A long staredown between them ensued, the atmosphere becoming frigid and unwelcoming. A dreary silence persisted between them, as neither of them wanted to back down. It was not in their nature to give up in the first place, mainly because both Li Chenyang and Li Xueyue were too competitive and stubborn.
"Hand it over."
"Li Xueyue!" he exasperated, finally deciding enough was enough.
Li Chenyang grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her to crane her neck up to meet his eyes. At this moment, she despised having an average height. He was even taller when they were seated.
At the least, Yu Zhen would support her neck or ease his body down to make her more comfortable. Thinking of his slight smiles and gentle touches, she felt her face flush. Why was she having thoughts about him at a time like this?
"I won't ask again. Give me the ring right now."
"I don't want to."
Li Chenyang scowled at her words. It was one of the rare moments she had ever defied him. "Do you realize how bad it is to walk around wearing this ring when you're not even publicly declared to him? People will talk!"
Li Xueyue shook her head. She couldn't care less about what people thought of her. It wasn't like rumors and gossip could feed her. Her eyes dropped to the floor because she did care about one thing: The Li Family's reputation that she was always careful to not drag down.
"Don't be stubborn. If you want something made with yellow stones like topaz, then I will buy out an entire collection for you!"
"But I only want this ring…" she whispered, her voice cracking towards the end. Li Xueyue didn't mean to get so emotional over this topic, but she couldn't help herself. It was like Li Chenyang said, this could be a promise ring that he would come back to her. A promise that he would patiently wait for her, no matter the weeks, months, and maybe even years that went by.
Promises were nothing but sweet lies.
She used to tell herself that, but for odd reasons, Yu Zhen's promises towards her sounded too truthful for her to not believe him.
Li Xueyue knew she was foolish and this world was too cruel for her, but she did not care.
She only wanted Yu Zhen.
Even if loving him would bring her pain and maybe a disastrous demise in Wuyi, she did not care. If loving him was knocking on death's door, then she'd fling it open and run down the steps leading to the Underworld. If it meant she could have him, then consequences did not matter to her.
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang tried again, this time, softening his voice.
He could not bear the sight of her trembling lips. She was trying too hard to be strong despite the tears that threatened to spill.
Li Chenyang could tell her lack of sleep was more frequent than usual. Nowadays, she was more erratic and emotional. She seemed physically exhausted with her dropped shoulders and dark circles. She was a Panda in the making.
"Please," he muttered. "Give it to me. I only have your best interest at heart. I would never do something that I know would hurt you."
Li Xueyue believed him. She would always believe her Chen-ge, no matter what kind of man he might become in the future.
Even if he would become a tyrannical Prime Minister, ordering the beheading of anyone who pissed him off, she would still believe the good in him. Not because she was ignorant, but simply because she cherished him too much.
"Please," she begged, "I just want to hold onto this ring. I-it's the only thing reassuring me that he'll come back for me."
"He hasn't left yet. You can request something else to hold onto," Li Chenyang responded. "But not this ring. Never this ring."
"Chen-ge…" she trailed off, "I do not want anything else but this."
"Fine then." Li Chenyang scowled, straightening his back. "Then give me both his pendant and his hairpin."
"What? No, I can't!" she breathed out, shocked that he knew about these things.
"I was testing you." Li Chenyang's face darkened.
Li Xueyue stiffened, her eyes widened in horror. This was the first time she had seen him look at her in such a manner. He was truly furious with her.
"But thank you for telling me how much of a shameless man he is for giving you sentimental gifts. It's either you hand the ring over, or you hand both the pendant and hairpin."
"But why?" Li Xueyue asked, standing up, hoping to flee from this room, even if it belonged to her in the first place. He would not let her stand. The second he saw her try to stand, he firmly pressed both of his hands onto her shoulders, forcing her back down.
"What are you going to choose? The ring or the pendant and hairpin?"
"Why are you behaving like this?!" she yelled, her voice rising an octave. She had rarely raised her voice at him, the sound surprising him.
Li Xueyue had enough of this mess. Despite the tears that threatened to slip down her face and despite the fear of angering him, disappointing him, she continued to defy his orders.
No matter what he said to her, she would not give these things over. Because she knew, the second she parted with them, her Chen-ge would burn it. He'd get rid of it because Li Chenyang was the type of man who feared the worst scenarios.
Li Xueyue knew from the bottom of her heart that he was not furious, he was fearful. He was terrified that she would follow the path of Li Minghua, giving herself to a man who seemingly promised her everything only to let her down later. He was scared that she would slip into a loveless marriage just because the first stage of acquaintance was rainbows and butterflies.
Li Xueyue refused to part with these items. What if Yu Zhen left without telling her? What shall she have to remember him by?
Li Xueyue wanted to reprimand him for his behavior, but she couldn't do it. She couldn't yell at him, or even have the heart to curse at him—something she'd rather die than do.
"You're being really, really…" she struggled to find the proper words, "Mean. You're being mean right now. I don't like it."
"Mean?" Li Chenyang repeated in disbelief. Even now, she still found the time to go out of her way to worry about him than herself. Was she worried cursing and yelling at him for his insolence was going to result in him hating her?
Li Chenyang let out a frustrated sigh. "Xueyue, don't make it harder than this already is." He groaned. "Don't be dramatic."
She shook her head, refusing to listen.
"Be good," he scolded, letting out a small "tsk" when she narrowed her eyes at him. "Xueyue, we don't have time for this. Breakfast is almost ready and everyone is waiting for you."
Li Xueyue kept her mouth shut and refused to look at him. She kept her gaze trained to the ground, wishing it was his face that she was glowering at.
Suddenly, a timid knock echoed in the room. Li Chenyang let out an irritated sigh through his nose, straightening himself.
"Come in," he barked out, terrifying the poor messenger on the other side of the door.
When the door was pushed open, he was even more irritated. Standing in front of the door was a shy and hesitant maidservant, young and new to the job. She bowed her body as low as she could.
"Second Young Master, Young Miss," she greeted. "There is someone requesting to see our Young Miss—"
Li Xueyue did not need to be told twice before she shot out of her chair, surprising Li Chenyang. In the blink of an eye, she raced past him, and dashed out of the door like her life depended on it.
"Hey—!" Li Chenyang called out, furious that she would do something like this. He ran to the door and swiveled his head outside to see she was long gone.
"Why the hell is she this fast?!" he groaned, slamming his fist into the wooden frame of the door.
The loud rattle surprised the maidservants who let out a yelp, jumping when he turned around to shoot them an irritated glare. He did not need their screaming so early in the morning, especially when he was holding onto his last straw of patience.
"God damn it, Xueyue," he huffed, stomping out of the door and down the hallways. "Why can't you tell I'm only trying to help you?"
Li Chenyang continued to complain under his breath, cursing Yu Zhen to Diyu and back. That man can rot in the Underworld for all he cared, but Xueyue? She deserved to ascend to the highest realm of Heaven.
"You're going to get hurt if you stay with him," he grumbled, letting out a long sigh that he was trying his best to hold back throughout their entire conversation.
"I just…" he trailed off, noticing something on the floor.
Li Chenyang bent down to pick up the lavender ribbon. His face cringed when he attempted to smile. He tightly clenched the ribbon that evidently belonged to Li Xueyue. He squeezed his eyes shut and brought the ribbon closer to his chest.
"I just want to see you safe and happy. Why can't you understand that?"
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