The next morning eventually arrived. Li Xueyue, for once, had a decent sleep, but it wasn't enough. She was still exhausted and barely slept longer than usual. The herbal tonics she consumed before bedtime helped to soothe her a little but the nightmares didn't stop.
Li Xueyue sat up on the bed and let out a sigh. She couldn't help but think of the time Yu Zhen had barged into her room after she had a nightmare. That night, she slept the best, knowing he was there to keep her safe. She dearly missed his warm embrace and soothing words.
Li Xueyue wanted to write him a letter, but she feared it would only drag him down. She didn't want to burden him with thoughts of her. She would only be a distraction in his life. She bit her bottom lip and wished there was more she could do. Would it be selfish of her to want to leave for Hanjian?
A quiet knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
Li Xueyue rubbed her tired eyes, knowing who it was. "Come in," she said. Servants opened the door and soon enough, she was prepped for the morning.
Li Xueyue dreaded the breakfast table. Having meals with Minghua always worsened her appetite.
"This is looser than usual, Young Miss," one of the servants commented as they began to tie the waist belt of her hanfu tighter.
Li Xueyue frowned a bit. She had lost weight. It was most likely the result of skipping meals and her lack of desire to consume snacks. She knew the Li Family was trying their best to make her feel welcomed as always. She didn't want their effort to go to waste, but she couldn't stomach much food lately.
Once she was dressed, Li Xueyue began making her way to the dining hall. She was surprised to see Duke Li Shenyang standing outside, almost as if he was waiting for her.
"Father," she addressed him with a small smile. "Good morning."
Duke Li Shenyang paused as he glanced down at her. As usual, she was the best part of his morning. He fondly smiled and presented her with a stack of letters.
"I'm sure you don't have to guess whom these are from," Duke Li Shenyang responded.
Li Xueyue's lethargic eyes instantly brightened upon seeing them. She graciously accepted the letters with both hands. Her lips twitched as she tried to contain a large smile from breaking out.
Duke Li Shenyang chuckled when he saw her mood brighten so quickly. Whether the twins liked it or not, Yu Zhen had a positive influence on Xueyue.
"Read them after breakfast," Duke Li Shenyang instructed. "Afterwards, I want you to consider something."
"What is it?" Li Xueyue asked as she glanced upwards at him. She placed the letters into her pocket.
"It's nothing," Li Chenyang said from behind them. He frowned at his father's ambush. 'I thought we decided that I would be the one to tell her,' he thought to himself.
Duke Li Shenyang laughed at his son's reaction. Of course, he would have a sister complex. At least he had raised his sons well.
"Let's have this discussion at a different time then," Duke Li Shenyang mused.
Taking that as a cue, a Eunuch pushed the doors open. Duchess Wang Qixing was already seating inside as she conversed with Minghua about something. Wenmin was yawning as always, but paid close attention to whatever his sister was saying.
"Well, what about Wen Jinkai?" Duchess Wang Qixing suddenly asked as everyone came to an immediate halt at her words.
"I don't think he knows you're actually alive. Are you going to see him?" Duchess Wang Qixing added on.
"No, he's in love with Xueyue. I don't want to be the second choice," Li Minghua said.
"You were always his first choice," Li Xueyue bit out. How many times must she say it for Minghua to get it through her thick skull? Minghua could have Wen Jinkai for all Xueyue cared.
Li Minghua didn't bother to turn around for Xueyue. She simply drank her tea and glared at the table. It was the least she could do to keep her silence.
"Xiao Hua, Xueyue was talking to you," Li Wenmin pointed out. He began to frown when Minghua ignored him and gave him a cold shoulder. What could be so difficult about getting along? Why couldn't everyone get along and be a big happy family?
Li Wenmin's mood soured as his shoulders began to droop. All he wanted was for them to get along. He couldn't take sides or force them to behave. They were both his younger sisters and he cherished them both.
Li Xueyue resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the silent tantrum of Minghua. She made her way to her seat and sat down. The meal was cooked by the same people but it tasted bland in her mouth. She didn't want to consume anything, especially whilst facing Minghua, but she didn't have a choice.
There were small talks made, mainly centered around Minghua and her next step. Everyone always tried to include Xueyue into the conversation but she gave lackluster responses and polite nods.
Li Xueyue didn't want to disrupt the family's dynamic but she still wanted to contribute a bit. She didn't want to purposely make them worry about whether or not she felt left out in the family.
Finally, after taking a few bites, Xueyue knew she had eaten a sufficient amount. "Please excuse me," she said and stood up, surprising the people gathered around the table.
Li Chenyang worriedly glanced down at her rice bowl. She usually had three servings but she was only on her first serving. Moreover, it was only half-eaten.
"Aren't you going to fight with me over the braised eggs, Xiao Yue?" Li Wenmin sullenly asked. "Look, I even got a new pair of chopsticks. They're sharper at the ends, so it's easier for me to steal them from you."
Li Xueyue let out a small laugh at his words. "I should've known you'd play dirty, but no, I'm not hungry anymore. Please enjoy them to your heart's content."
Li Xueyue bowed her head in respect and then left the dining room. She let out a quiet sigh upon stepping outside. A second later, the door opened again. She turned around and was surprised to see Chenyang with a frustrated expression.
"You barely ate," Li Chenyang nagged. "You'll become too skinny at this point."
"I'm full," Li Xueyue said, but it was a lie. He knew it. Everyone in this hallway knew it.
Li Chenyang pressed his lips together. He turned to one of the servants that always accompanied Xueyue. "Prepare the afternoon snacks and tea. Make sure there is a variety of savory and sweet pastries. Bring more than usual."
"Yes, Second Young Master," the maidservant responded with a deep bow. She excused herself to fulfill her orders.
"Chen-ge… I'm fine, really—"
"I know you don't want us to worry about you, but you're our responsibility now. We'll always be concerned over you and your wellbeing, not because we have to, but because we want to. If something has been bothering you, tell us," Li Chenyang remarked.
Li Xueyue blinked. She couldn't tell them anything. Her request was selfish. The only problem was that she didn't want to eat with Minghua around. How rude would it be if she suddenly wanted that woman gone from the table? Surely, people would think she was selfish.
"There was something that Father wanted to tell me before the meal," Li Xueyue said. She decided to change the topic. "What was it?"
Li Chenyang frowned a bit. "Xueyue," he sternly addressed. "I'm serious. What has been plaguing your thoughts lately? I can tell you've lost weight."
"It's just my lack of sleep," Li Xueyue said. It was half the truth, so technically it wasn't a lie, right? "But it's been getting better. I slept longer than usual last night."
Li Chenyang was still distressed by what could be bothering her so much, but wisely chose to not press on. He knew she'd open up when she could. "That's good. We can't have Yu Zhen see a panda when he opens the carriage doors."
"What?" Li Xueyue responded.
"Nothing," Li Chenyang said with a slight smile.
"Am I going to Hanjian?"
"We'll discuss this after you have your snacks. You should return to your room. The food will most likely be there soon. I'll check in on you after my morning discussion with Father."
Li Xueyue wanted to ask more but couldn't. He patted her on the cheeks and walked off before she could question him further. What did he mean by that? Was it simply a distraction? Or was it the truth?
Li Xueyue touched her pocket, where the letters remained. She decided it was to her best interest if she began responding to it as soon as she could.
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