this competition? I'll take the spot as loser."

    "You're the one who started it all, and you're the one who ends it too?"

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    "Yeah," Yujia waved her hand, "I get if you want to prove to your father that you can do business too through investing in my invention, so I'll let you invest if you really want."

    Zhizhong's eyes lit up upon hearing what she said. "Then, considering how late it is, how about tomorrow, on the hour of Wu, I treat you to lunch, and we can talk about this business some more?"

    Yujia thought back to her agreement to meet up with the old man who was the founder of Lingxin. "Sounds good, but I have a meeting with someone in the afternoon, so I don't think I can. Maybe two hours later?"

    "That's fine with me."

    Zhizhong stood up and saluted politely. At that, Yujia smiled and saluted back. She took Hui'er's hand, and after a couple of farewells, she left the inn first.

    Now that she had such a long conversation and drink with Bo Zhizhong, Yujia decided that her opinion of him changed. He wasn't that annoying of a person.

    ...

    Once Miss Yang left the inn, Yushang saw Si Shen appear from a table a few seats away. The two headed out together, with Yushang talking to Si Shen about quite a lot of things, one of them being a new policy he had in his mind.

    "Si Shen," he stated, "I think that once I become Emperor, I'm going to make a new law that bans marriages over an age gap of fifteen years if one party isn't consenting. What do you think?"

    Si Shen merely shrugged, no comments coming from him as usual, only this time, Yushang didn't mind so much. Enjoying the last few bursts of fireworks in the sky and the crowds in the street dispersing to head home, Yushang returned in the direction of the palace as well, a simple smile on his lips.
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