175 A Simple Gif
Li Xueyue shot out of bed, her heart slamming against her chest. With shaky hands, she tried to run a hand through her hair, only to find her hair tangled. Angrily she yanked out her hand, only to wince in pain. She jumped, frightened when something fell down with her hand. She let out a nervous chuckle, laughing at how foolish she was behaving.
'I'm safe here,' she told herself, though it suddenly didn't feel that way. Goosebumps rose on her arms when a small breeze drifted through her. She gulped and began to furiously rub her quivering arms, drenched from cold sweat.
Suddenly, her own hands transformed into hairy thick ones that did not belong to her.
"NO!" she shrieked, dropping her hands, scrambling backwards. She sucked in panicked puffs of air, her eyes darted from the white sheets of the bed to the spot where she had last seen those masculine hands. Hands that had wandered over every inch of her body until she was practically in tears, kicking and screaming for mercy.
"Stop it, make it stop…" she cried out, burying her face in her hands. It did not take long for the silent night to be filled with quiet sniffles and heartbroken sobs. She wasn't crying for her trampled dignity, she cried for the young child in her dreams who would never heal from the emotional scars.
- - - - -
No matter how hard Li Xueyue tried to go back to sleep, she couldn't do so. Eventually, she gave up and began to wordlessly read books in hopes that the sun would rise a lot faster than usual.
Soon, Li Xueyue found herself rereading the same line five times in a row. She was still unable to grasp an understanding. Realizing it would be impossible to focus on anything other than the nightmares, she placed the book down and headed towards her bed.
"What's this…?" she curiously asked, realizing there was something on top of her blankets all along. She approached her bed. It was Yu Zhen's hairpin.
"This must've been what fell from my head and spooked me," she sighed, picking it up. Twirling it between two fingers, she watched the blurry reflection along the silver borders of the roaring lion. She held it up against the window, her eyes widening upon seeing the rising sun.
Li Xueyue instantly approached the window, watching as the dark sky began to brighten into a soft hue of blue. In the background, the birds stretched and began to chirp. Their song slowly encouraged the sun to rise higher and higher, until daybreak approached.
It was finally morning and the start of a new day.
"To think I could've missed this sight," she mused, continuing to twirl the hairpin in her hand. She watched the silver glisten, the blinding rays dancing across the floor. Smiling to herself, she clutched the hairpin closer to her chest, hugging it dearly. Absentmindedly, Li Xueyue wished it was not the hairpin in her arms, but the person who gave it to her.
- - - - -
When the handmaidens entered her room to begin helping with her appearance, none of them were surprised to see she was awake before them. It was usually like this. It wasn't a secret that their Young Lady rarely had a good night's rest. As if such a thing was even possible in her dictionary.
Li Xueyue silently allowed her handmaidens to properly cleanse her face of yesterday's makeup and thoroughly cleaned her hair before combing out all of the knots.
After her morning bath, she was settled in front of the vanity mirror. One of the handmaidens worked on drying her hair while the other worked on accessorizing her and another one was picking out an outfit. It took a team to get her ready.
While they were still busy getting her ready, Li Xueyue reached for the drawer that contained smaller jewelry and trinkets. Everything was neatly organized inside ranging from brooches to ribbons, but only one thing caught her eye, a ring perfectly made for her finger.
She picked it up, holding it up to the light, watching as the sun's ray soaked the sparkling topaz, turning it from a glistening dandelion yellow to the color of molten gold. She could hear the soft gasps from her handmaidens who couldn't help but pause and marvel at the gorgeous ring.
Under the sunlight that bathed Li Xueyue, they realized exactly what inspired the design of this ring. Her eyes shone under the morning rays, turning the
brown orbs into the colour of falling autumn leaves.
"My lady, this is a beautiful ring," one of the maidservants early complimented. She was so mesmerized by the ring, she didn't realize she spoke out of turn.
Li Xueyue brushed it off. She preferred their small chatter over the usual silence. "I was told this topaz resembled my eyes, though it was an exaggeration."
"It doesn't seem that way, my lady, " the same handmaiden happily said.
Li Xueyue didn't respond. She simply turned the ring over in her hand, poking at it. Unbeknownst to her, she had a tiny smile resting on her lips.
"If I may ask, my lady, did Madam buy this for you?" another handmaiden asked, this time, it was the one working on Xueyue's hair.
"What are you guys discussing?" He asked from the door.
Li Xueyue didn't even have to look to know it was Li Chenyang who was always the last person to wake up in the family, but dressed the quickest. He entered her room without knocking, not like he needed to anyway.
Before he reached her, Li Xueyue closed her fingers around the ring and settled her closed hand on her lap. She nervously smiled up at him, her heart skipping out of fear when their eyes met and he lifted a brow, suspicious of her.
"Just ladies gossiping about jewelry," she answered him, motioning for the handmaidens to begin working on tidying her appearance.
"What's that in your hand?" Li Chenyang mused, his lips curled into a small lopsided smile. He leaned his hips against her vanity and watched as a handmaiden picked up a crimson red tinted sheet meant for adding color to the lips.
"Too bright," he chided, "Rose-pink suits her better. Get another color."
The handmaiden bowed her head, "I apologize, Young Master," she rushed out, knowing he was the most hot-tempered sibling of the family. He might've seemed calm and collected, but was the least forgiving on servants.
Li Xueyue might've had a kind heart, but she'd never go against her Chen-ge in front of servants.
"Well?" he asked again, his tone gentle but impatient.
Li Xueyue shook her head and let out a small daughter. "Trust me, you won't be interested in it."
"I would be," he said, "Since it's a ring." Li Chenyang revealed a tight-lipped smile, too wide and sweet for it to be sincere.
Li Xueyue let out a quiet sigh. He was upset by the ring, or perhaps, he was mad at her lack of response. "You don't have to worry about it."
"It's from that rat isn't it?" Li Chenyang scowled, crossing his arms in irritation.
"A rat? Who are you talking about?"
"Yu Zhen, who else?"
"He's not a rat." Li Xueyue frowned, squeezing the ring in her palm.
"How did he give it to you in the first place? I don't recall a proposal. He has some guts to give you a ring when he didn't even ask Mother and Father for their blessings."
"You're overthinking everything. It's a simple gift." She groaned, recalling yesterday's events.
The object that Yu Zhen had slipped into her hand was this ring and it wasn't difficult to hide it. The thing that bewildered her was how perfect and snug it fit on her finger, as if he already knew her size when all he did was hold her hand once or twice.
"Or a promise ring." Li Chenyang sighed, sticking his hand out. "Give it to me, I'll return it to him if I see him in the Palace."
Li Xueyue stared at his outstretched hand. With each second that passed, her brows began to furrow together, her lips tugged downwards into a soft and hesitant frown.
It felt like what happened during the Spring Tournament, when Li Wenmin demanded her to give him Wen Jinkai's pendant. Couldn't any of her brothers trust her with men?
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang coaxed, "I will be simply returning it. Nothing else."
Li Xueyue shook her head, holding her hand close to her chest where her heart rapidly beated.
"Xueyue," he tried again, this time his voice coming out lower than usual, his tone filled with warning. He did not take her disobedience very well. "Give it."
"No." She glowered at him when his friendly stare turned cruel. It was the first time she had ever seen him angered by something and she knew, it would not be the last time.