Leading them down the right path was easier said than done. It was difficult even to help one child, let alone five.
They were quite young and weren't in a good situation, but Mu Jingzhe wouldn't belittle them just because they were pitiful and young. She easily made the decision to attempt to guide them to the right path.
As an old Chinese saying goes, one can tell how one's adulthood will turn out by the time one is three years old. The oldest, Shao Dong and Shao Xi, were already seven years old, Shao Nan and Shao Bei were five years old, while Shao Zhong was three.
Many personality traits had already formed. They had suffered through many hardships and difficulties, so some things had already planted seeds in them and sprouted.
You're saying that you're going to guide them now?
Oh please, don't be so naive.
Even if the children's biological parents attempted this, it would be difficult for them, let alone for her, who the children loathed and were wary of.
In the past, whenever the younger kids at the orphanage had been disobedient or done bad things, she had scolded them and even punished them to teach them a lesson. But these children?
It was hard to be a stepmother, and she would probably die faster if she beat or scolded them.
If she did that, they would probably take revenge when they grew up.
Mu Jingzhe didn't dare underestimate the five children. She treated them as equals, so she was very cautious.
After thinking about it, she decided to stay and bear the responsibility of taking care of them. She would protect them and prevent others from bullying them.
As for guiding them onto the right path, she would try to do so when possible but wouldn't force it. She would usually mind her own business and be their temporary mother or nanny.
If she had to be their nanny, so be it. A grown woman could adapt to the circumstances. This was what she should do after choosing to stay.
When she found a way to leave Great Eastern Village and had her own income and career, she would leave.
She wouldn't ask for anything else. It would be fine as long as they didn't take revenge on her in the future.
Yes, that was all for now.
With that thought in mind, Mu Jingzhe quickly got into character. "Shao Qiyang, let me carry her for a while."
Shao Qiyang was also an important figure she needed to improve her relationship with. She needed to change his impression of her. Right now, Shao Qiyang was the one supporting her and these five children. In short, he was the boss.
As a qualified employee, she had to know how to share her boss' burden.
Mu Jingzhe smiled at Shao Bei. "Little Bei, can I carry you?"
Shao Bei wrapped her arms around Shao Qiyang's neck tightly, using her actions to prove that she hadn't forgotten that the original Mu Jingzhe had secretly pinched her.
Shao Qiyang glanced at her. "No need."
He had decided last night that he would kick her out today.
However, she had just helped take Little Bei to the hospital last night. It seemed a little heartless to make her go back today.
So… Tomorrow, maybe. He decided he would kick her out tomorrow.
Mu Jingzhe, who had no idea Shao Qiyang was preoccupied with thoughts of kicking her out, nodded obediently and told herself that she had to listen to whatever her boss said.
At noon, the two of them finally returned to Great Eastern Village.
They met quite a few villagers at the village entrance. Some of them were even holding large bowls, squatting or sitting down to eat. At the sight of the trio, they all greeted them and asked where they had been.
Their eyes were filled with gossip fever.
Shao Qiyang answered them, while Mu Jingzhe didn't say anything and just smiled throughout the whole process.
Everyone stared repeatedly at her hair to confirm her gender.
"Why does this girl look familiar? Shao Qiyang, is that your partner?" an auntie asked, looking at Mu Jingzhe.
Shao Qiyang's face instantly flushed. "Auntie, this is my second sister-in-law."
"Your second sister-in-law? Mu Jingzhe?"
The original Mu Jingzhe had ruined her appearance so badly that everyone had forgotten what she looked like normally.
Mu Jingzhe smiled. "That's right, Auntie. It's me."
At the revelation that she was Mu Jingzhe, everyone's expressions turned from curious to awkward and disdainful.
"Why is your hair cut like a man's?"
"It's more convenient this way," Mu Jingzhe replied.
The auntie's gaze on Mu Jingzhe changed again and was now filled with suspicion. She regretted saying those words earlier. She was afraid that if Mu Jingzhe made a fuss or cried, it would attract the attention of that shrew, Li Zhaodi, who would then come out to scold her.
This was also the reason why no one in the village said anything bad about Mu Jingzhe in front of her, no matter what she did or how ugly she looked. The mother-and-daughter duo was unreasonable.
Unexpectedly, Mu Jingzhe didn't cry or make a scene. Her tone seemed to have changed as well, and there was an indescribable gentleness in her expression.
They didn't know what the word 'disposition' meant, so they only felt that Mu Jingzhe seemed to have changed.
While they were still in shock, Mu Jingzhe left.
After she left, the village exploded into a discussion about how she had changed.
The short-haired Mu Jingzhe had become the most unique sight in the village.
However, they had only said a few words before calming down. After all, she had been even weirder before.
Now that her hair was so short, it somehow looked quite pleasing to the eye.
They had looked at Mu Jingzhe, and Mu Jingzhe had also looked at them. The way the people of Great Eastern Village were dressed had made Mu Jingzhe feel as though she were looking at old photos from the 1980s.
In order to avoid arousing suspicion, she kept a distance from Shao Qiyang as they walked.
This made Shao Qiyang heave a sigh of relief.
Mu Jingzhe was also happy enough to relax.
In the rural areas in the 1980s, the air had been clear and fresh, but it was poor.
Half of the families in the village had tiled houses, but there were also many thatched houses.
Walking from the village entrance, they passed by very few good houses until they reached the Shao Family.
Initially, the Shao Family had also been poor. It was only when the second son, Shao Qihai, had joined the army and received an allowance that their situation had gradually improved.
Now, the Shao Family had built a new house next to the old, dilapidated house. There was a big yard with a regular layout and a large tile-roofed house with walls. It all looked very grand.
However, the big house was now occupied by the eldest branch of the Shao Family. Shao Dong and his siblings didn't have the chance to stay there. Even Shao Qiyang only stayed in the old house beside it.
As Mu Jingzhe was looking at the two houses that stood there in stark contrast, she heard a crying voice come from the old house.
The children of the eldest branch of the Shao Family had come to snatch Shao Dong and his siblings' things again.
The names of the eldest-branch children were also easy to remember. They were Fu, Lu, Shou, and Xǐ1. There were three elder brothers and one younger sister.
The contrast between the two groups of children was obvious. The four children from the eldest branch of the Shao Family were wearing new cotton clothes. The eldest, Shao Fu, had turned 12 years old that year. He ate very well and looked like a calf. His younger brothers were also much sturdier than their cousins.
On the other side, Shao Dong and the others were all wearing old cotton clothes. Compared to them, they were scrawny, small, and miserable-looking.
"Give it to me! If you don't, I'll beat you to death."
"No, my mother left this for me."
Shao Lu had taken a fancy to Shao Xi's comic book, but this time, Shao Xi wouldn't let go no matter what.
After all, the comic book had been given to him by his dead mother.
The children from the eldest branch, who were used to being domineering, were very unhappy when they heard that. "Your mother died a long time ago. Your father died too."
While Fu, Lu, and Shou fought with Dong, Nan, and Xi, the youngest, Shao Xǐ, didn't join the fight. Instead, she was hitting Shao Zhong on the side, calling him 'mute' and 'b*stard' as she did so.
Though she was usually not good with words, she was very articulate when it came to scolding people.
Meanwhile, in the basement of a house in the suburbs of the neighboring province…
There was a single bed with some medical equipment beside it in the cramped room. A man was lying on the bed. He had wheat-colored skin, sharp eyebrows, and a high nose bridge and he looked rather handsome. However, his eyes were closed, and his face was pale. He looked haggard.
The short-haired man leaning on his crutch beside the bed cast an anxious look at him before raising his head to address the doctor who was diagnosing his condition.
"Doctor, why isn't he awake yet? He's been unconscious for a really long time."
"His injuries are too severe. It's already a miracle that he's still alive." The doctor shook his head. "Let's wait and see."