"I'm going to check on Minghua," Li Wenmin abruptly said. "Just to make sure everything is okay. It's been a while since she's been in this house."
Li Chenyang raised a brow. He wasn't perplexed by Wenmin's behavior. It was typical of his older brother.
"Go on ahead," Li Chenyang said as he waved his hand.
"See you later, Xiao Yue," Li Wenmin said as he gave her head a pat before disappearing into the house.
Li Chenyang noticed Xueyue's silence. He turned towards her. To his surprise, she had a blank expression, almost as if she wasn't fazed by Minghua's behavior. She had completely ignored Minghua's subtle disrespect.
"I told you she was alive," Li Xueyue finally said as her gaze shifted to him accusingly.
"I'm sorry," Li Chenyang confessed. "I didn't believe you because the thought of a dead woman walking again is just—"
"It's understandable," Li Xueyue interrupted.
She gently smiled. "I know you meant no harm. It was a questionable idea, but I would've appreciated it if you had a little bit more trust in me."
"I do," Li Chenyang argued. "Well, now that you've seen the Li family's caged canary, what do you think of her?"
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "Well, I wasn't surprised by her behavior. From the diary I read, I sort of expected it. She seemed callous and a bit rude."
"It's because she was spoiled rotten since birth," Li Chenyang sighed. "Her biggest flaw was that she got everything she wanted in life. When we have everything in the world, it's difficult to appreciate the little things in life."
Li Xueyue nodded. "No one would be shocked by that idea. Minghua is the legitimate and eldest daughter of the Prime Minister and Princess. The world is your oyster."
Li Chenyang chuckled at the idea. "Not really. In fact, I pitied her."
"What do you mean?" Li Xueyue asked, turning to face him. He threw an arm around her shoulder and squeezed it before guiding her inside of the house.
"Father was always very protective of her. He would never let her outside the manor walls. Minghua grew up in isolation without a single friend."
Li Xueyue blinked. "And to make up for her lack of social life, I'd assume Mother and Father gave her everything she had ever wanted except for her freedom."
"Precisely. In return, Minghua never understood how privileged she was. As a result," he gestured to the spot she previously stood, "she behaves like that without qualms."
"It's so strange," Li Xueyue said. "Minghua said she was a servant in the Palace. I thought it would've humbled her… no matter the reason that turned her into one."
Li Chenyang pressed his lips together. "Notice how she's the Second Prince's servant? I hypothesize the Empress made Minghua a servant in hopes of ruining her dreams and ambition."
Li Chenyang's expression became stormy at the idea of a Li ever serving anyone. They rarely bowed to anyone in the first place.
Li Chenyang tilted his head. "Minghua went from the eldest daughter of a privileged family to a mere servant in the Palace."
His gaze traveled in the direction she stormed down the hallways. "It must've been a harsh awakening and an insufferable idea, which was probably what the Empress had in mind. If only she knew, her second son was too kind-hearted."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. She received that impression from the mellow Second Prince but there was also something suspicious about him. He knew the secrets of two of the most influential people in this country. The power he possessed was terrifying.
"Wouldn't that mean Minghua was under the Second Prince's protection?" Li Xueyue asked. "So her life as a servant wasn't as bad as the rest of the palace workers? If she's still so haughty after two years in the Palace, it must've meant the Second Prince treated her very well."
Li Chenyang knew her prediction wasn't far from the truth. "When the Second Prince was a child and the Li family still lived in the Capital, Minghua would visit him often. Among all his cousins, she's one of the few who believed the Second Prince's illness wasn't contagious."
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. "That sort of kindness will not be forgotten."
Li Chenyang nodded. "Indeed. It would explain why the Second Prince took her in the first place and treated her so nicely."
Li Chenyang knew he should've been suspicious when the servant took her sweet time grabbing the tea and snacks.
Li Xueyue fiddled with her sleeves. "I wonder what Wen Jinkai's reaction will be when he realizes Minghua is alive all along… and the fact that he laid a hand on her," she muttered.
The outcomes would be unfavorable.
Even now, Li Xueyue couldn't forget the event of Wen Jinkai grabbing that veiled servant by the throat. What was Li Minghua feeling when he did that to her?
"Chen-ge…" she trailed off. "You don't think Minghua would uhm…"
"What is it?" Li Chenyang asked. He peered at her for a brief second before focusing on walking. He noticed she was antsy and nervous.
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. It was a bad habit of hers that she needed to get rid of, but couldn't. This had already caused her lips to be rough.
"The timing must've been weird for her," she abruptly said.
Li Xueyue lifted her head and stared up at Chenyang. He was watching where he walked. She realized he resembled their father, especially when he had placed his hands behind his back.
"Maybe Minghua thinks she has been replaced by me," Li Xueyue rushed out.
Li Chenyang halted. His foot stopped moving before he could take another step forward. She was ahead of him now.
Li Xueyue turned back to face him. "I mean, if I suddenly disappeared and then a few months later, another woman joins the family, I'd feel the same."
Li Chenyang realized her skin had paled. She was troubled over this major detail. Her hair was beginning to stick to her forehead from the cold sweat that broke out due to her anxiety.
"I won't deny it," Li Chenyang said. "The Second Prince brought up the same stupid idea once, even though I've vehemently denied it."
Li Xueyue blinked. Was that the conversation that took place when she was sent out of the tea room? It wouldn't be a farfetched guess.
"That's so strange," she spoke up. "The Second Prince also said the same thing when Wenmin and I met him on the day we went to the Palace together to find Yu Zhen. He asked a similar question, not knowing I was standing right there."
Li Chenyang's face dimmed. If the Second Prince asked both of the twins the same question, then it could only mean one thing: the Second Prince wasn't the only one who thought this way.
What if the Second Prince was asking this question in Li Minghua's place? Why else would he bring up the question so many times?
Li Chenyang was displeased. Did Minghua truly feel this way? That she was replaced by Xueyue? If so, wouldn't it lead to resentment and hatred?
"Stay away from Minghua," Li Chenyang demanded. "No matter the costs, I want you to avoid her. The only time you should see her is during meals. Aside from that, don't ever be alone with her."
Li Xueyue blinked at his command. He was as serious as he could ever be. There was no humor in his eyes.
Li Chenyang stepped forward and grabbed her elbow. "Until this issue is resolved, I want you to walk the opposite direction every time you see her," he solemnly said. "No matter what it takes, do you hear me?"
"Y-you make it sound like Minghua is someone dangerous," Li Xueyue joked. She wanted to lighten the tense atmosphere, but he took it the wrong way.
"I'm serious," Li Chenyang said. "She may look like a fairy from heaven, but the truth is, she's the most mischievous girl I've ever met."
Li Xueyue nodded. "Okay, I will do my best to stay clear of her."
Li Chenyang searched her eyes for the truth. He knew he could rely on her. She had rarely let him down. "Good, now let's get you cleaned up as well. You've had a rough day."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. "Is that your way of politely telling me I stink?"
"At least you can read between the lines." He snorted.
"I see the pot is calling the kettle black," she retorted.
Li Chenyang rolled his eyes as he shoved her in the direction of her bedroom. "Just go take a shower, Piglet."
Li Xueyue stuck out her tongue at him.
"Little Piglet, just you wait—"
Li Xueyue let out a taunting laugh and ran down the hallways before he could catch her.
Li Chenyang shook his head at her but couldn't suppress the smile resting on his lips. He enjoyed that carefree sound, so light and airy, it reminded him of every good memory.
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