“Aiya! You’d think I’m a peasant dolled up for a fancy masquerade. I should have worn my best jeans and leather jacket.” Zhao Yunlan tried to yank off the deep blue waistcoat. Somehow he managed to catch one sleeve on the gold cufflinks his father had given him for the occasion.
“Hush.” The elder of the Flower Tribe helped him disentangle and shifted the coat squarely back onto his shoulders. “You’re just nervous. You look like a dream.”
“Nightmare, most like.” He huffed. “Should have gone for ‘hunk’ instead of respectable.”
“Not today.” Ying Chun smoothed one hand down the heavy white silk shirt beneath Zhao Yunlan’s jacket. He wore no vest under the long coat; the shirt was covered in gorgeous blue and gold embroidery in a complex pattern of leaves, flowers, and birds. “This is the loveliest shirt I have ever seen.”
“Zhu Hong had it made for me. Her gift.”
“It’s magnificent, Chief Zhao.” Her head tipped sideways. “Why didn’t you ask her to preside instead? She is the Yashou leader, as well as your good friend.”
“Pfft!” He touched the gold earring Shen Wei had presented him earlier in the week, tracing the spiral pattern that resembled a cherished lollipop wrapper. He remembered the kiss that followed. Yum. “That might be...awkward.”
“Her attention is on the Yashou these days. I think you’re safe.”
“True, true. Still. If Shen Wei glares at her today, she might not survive.” He tugged at the coat again. “Does this really look OK? Xiao Wei wouldn’t tell me what to wear.” The mock argument that followed had been...hot. Fantastically hot. “How am I supposed to stand up next to a god like that and look like I belong?
“Eh.” He shrugged and waved a hand. “At least all eyes will be on him.”
“And his eyes will be on you. They always are.”
Zhao Yunlan flushed with pleasure.
Ying Chun went on. “Hei Pao Shi is a lord and so are you, Lord Guardian. And I very much doubt he cares about what you’re wearing today.”
“Heh. He’ll care when he has to safely undo every button on this shirt tonight.”
“Naughty boy!” Ying Chun laughed and swatted him upside the head with her sparkly green fan. She leaned close. "He does have dark powers, you know.”
“Ha ha.” Zhao Yunlan winked. “Best use ever.”
“What a glib-tongued beauty you are.” She stepped back and appraised the overall effect. “You’re sure no boutonniere?” It was difficult to hide her disappointment.
“No. Shen Wei doesn’t like them. No offense. He loves flowers, just not pinched together on a lapel like that.”
“Hmm.” She reached to smooth Zhao Yunlan’s hair and then realized she might be overstepping. She stopped to ask permission. “May I play the part of the groom’s mother?”
“Oh.” He was taken aback for a minute, but then he nodded. “Yes. Yes, please.”
Ying Chun combed her fingers through his hair, arranging an artful dip over his forehead that hid nothing of his lovely eyes. “Zhao Yunlan...a little bud outside in the garden tells me that Hei Pao Shi has braided beads into his hair for you. Perhaps he would like to see flowers in your hair? If you would like?”
“Beads? Really?” Zhao Yunlan chewed on his lip. He nodded, gave a shy smile. “I think...yes. He would like.”
“Yes. Yes, especially if it makes him smile.”
Ying Chun cupped his face in her hands. “You two are going to have much happiness.” She brushed her fingers through his hair, leaving behind a scattered fall of tiny mauve and white orchids, clusters of little pink rosebuds, and pale pink, sweet-smelling jasmine.
“Worthy of you.” She brushed a bit of pollen off his shoulders. “Now, Da Qing is waiting just outside and Shen Wei and your father are at the family altar. I’ll meet you there.”
He took her hands in his, bowed, and pressed her fingers to his forehead. “Thank you, auntie.”
“Oh. You make my eyes blurry.” She wiped away a tear, fanned herself, and then gave him a little shove toward the door. “Go to him, Zhao Yunlan. May your love blossom like flowers over lifetimes of harmony.”
He gently patted his flowery crown, laughed in delight, and stepped outside to a glorious yowl from Da Qing.
"Come on, Damn Cat. Ten thousand years is long enough to keep Xiao Wei waiting.”