"Girl, is there anything I can help you with?" The accountant behind the front desk asked with a wide grin which his decaying teeth showed through.
Xue'er nodded and placed the box in front of him, and stated: "Hundred Flower Hall ordered fifty handkerchiefs to be made and embroidered with different blossoms from JinYi embroidery shop, here is the order."
"Oh... I almost forgot about that." A voice said from behind.
Xue'er knew that it was the voice of madam Lu, even without having to turn her head around. She had a great ear for voices and could recognize anyone from hearing their voice one time.
The strong scent of perfume soon became the only thing she could smell, which led her to pity her nose, and curse why she ever had such a strong sense of smell in the first place.
A hand wearing a gold alloyed bracelet, with the patterns of what aimed to be an imitation of majestic phoenixes, but looked more like wild pheasants reached to open the box.
The lid of the box was opened, and a handkerchief was taken out. The fabric was an ivory color, with a blue wildflower embroidery, and lifelike stems, thin enough for a breeze to pass through, yet thick enough to be unable to see through it completely.
"The quality hasn't changed a bit, always as beautiful as always." Madam Lu marveled as she held the fabric towards the light.
Xue'er's face showed an undiscernable smile that couldn't be seen by a soul because her head was looking down at the counter. She was quite proud of herself, all those extra hours of practicing had paid off.
Madam Lu placed the handkerchief back into the box and accepted it. Xue'er prepared to leave.
Just when she was about to head out for the door, a hand fell upon her shoulder and held her in place. Xue'er turned around to come face to face with madam Lu who was more than a head taller than her. She stared into madam Lu's face of heavily worn makeup to make herself look more palatable, yet it did not work. The cracks to the heavy makeup could be seen around her eyes as the wrinkles had grown deeper.
"How old are you this year?" She asked with her hand remaining on Xue'er's shoulder.
"Nine." Xue'er said firmly, though internally, she had no idea how old her body was. It was simply a rough estimation based on her height and the growth of her body.
"Hmm... that is still too young." Madam Lu shook her head as her fingers gently caressed Xue'er's face. The girl's skin had a very cool sensation when her warm fingertips touched it, but she attributed that to the changing weather outdoors.
Xue'er felt a whole bunch of uncomfortable emotions, like those warm fingers that were well above her body temperature, touching her face. She didn't know why, but she could almost imagine this woman forcing her to stay.
This was the most akward thing she ever felt.
"What beautiful skin you have, though it may be a little pale." Those eyes glanced over the extreme snow white skin. There were so many women who would die to have such beautiful skin, but she knew it was not natural.
"Ke Ke---" Xue'er deeply coughed. She nearly coughed her lungs out. She knew that people feared sickness the most, even when there was the slightest chance a person could be ill, they would not take the chance to be any closer. She knew that her skin was pale, almost the color of a corpse, and if she took an extra step, proving that she was ill, they would back off in fear for their own health.
It worked, madam Lu immediately retracted her hand and said: "Thank you, you may leave."
Xue'er complied and walked towards the exit this time, unhindered by a single soul.
As she left, she caught a glimpse of the person who had been obscured by the curtain, the person who had been conversing with madam Lu.
He was a man of neither bulky nor thin build, neither young nor old. He was wearing a black scarf that obscured a part of his cheek. In fact, if he were to be placed into a crowd, he could easily slip through without being detected the slightest.
Yet Xue'er knew this face from long ago.
One of the first people that taught her about the cruelty of men. That not all people can be trustworthy
She quietly kept it to herself as she left the warmth of the braziers in the Hundred Flower Hall, and went back outside to a place unprotected by thick and insulated walls, where the wind blew free and unrestrained.
In her mind, madam Lu was even worse than those men who came to this establishment looking for a woman to spend the night with.