Duchess Wang Qixing noticed her daughter's silence and knew her daughter was overthinking again. "I'm grateful that you didn't lash out on Xueyue again even if she had ignored you."
"She defended me today," Li Minghua mumbled. She hugged her stomach and glanced away. "I don't understand her. One minute, she's patient with me, and the next, she takes jabs."
"Xueyue is a kind-hearted girl," Duchess Wang Qixing explained. "Her compassion comes at unexpected moments. She only attacks those who clawed at her first."
"I don't want to hear this," Li Minghua said. She wasn't ready to hear the truth or acknowledge Li Xueyue's deeds.
"I know you don't," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "But I'm simply explaining her nature to you. We truly didn't replace you, my dear girl. There is a spot for both of you in my heart."
Li Minghua bit her bottom lip. Her mother always knew what to say. She didn't want to accept the cruel reality. The Second Prince was right… The Li Family would do everything in their power to make her feel loved, but none of their attempts would ever succeed.
Li Minghua had built walls around herself. They were tall and firm, made of the strongest of materials. Nothing could knock her walls down, even if it closed in on her.
Duchess Wang Qixing knew her daughter needed time to heal. "Dinner won't be ready for another hour. Come and take a walk with me in the gardens, my sweet child."
- - - - -
"And done!" Li Xueyue smiled as she held up the small slip of parchment. She just finished her bath. Whilst the servants were drying her hair with a cloth, she was writing a message for Yu Zhen.
Li Xueyue swung her legs as she peered down at the message. She ignored the small, crumbled pieces of parchment beside the table. It had taken several tries to make her handwriting as neat as possible.
She read the message in her head, wondering if it should be more cryptic.
'Don't be so petty, you bully. Good things come to those who wait.'
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. Was the message too vague? Yu Zhen was intelligent. She hoped it wasn't just for show. Hmph, the irony of that situation would be hilarious.
Li Xueyue flicked the parchment back and forth to let the ink dry. Then she patted the words, making sure the ink didn't transfer to her fingers. Luckily, it didn't. She neatly folded the slip of parchment in half and stood up just as her hair was done drying.
A gentle knock sounded in her room. "Come in," she said.
The door opened to reveal Li Wenmin. He stepped into her room and examined it like he always did. He didn't know why and when it became a habit of his.
"Xiao Yue, dinner is ready," Li Wenmin stated.
Li Xueyue blinked in surprise. It was usually Li Chenyang who notified her. What brought Wenmin in here?
"I was just preparing to head there," Li Xueyue said she slipped the message into her pockets.
"What was that?" Li Wenmin asked. He pointed to her thigh, where the pocket resided.
"It's a secret," Li Xueyue mused. She approached him and looped her hand around his elbow. The two began to head out of the room and towards the dining hall.
"It's so strange to see you notify me about dinner. Usually, you'd race to the table to steal a bite or two before I show up."
Li Wenmin laughed a bit as he scratched the back of his neck. "I decided to give both of us a head start."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. That was unlike her Wen-ge who loved to play sneaky in the form of custom-made chopsticks. "Is that so?" she responded.
Li Wenmin eagerly nodded. "And also because… Well, I figured you feel left out."
"Well, I didn't feel that way until you mentioned it," Li Xueyue mused. "It's strange, Wen-ge. Maybe I overthink everything, but it feels like you're distancing yourself away from me. Is there something you want to tell me?"
Li Wenmin slowly shook his head. "I didn't mean to make you feel that way. It's just… Minghua has finally returned home, and I was worried she would be out of place in her own house. I wanted to make sure Minghua has the attention she needed."
"Well, that's not a good excuse," Li Xueyue truthfully said. She wanted to resolve this issue before it was too late. On a normal day, she would've curbed her tongue and yielded to whatever he wanted. She had learned from Yu Zhen that this was not the best approach.
It surprised Li Wenmin to hear her rebuttal. She rarely voiced her opinions. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Li Xueyue asked with a slight smile. She glanced up at her older brother whose features were haunted by grim displeasure. The truth always hurts doesn't it?
"For neglecting you…" Li Wenmin trailed off. "I should've done much more in your defense, but Xiao Hua was so pitiful and it's just—"
"I don't think Minghua would appreciate the attention you give her out of pity and guilt. No one wants to receive pity, especially by their own family member," Li Xueyue responded.
Li Wenmin rapidly blinked at her words. He dropped his gaze to the ground. He had never thought of it from this perspective.
"I can't understand where Minghua is coming from, but she has lost my favor," Li Xueyue responded. "That's the nature of life, isn't it? We can't like everyone in our lives, despite the impact they'd have on us."
Li Wenmin let out a small laugh. She was right, as always. "I suppose there was a lot of wrongdoing on my part with my behavior."
"Well, at least you're aware of it," Li Xueyue mused. "That's a good thing. Awareness is the first step to change."
Li Wenmin slowly nodded. He hadn't realized she had matured so much in the short span of time he had known her. Two and a half years passed by so quickly… Time always passed by quickly when one was having fun. It was unfair. He wanted more time with his Xiao Yue.
Li Xueyue decided to change the topic. "How was your day in the military?"
Li Wenmin pondered over his next words. There was an eventful moment… It was another encounter with the small-figured soldier who had an appetite that matched his.
"Do you remember that soldier I told you about? The one who was able to beat my snacking record? Well, whoever he is, he showed up again!" Li Wenmin exclaimed. He was eager to mention the soldier whose identity was still unknown.
"I knew it was him the second I saw him, but it's so weird. How can he be half my size but have a stomach that was able to compete with mine?" Li Wenmin thought out loud.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. "Are you sure it's a 'he'?" she asked. "How did you know it's not a girl?"
"Hmmm, that's a good question," Li Wenmin responded. He had never considered the possibility of a female soldier in the camps. It wasn't an impossible thing, but female soldiers were certainly rare, unlike in Hanjian.
"The next time you see that soldier, you should ask him to take off his helmet. It'd be nice to get to know him and make a new friend," Li Xueyue said. At the mention of friends, her mood soured a bit. She didn't have a single friend in this world.
Li Wenmin eagerly nodded. "I will, I will!"
Li Xueyue smiled at his energetic behavior. "Who knows?" she shrugged. "If it's a girl…" She winked.
Li Wenmin was initially confused by her reaction, but then realization dawned on him. "Hey, you're not playing matchmaker, right?!"
Li Xueyue laughed at his words. "Maybe I am."
"No, don't!" Li Wenmin groaned. "I don't want to get married so quickly. I want to play around a bit more."
Li Xueyue merely shrugged in response. And little did they both know, Li Wenmin would eventually regret his words in the near future.
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