Li Xueyue threw Li Chenyang a pointed stare that practically translated to, 'See, I told you that you should've told her about the diary.'
Li Chenyang shook his head, 'Father said not to.'
She sighed in disappointment, her lips tugging into a slight frown. 'It's not fair.'
Li Chenyang nodded in agreement, but he already swore he'd keep his silence.
"What are you two doing?" Duchess Wang Qixing curiously asked, her eyes jumping from Chenyang to Xueyue. They were acting as if they could talk without words.
"Nothing," Li Chenyang easily responded. "What shall we do, Mother? Surely, if we give in to his demands now, he'll know he has the upper-hand on us and—"
"Well, we do have to honor the promise that Xueyue made. We always honor our words," Duchess Wang Qixing responded. "But don't you worry, Xueyue, I will be there as well."
"We're just giving in?" Li Chenyang scowled. "I can just go into the Palace and demand Xueyue's pendant back from him."
"If we cause a ruckus all for Xueyue, it will catch the Emperor and Empress's attention. We don't want to give them any reason to summon our Xueyue," Duchess Wang Qixing responded with a slight shake of her head.
Li Xueyue's eyes enlarged. She turned to Li Chenyang, hoping he'd understand the problem of entering the Palace. She was supposed to stay out of Duke Li Taojun's way.
Li Chenyang secretly nodded. "How about we meet at a restaurant instead? I'll bring Wenmin along and then all four of us can meet Wen Jinkai."
"There's no need to have a party there." Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled. "I can handle him."
Li Chenyang poked at his plate of pastries. They were all of his favorites, but this conversation about Wen Jinkai was ruining his appetite from the get-go. "I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of Xueyue being in a confined room with him."
"You talk as if I won't be in the same room as them. I know he has enough honor to not do anything to Xueyue. Afterall, he didn't do anything to Minghua."
Li Xueyue cringed, averting her gaze to the ground. She desperately wished she could reveal what truly happened between them.
Li Chenyang shared the same sentiments as her. His troubled stare bounced around the room, looking at anywhere but his mother's pressing stare.
Noticing the awkward tension in the large room, Duchess Wang Qixing quirked a brow. "What is it? You two have been so secretive ever since we sat down. Is there something I should know about?" she suspiciously questioned, her eyes darting from one child to the other.
Li Xueyue nervously shifted in her chair, tucking her fingers together in anxiety. She chewed on her bottom lip, suddenly finding the floorboards in her room more interesting than this conversation. Wow, how does a single panel of wood have such intricate designs?
Li Chenyang suddenly felt like he had his appetite back. He placed one cookie after the other into his mouth, deliberately chewing to show his mother that his mouth was too occupied with food to talk. He nodded in approval, enjoying the hard shell of the cookie, but the soft rice cake on the inside made the small pastry the right amount of chewiness.
"You two are terrible at hiding things from me." Duchess Wang Qixing lightly laughed, though it was cold. "So, why don't you just spill the secrets you're desperately trying to hold in."
"What secret?" Li Chenyang asked, taking a hurried gulp of his tea to wash down all of the cookies he had inhaled in one sitting.
Li Xueyue threw him a scathing glare, her lips pressed into a thin line. Wasn't this a breach of their compromise? If their mother asked about what happened, weren't they obligated to tell her?
'She has a right to know!' Li Xueyue shouted through her pointed eyes.
Li Chenyang pretended that he was blind and resumed eating.
Now, he decided he was both blind and deaf. The cookie he was consuming suddenly felt like the best treat in the world. He took another one.
"Stop pretending to be a glutton, Chenyang. What secrets are you keeping from me this time?" Duchess Wang Qixing scowled, placing both hands firmly on the desk. She won't leave this place until the truth is revealed.
Li Chenyang awkwardly coughed, punching his chest when the dry cookies clogged up his throat. He took another big gulp of his tea, suddenly feeling thirsty. Why is it that he could never lie to his parents? He wanted to complain about their good parenting. It was always easy to scheme against other people, but never his parents.
"I...uhm…" Li Chenyang hummed, hoping the small noise could serve as a form of distraction.
"If you don't tell me, then I will lock the library." Duchess Wang Qixing shrugged, deciding threats were the best way to deal with this twin.
Li Chenyang's eyes bulged, his head snapping to his mother. Now, she had his full attention. He nervously swallowed, taking another sip of his tea. He watched as her fingers unrhythmically tapped on the table, the speed matching his quickening heartbeat. He suddenly felt anxious, his palms growing clammy.
Click. Clack. Click. Click. Clack. Her fingernails continued tapping, growing louder by the second.
"Okay, fine." Li Chenyang groaned. "There-is-a-secret-we-have-been-keeping-from-you," he rushed out in one breath, in a speed so quick that no one except himself registered what was said.
"What?" Duchess Wang Qixing tilted her head in confusion. "All I heard was secret."
Li Chenyang let out a quiet sigh. In a small voice, he muttered, "There is actually something we've been—"
"There you are. I was wondering where the entire family was," Duke Li Shenyang loudly announced, stepping into Xueyue's room without qualms.
Li Chenyang's eyes snapped to his scowling father. Uh-oh. The Duke seemed far from pleased, his smile was too wide and unnatural. His eyes were larger than usual, emphasizing his far from happy smile.
"What are you doing gathered in this room for?" Duke Li Shenyang asked, glowering at his son.
When he received zero responses, he turned to his wife. "Darling, I thought you enjoyed sipping tea and enjoying snacks near the gardens. The weather is lovely today and the breeze is gentle, you'd enjoy the pavilion in the center of the pond a lot better."
"Hmph!" Duchess Wang Qixing crossed her arms, refusing to even acknowledge him.
Duke Li Shenyang let out a quiet sigh, deciding it was better to let her simmer down. In the end, she'll forgive him, she always did, without qualms. "Chenyang, come with me, there is a plan we must discuss."
Li Chenyang awkwardly stood up, his eyes lingered on his mother. She firmly shook her head, pointing her finger towards his chair.
"Sit back down, Chenyang. We have things to discuss."
"My plans are more important," Duke Li Shenyang snapped, his patience thinning. "Hurry, Chenyang, we don't have all day. I didn't rush home from work to waste time."
Li Chenyang glanced from his mother to his father. This literally felt the same as asking the child who was his favorite parent. He turned to Li Xueyue, expecting her to say something.
Li Xueyue nervously looked from the Duke to the Duchess. She bent over and whispered to the Duchess in a hushed voice, "I will tell you the secret later."
Duchess Wang Qixing was pleased by Xueyue's words but wore her poker face perfectly to not give anything away. In a loud voice, she said, "Silly girl, if you needed to be excused for more snacks, you could've announced it out loud. There's no need to be shy about it."
She forced a chuckle, watching as Duke Li Shenyang's shoulder sagged in relief. Her eyes suspiciously narrowed onto him, her lips curling in irritation. How dare he make his children choose between him and her? She hoped he found the couches in his private study to be more comfortable than the beds!
"Well, hurry along, Chenyang." Duchess Wang Qixing waved her hand. "We don't want to keep that impatient stranger waiting. Hmph, it's not like anyone asked him to come home early too."
Duke Li Shenyang's jaw dropped. "Chenyang, tell that strange lady over there that I came home early to see my children and my lovely wife, which for the record, I don't see anywhere."
Li Chenyang gawked at his father, his eyes darting from his mother to his father. "U-uhm, Mom, Dad said—"
Duchess Wang Qixing narrowed her eyes. If he was going to use Chenyang, then she would use Xueyue. "Well, Xueyue, tell that weird man over there that in case he's blind, which I think he is, his children are less than happy to see him home so early."
Li Xueyue opened and closed her mouth, her eyes darting to her father. In one gulp, she finished her tea. Despite that, her throat was still parched. She licked her bottom lip awkwardly. "Dad… Mom said—"
"Well, Xueyue, you tell that crazy woman that I didn't ask for her opinion."
Duchess Wang Qixing scowled. "Chenyang, go tell that ugly turtle over there that his comebacks suck."
Duke Li Shenyang threw her a scalding glare. "Well, Xueyue you tell that woman—"
"We're not messenger pigeons!" Li Chenyang snapped.
Duke Li Shenyang blinked in surprise at his childish behavior. This was unlike him. He cleared his throat, flicked his wrist, and straightened his clothes. "Let's head to my private study, son. We shouldn't waste our time on crazy people."
Duchess Wang Qixing let out a gasp. In an instant, she picked up Xueyue's empty teacup and hurled it at the Duke who easily tilted his head and dodged it. He clicked his tongue. "Like I said, she's insane."
"What did you just say—"
"You two behave like children." Li Chenyang growled, "What happened to our parents?!"
The Duke glowered at his unyielding wife. She glared back and flicked him the finger, displaying the promised ring he had given her years back. A vein popped on his forehead, his face turning red.
"You uncultured woman—"
"LET'S GO." Li Chenyang scowled. "Don't we have to meet in your study, Dad?!"
"Hmph!" Duke Li Shenyang dramatically flicked his wrist, his long-sleeve billowing behind him. "Let's head to the study now." He stomped out of the room.
"Finally, I thought he'd never leave!" Duchess Wang Qixing loudly announced.
Before another fight could break out, Li Chenyang was already out of the door, pushing his father in the direction of the study.
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