After ordering and making conversation for a little while, Lin Songmei, Yan Mingqing, Han Youhong, and Wang Taigang all fell quiet as the exuberant waiter returned, arms laden with food. “Sorry to disturb you all!”
His arms sweeping around the table like a robot’s, the waiter glided off with a chuckle before Songmei and the others even realized, a quieting chuckle being the only indication someone had delivered the plates and drinks that were now sitting in front of them.
Twiddling her thumbs—preparing herself for more small talk—Songmei looked up with her brows furrowed, blinking a few times. She couldn’t help but ask herself... How the hell did that waiter manage to put everyone’s dish on the table, in the right place, all by himself?
Each of them had ordered a main course, a drink, and a side dish. Given, the plates themselves ranged from big to small but... what?
Maybe he had a spatial storage ring that she hadn’t noticed...
Anyhow, sitting before her now was her pesto pasta! Though it looked... green, as pesto pasta normally did, Songmei felt her mouth getting just, just get a little bit more full of saliva. “How is yours, Mingqing? Is it what you’d hoped it’d be?”
“Yeah? It looks like ribs, so I don’t have any harsh opinions. Honestly, I stopped being too hung over about the specificities of food a while back. No point in having posh expectations for food all the time, especially when we go traveling so much. Anything is better than those rations we had to live off,” Mingqing sighed, picking up her utensils and taking a bite.
Twirling some of her own pasta around her fork, Songmei waited for Mingqing to finish her first bite before tilting her chin over. “How is it? I mean I know you said you don’t really have like... nitpicky thoughts, but still, any general ones? Praise?”
“It’s pretty good,” Mingqing summed up with a complimenting look and nod, “The meat is both flavorful and juicy. There’s a bit of sauce, and the sauce is just... mwah. If they put the sauce in a bottle, I’d consider buying it. How about you?”
Nodding along while eating her pasta, Songmei took a moment to savor the bite before answering with a brief, “It’s good.”
Laughing—and feeling her heart rate quicken—seeing Songmei’s happy smile and little wiggle of satisfaction, Mingqing asked, “That’s it?”
“Yep!” Songmei sang with a smile. It was good!! It was so good!! It was better than the pesto pasta she remembered as a child. By a longshot!!
It felt like the heavens were bursting in her mouth! Who needed cultivation when she already ascended just from this food?
Or... well... if ascending to the heavens meant she could eat this every meal... maybe Songmei really could find the motivation to work herself to the bone everyday of the week. No fun, no breaks... no heavenly meals at restaurants like this.
Maybe this is what Youhong felt when he ate lychee jelly all the time...
Pulling herself out of her own little world, Songmei, noticing Mingqing was looking away (maybe dealing with some food-related happy thoughts of her own?), turned to the other two. “So... uhh Youhong, Wang Taigang, how’s the food? And also, like... how’s it going? I just realized I never asked.”
“I’m doing good, thanks for asking,” Wang Taigang laughed, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “This food is amazing, I don’t really know how to describe it, but there’s a certain taste of home. Though it’s different, this is a restaurant and all, there’s a certain... nostalgia to it.”
“I’m also doing okay,” Youhong mused, his back once again a little slouched, his ruby eyes back to being slightly obscured by his hair, and his voice back to his relaxed and leisurely tone. “I do hope they have lychee jelly on the dessert menu. As always, I feel like I could use some more in my stomach.”
As always, huh.
Though it had the word “always” something that Songmei, a previous honor student— something she’d be proud of for the rest of her life—learned was a bit of an extreme word, and absolute, it still felt like an understatement.
A massive understatement....
Songmei felt like Youhong should’ve said, ‘even though I’m already drowning myself in lychee jelly and stress testing my digestive system’ and then gone on.
Still, it was one of the mysteries of the world as to how Youhong’s digestive system stayed intact.
Twirling her fork in her pasta like a middle schooler twirling a finger through her hair because of a crush, Songmei asked, “So plans for the next few days?” before chowing down on her pasta.
Halfway through her bite, Songmei looked up, seeing awkward hand motions and gestures between Youhong, Mingqing, and Wang Taigang, each person trying to let the others speak first. A wave, a head nod, an exaggerated pushing motion.
“Just speak, you poo-heads!” Mingqing crossed her arms, rolling her eyes with a glare. “My plans are just to do whatever Songmei does, so I’m not eligible to participate in whatever your... push-pull game is.”
Scrunching his face up and squinting, Youhong set down his utensils before letting out a long sigh and flopping back onto his chair. “Fine, I’ll go. I don’t really have any plans. I was going to invite you three to make a small party? Temporary working group? Besties alliance?”
Cutting Youhong off, Mingqing couldn’t help but shake her head. “Please don’t say ‘Besties alliance’ ever again. Anyway, continue, sorry.”
“Ah-? Uh... ok. Oh, yeah, cool, uhh... sure, sure. For sure, yeah.” Youhong froze, words falling out his mouth like a rich man dropping his wallet after losing his train of thought before he took a pause to reorient himself. “I just thought it’d be useful to have some other people to work with this time around. Because even though the last one really could be done alone, having more people makes like... working with the underworld easier.”
Tapping his chin, Youhong then confessed, “Well, it’s not really ‘the underworld,’ maybe ‘limbo’ would work better... from what I know at least. Just, numbers are going to help.”
True... From what Songmei had read about—and personally knew about—numbers would be pretty useful. The bigger thing, however, was that she had never heard Youhong talk that much undisturbed.
Well he had been kinda disturbed, but that was deserved...
What was that... That deserved a little... a little reprimanding.
Anyhow, Songmei wasn’t going to say anything, she didn’t want to overstep any lines.
“I guess it’s my turn now, yeah?” Wang Taigang concurred, setting down his utensils as Youhong picked his back up. “Well for one, damn Youhong. You talked for a while, nice. Never really seen that.”
Snorting and shaking his head, Youhong kept eating, just raising one of his hands that—conveniently—only had its middle finger pointed up.
Breaking into a few not-super-suppressed chortles, Wang Taigang cleared his throat and took a few breaths before rubbing his chin with an embarrassed smile. “My thing actually lines up pretty well with what Youhong said. My plans for the next few days was to find a group. I was going to ask you three first, but if you three didn’t want to I was going to make my own.”
He needed a group now too?
Looking at her plate, then Mingqing, then into the restaurant, then back to Mingqing, Songmei couldn’t help but let out a small murmur of confusion.
Wang Taigang was the most popular direct disciple after all!!
He was the media’s darling boy!!
And he now needed a group?
The hell happened?