Duchess Wang Qixing continued glowering at the door even after the departure of Duke Li Shenyang.
"Annoying prick," she muttered under her breath, forgetting she was in front of Xueyue. It had been a while since she had called him by that name.
When she lifted her chin, she was surprised to see Xueyue was still sitting there, staring out of her window to provide her some much needed space.
Duchess Wang Qixing warmly smiled in response. "You mentioned you would tell me their secrets?"
Li Xueyue shifted her attention back to Duchess Wang Qixing. In a slow nod, she began. "It's about your late daughter."
Duchess Wang Qixing's smile slipped a bit, her eyes dimming. She glanced down at her hands before looking up at Xueyue. "It's alright, you can mention her name. I've gotten a bit used to hearing it again."
"Alright then." Li Xueyue cleared her throat, "Were you aware that Minghua kept a diary?"
Duchess Wang Qixing lightly shook her head. "No, I didn't."
"Well… she did and I found it when I was aimlessly wandering around, completely unaware that I was entering restricted grounds," Li Xueyue admitted.
"I didn't mean to read it, but well, curiosity got the best of me." Her fingers aimlessly fiddled with her sleeves, hoping it'd provide her a distraction.
"I see." Duchess Wang Qixing wasn't that pleased at the idea of Xueyue reading Minghua's diary, but what could she say? What happened has happened. And it wasn't like the Duchess herself didn't want to read the diary—she did.
"There were a lot of alarming entries that depicted her feelings," Li Xueyue explained, soothing the furled edge of her sleeves.
"Where is the diary?"
"I didn't know who to give it to, so I gave it to Chen-ge first, since I usually confide in him," Li Xueyue admitted, her voice wary and hesitant over the Duchess's reaction.
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded in understanding. She could tell why Chenyang was a clear choice when Xueyue needed someone to talk to. He was more level-headed when it came to Minghua, whereas Wenmin was easily riled up by any mention of her. Afterall, Li Wenmin was the oldest of the siblings and he took on the responsibility to keep them safe.
Duchess Wang Qixing hummed. "I assume it somehow landed in the hands of the irritable man that was just in your bedroom. It would certainly explain his frustration that night, smashing all of the hand-selected house decorations."
She suddenly scoffed, rolling her eyes. "The audacity of that man. He demanded me to leave my son's room and then stormed out, providing zero responses to all of the questions I've asked him."
Li Xueyue chose to not comment on the ways that the Duchess was referencing Duke Li Shenyang.
"I can't believe the nerves of him." She scowled. "Who does he think he is? What gives him the right to hide my own daughter's diary? He must've thought it was for my own good. Tch!"
Li Xueyue sat there in silence while Duchess Wang Qixing continued her ramble.
"The last time he thought something was good for any of the females in this house was locking away," she paused, "—nevermind. It's in the past now, and I shouldn't dwell on it, but he needs to change this habit of his."
Li Xueyue nodded, not because she agreed, but it was to show she was still listening.
"Well anyway," Duchess Wang Qixing said with a wave of her hand. "Where is the diary now?"
"I'm not sure." Li Xueyue placed a finger on her chin, tilting her head while she contemplated under whose possession the diary would be in.
"I gave it to Chen-ge, but I think Wen-ge also read the contents. It might be with Father, but I am not too sure about it."
Duchess Wang Qixing let out a small groan. "I just hope it's not with that grouchy man, but it's highly possible. I will just ask one of the twins to steal it back from him."
Li Xueyue opened her mouth but closed it. Originally, she wanted to say, 'Why not just make up?' But this was their marital problems and she didn't have any experience to give out dumb advice like that.
- - - - -
The next day, everything was as gloomy as it was yesterday. At the least, everyone was gathered together for a meal, but even so, it was excruciatingly awkward. The only sound was quiet clicks of chopsticks and passive aggressive glares, passed by Duke Li Shenyang and Duchess Wang Qixing, towards each other.
After their breakfast, everyone went their separate ways.
Li Chenyang returned to his room to organize his materials for the day, the Duchess left to finish fixing her appearance, and the Duke disappeared into his private study as usual. Li Xueyue retired to her room to change into proper outing attire. Li Wenmin was the only one who didn't have a single chore to do. He originally headed back to his room, but decided it would be more fun to annoy Li Xueyue.
Thus, Li Wenmin found himself at the door of her room.
"I still can't believe you're doing this." Li Wenmin scowled, watching from the doorframe.
The handmaidens took their sweet time dressing her up to perfection. If there was any color that greatly complimented her mellow features, it was the colors of spring.
Half of her hair was let down whereas the other half was gathered and twirled into a flower bun behind her head. She was dressed in a pastel pink hanfu with hand drawn cherry blossom petals scattered throughout the silk.
Her windows were pushed open, allowing strong beams of sunlight to peek through, washing over the seated figure. She had her eyes closed whilst the handmaidens placed the finishing touches upon her.
"Mother shouldn't have accepted that invitation in the first place. Even if it's at a restaurant, it's still giving into his demands," Li Wenmin muttered, finally strolling into her room. He lightly pushed the handmaidens aside and began to take out the hairpins in her hair.
Instantly, the handmaidens perked up, exchanging panicked glances with each other. What was wrong with her hair accessories?
"You'll look too dressed up for him," Li Wenmin muttered, placing the multiple hairpins he had taken out on the tray. He peered over her shoulders, his eyes sweeping over the assortment of accessories in front of him. Their mother sure loved to doll her up. The entire tray could buy out a town or city.
"Oh, perfect," Li Wenmin mused, bending down to pick up a simple hairpin that was the color of coal, but sleek and smooth despite the wooden material.
"I never thought you'd be interested in lions. This hairpin is more masculine than expected." He twirled the hairpin, watching as the roaring lion rimmed with silver gleaned under the rays of sunlight that poured through the window.
"But it's a lot better than dressing up like a peony for him." He shrugged, slipping the hairpin in between the small rose bun.
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. She almost slipped out the fact that it was Yu Zhen's hairpin, not hers. Her eyes landed on the handkerchief-wrapped pendant on the vanity.
"It's not my decision to be dressed up like this. Also, I think these are cherry blossom petals, not peony petals…"
"I know," Li Wenmin muttered, reaching downwards to slip out the heavy earrings weighing her down. "Oh, this is nice," he said, holding up the tiny strings of pearl.
"But too fancy for him." Li Wenmin snorted, opening one of her drawers to search for simpler earrings. To his surprise, one of her drawers was locked.
"What's in there?" he asked before his hand reached for another drawer on the other side of her.
Li Xueyue shook her head. "Just a few secretive items."
Li Wenmin hummed in response. "How exciting," he deadpanned before letting out an "Ah-hah!"
His fingers easily skimmed through the multiple pairs of earrings until his eyes caught onto a simple dangling one that was a single petal and leaf.
He slipped it into her ear and smiled upon seeing how plain, yet elegant she looked.
"This is a lot better now." He nodded, satisfied with his styling.
Li Xueyue chuckled, standing up.
"Well, give me a little twirl," he pouted, "That's the least you can do to appreciate my hard work."
"All you did was take out hairpins and earrings, then replace them," she mused.
Nonetheless, she twirled for him, her dress catching flight.
Li Wenmin marveled at her appearance. She resembled the flutter of a petal dancing in the wind, softly, slowly, before it fell onto the ground, turning the plain earth into a whirlwind of pink.
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