When Mei got home just after noon that day she was exhausted, but oddly satisfied. She hadn't received much of anything from her work for a long time, especially satisfaction. The same tedious mix of important people were her only clients at the Golden Slumbers: important people whose own sense of importance was often multiplied beyond recognition or reality, and who thereby tended to treat Mei and her services a certain way.
Not that all her clients were the same. There was the usual breakdown between the criers, the abusers, the impatient, the submissives, the complainers, and the cheap. Lian had not been any of those things. She had been desperate. Desperate people didn't often visit the Golden Slumbers – visitors there were men and women rich enough to get anything they wanted any time they wanted. But Lian had had a long lifetime of desire for someone like Mei waiting to be exposed.
She was new money, enjoying the fruits of wealth for the first time. She didn't begrudge Lian her wealth, even if the soreness in her neck from when the woman had grabbed her head did mean Mei begrudged Lian's strength. Mei knew it was mostly the novelty and rarity of the situation, but she was glad she could be a positive first taste of the lifestyle Lian was surely set to lead from there on out.
A Shuli Go with money, she thought. That's a woman that could do something with her life.
Mei slept until almost six o'clock in the evening – the new expensive clock she'd purchased announcing the hour and waking her in time for her to eat, then prepare to return to work. She hoped she wouldn't have another full night that evening. She preferred to spend as many hours of her hours in the Golden Slumbers as she could alone, not working.
Mei owned a modest house in a tiny, quiet corner of Yiwu reserved mostly for retired academics and minor nobility who preferred their country estates to life in the hectic city. The neighborhood was quiet, almost sedate, and her house was wedged into the corner against two remnants of the city's old exterior walls. Her walk home in the middle of the day was always quiet, ending down a long dirt path that further separated her courtyard from the adjoining properties.
She only took home ten percent of the money she made any given night, but even that was enough to fill her life with too many extraneous items. Her home – five rooms and the courtyard – wasn't too big or too full, but it still felt crowded to Mei. All the money she'd earned and not spend meant she had over twenty gold of her own saved, but nothing to use them for. All she had was one night a week off, when she could do whatever she wanted, but most often just walked the streets of the city or sat on the edge of the Brilliant River and read her books until the sun went down, when she put the books away and watched as ferries carried people away from Yiwu and out into the world.
When she returned to the Golden Slumbers that night she said hello to a few of the other working men and women, checked in with Madam Cicao, distributed a few gifts to the children of some of the workers that stayed in the basement while their parents worked, and let the servants know what she'd want to drink and eat that night. Then she went back to her room – cleaned and tidied to perfection by the daytime staff – and put on the little bit of makeup she felt she needed. Usually she put on more, but Lian had been so stunned by her the night before she consciously let it go to her head. Perhaps she really was one of the more beautiful women in the world. Certainly Lian had to have seen some beautiful people in her travels.
Then she waited, lazily eating some grapes and cheese, taking small sips of wine to ensure her breath would not smell of alcohol, reading a new book she'd found the week before. And when there was a ring on the bell indicating that a client would be coming down the hall, she tidied her hair and refreshments, stashed the book away, then exited the door to vamp for the rich individual who could fuck her however they wanted for twenty-five silver pieces an hour.
And waiting there in the hallway was Lian, looking sheepish but excited. And Mei caught the Shuli Go catching a breath. Mei had, even one night later, taken her breath away.
"One gold?" Lian asked.
Mei smiled and invited her inside.