As Madam Zhao and Zhao Yuan’s birthdays were close to each other, the Zhao family would always celebrate them together.
It was the same this year too.
Even the students of the Evergreen Class began to give Zhao Yuan gifts a week before her birthday.
“I voted for you. You’re probably going to win the School Beauty Contest again this year. I wish you a happy early birthday.”
Zhao Yuan was surrounded by her adoring fans. She smiled politely. “Thank you.”
E Xiaoxia who was watching by the side also sheepishly gave her her gift. Zhao Yuan looked at her but did not take it.
The two of them were still in an awkward phase due to the allergy incident.
Someone was voting for Zhao Yuan. When they scrolled down, they saw Zhao Mingxi who was at the bottom of the list.
Someone exclaimed, “How did someone with a mask get shortlisted? Who’s the moderator in charge of checking the submissions? Did they take this year’s School Beauty Contest as a joke?”
Zhao Yuan’s expression changed slightly. She took out her phone to look at it as well.
Surprisingly, Zhao Mingxi was at the 20th place.
Someone standing beside them said, “It’s Zhao Mingxi? I’ve never seen her, but I’ve heard of her. She’s the girl who kept on pursuing Shen Liyao. I heard that her looks are only average. Maybe people are just voting for her out of curiosity.”
E Xiaoxia watched as Zhao Yuan turned and kept on looking at her phone with furrowed brows. She couldn’t understand what was going on in Zhao Yuan’s head.
Nonetheless, she still approached her and tried to curry favor with a whisper, “Yuanyuan, don’t worry. Those people must have voted for Zhao Mingxi because they were curious about how she looked underneath the mask. She only has around 500 votes now. You have well-surpassed her with your 3,000 votes. She won’t be able to catch up.”
“Furthermore, only embarrassment would await her if she did manage to get into the first few spots. Think about it, when the voting period is complete, those who don’t know her will think that she’s pretty— Then when she takes off her mask, whoa, the disappointment.”
E Xiaoxia initially thought that after saying these she would be able to salvage her relationship with Zhao Yuan. But unexpectedly, the moment Zhao Yuan heard her words, she kept quiet and the expression on her face turned darker. She didn’t look as if she was relieved at all.
Before E Xiaoxia could speak any further, Zhao Yuan’s other friend, Pu Shuang’s phone vibrated.
“Oh, it’s from Zhao Yuning.” Pu Shuang said in surprise.
[Pu Shuang jie, what should I give a girl so that she will stop being mad at me? P.S. don’t tell Yuan jie.]
As Zhao Yuan was coincidentally beside her, she gave her a look, “Your brother treats you so well. Is he planning to secretly buy you a birthday gift? He told me not to tell you too!”
The corner of Zhao Yuan’s lips curled slightly upwards. Only then did the expression on her face soften.
Zhao Yuning probably wanted to apologize to her as well for when he accidentally yelled at her that day at the sports field.
However, Zhao Yuan was a little shocked. Zhao Yuning was always very direct, yet today he knew how to speak in a roundabout way.
Pu Shuang asked, “Quick. What do you want for your birthday? How should I reply?”
Zhao Yuan gave it some thought before saying, “I don’t really need anything. Just tell him to give whatever he wants.”
Thus, Pu Shuang replied: “Anything, but Shuang jie would recommend you to get a life size teddy bear.”
There was no reply after that. E Xiaoxia, Pu Shuang and the girls around them started to get jealous. “If only I had such a younger brother as well.”
Zhao Yuan smiled as she was in a better mood now. She stood up and packed her bags before saying, “My eldest brother is coming to pick me up. See you all next week.”
As for Zhao Yuning, he was currently dragging two of his male friends as they walked around the mall.
He excused himself for the last period after lunch just so he could come out to buy a gift. He wanted to give it to Zhao Mingxi.
He didn’t know if Zhao Mingxi was purposely avoiding him this week or that the academic building for those in Year 3 was too far from that of Year 1, but he never saw Zhao Mingxi at all while he was in school.
Of course, he didn’t relay to the family what Zhao Mingxi said about severing all ties with them as she had said it out of anger.
He was thinking that since their eldest brother was going to personally pick up Zhao Mingxi from school this weekend, she would most probably stop holding a grudge and agree to go home.
Therefore, if he said anything it would only make things worse.
Nonetheless, even without relaying her message, the atmosphere at home was distinctly bad.
The house became quieter ever since Zhao Mingxi left home. Aside from the fact that he could no longer eat Zhao Mingxi’s delicious dishes, he couldn’t find anyone to bicker with him anymore.
Zhao Yuan and Zhao Mingxi had varying personalities.
Zhao Yuan was gracious. As she had learned piano and etiquette, no one could find any fault in her. While Zhao Yuning liked and spoiled this elder sister of his, he felt that he missed the smart mouthed Zhao Mingxi— Only Zhao Mingxi would pull him by the ears to his bed whenever he would stay up to play games.
Although Zhao Yuning didn’t want to admit it, he had to confess that his heart felt empty for the whole of this week.
While he was still a little upset about how Zhao Mingxi had caused such a ruckus because of a small matter, the main point was that she didn’t even care about him anymore.
However, after Zhao Mingxi had spoken to him that day at the lowest floor of the academic building, he also reflected on not only his own actions, but also his family’s.
She was right. They had wronged Zhao Mingxi.
Thus, he hatched a plan. First, he would buy a gift. Then when their eldest brother manages to convince Mingxi to come home, he would secretly enter Mingxi’s room and give her the gift.
But just when he was about to buy a gift for her, Zhao Yuning realized that he knew nothing about what Zhao Mingxi liked.
It was only then that he noticed that for the past two years, he had only given Zhao Mingxi a memory card of a game he had played before on her birthday last year.
For some reason, Zhao Yuning felt bad. There was also a sense of fear, as if everything was too late. He tried his best to push away these odd feelings.
No way. There’s nothing a family can’t get through together.
After an hour of shopping at the local mall, Zhao Yuning still went according to Pu Shuang’s recommendation and got Zhao Mingxi a life size teddy bear which was about 170cm tall.
Once he bought it, he let out a mental sigh of relief. He felt that it was enough; that Zhao Mingxi would be surprised when she received this.
As it was too big, he couldn’t bring it back himself, so he got the salesperson to send it back.
When it was time to fill in the address, he gave it some thought and wrote his house address while stating that it was for Zhao Mingxi.
Since his eldest brother will be showing himself today, he would definitely be able to bring Zhao Mingxi home.
The moment Zhao Yuning arrived at school from the mall, he received a call from Zhao Zhanhuai. He quickly pulled his bag tighter and ran to the school gates. “Da ge.”
Zhao Zhanhuai got out from the car with his car keys in his hands. He pulled up his white sleeves and furrowed his brows as he walked to school. “Where is Mingxi’s class? Show me the way.”
“Da ge, you’re finally here.” Zhao Yuning was a little excited. Since it was their eldest brother who came, Zhao Mingxi wouldn’t retaliate like how she did to him, right?
He hurriedly followed behind Zhao Zhanhuai. “There. She’s in the same building as Zhao Yuan, but they’re not on the same floor.”
Zhao Zhanhuai went up to the fifth floor and walked toward the direction of the International Class.
He didn’t know where Zhao Mingxi’s class was, be it before or after she transferred. He only knew which class Zhao Yuan was in.
Previously whenever it was a holiday weekend, Zhao Zhanhuai would personally drive to school and bring Zhao Yuan home.
His feelings toward Zhao Yuan had not changed yet. But ever since two years ago when Zhao Yuan turned from his biological younger sister to someone with no blood relations to him whatsoever, Zhao Zhanhuai felt a stronger sense of pity for her.
He was afraid that she would feel uncomfortable in this house. He was also fearful that she would be bullied by Mingxi who had a stronger personality. Thus, Zhao Zhanhuai treated Zhao Yuan even better as compared to the past 15 years.
His actions of personally coming to pick up Zhao Yuan was a habit formed from a small promise between him and Zhao Yuan. He wanted Zhao Yuan to know that he favored her by using his actions to tell her that she was still very important to this family.
As for Zhao Yuning and Zhao Mingxi, for the past two years they were driven home by the Zhao family’s driver.
Zhao Zhanhuai didn’t think that anything was amiss. Since Yuning would be together with Mingxi and their ages were close to each other, this might even help Mingxi to blend in with the family quicker.
But this week, maybe it was because Zhao Zhanhuai felt guilty about what happened, his attention had obviously been more focused on Mingxi.
Mingxi had actually refused to come home for a week and a half.
Not only did she not reply to his apology text, after the incident, when everyone in the family including him called her, they realized that she had actually blocked them.
Even the lady who always cooked for them at home had her number blocked.
It seemed as if Mingxi wanted to sever all ties with them.
At home, Madam Zhao was so angry that a migraine appeared. She clamoured that if Zhao Mingxi did not come back, she would no longer be welcomed home. However, Madam Zhao had a sharp tongue but a soft heart, she did not truly mean that she would forbid Mingxi from coming home.
Therefore, Zhao Zhanhuai could only step in personally.
As the eldest brother, he planned to first bring Mingxi out for hotpot in order to appease her. Then, he would find a suitable opportunity to bring her home.
Because the classes of the International Class ended quite early, everyone was pretty much gone by the time they arrived.
Zhao Zhanhuai and Zhao Yuning were rather handsome young men, hence quite a few girls were observing them on their way there.
Someone took the initiative to ask, “Who are you looking for?”
Zhao Zhanhuai said, “I am the guardian of Zhao Mingxi from the International Class. Is she here?”
“She went to the office to submit the application form for the Hundred School Tournament.”
Zhao Zhanhuai and Zhao Yuning looked at each other. They were astonished. They knew about the Hundred School Tournament. Why would Mingxi register with her results? Aside from the fact that the requirement for entry was very strict, there was a limited number of students who could join, so they had no idea if she would be able to get through that preliminary stage— Even if she did get through it, she would probably be eliminated at the first round, rendering her unqualified to join the finals.
Zhao Zhanhuai said to Zhao Yuning, “But it’s good that she is motivated. It isn’t easy for Mingxi to adapt from her studies in the countryside.”
Zhao Yuning nodded.
Then the two of them walked toward the office.
Mingxi had just submitted the application form. The moment she looked up, she saw Zhao Zhanhuai and Zhao Yuning who were going to bring her home.
“Mingxi.” Zhao Zhanhuai walked over while examining Zhao Mingxi. Despite it having been a week and a half since they last saw each other, Mingxi unexpectedly did not show any emotion of anger or frustration toward their family— Her eyes were not bloodshot and she didn’t lose any weight. In fact, it seemed like her hair had become even shinier and the look in her eyes had become clearer.
Zhao Zhanhuai felt like something was off. He opened his mouth and was about to say something.
But before he could speak, Mingxi furrowed her brows.
“Why are you here again?”
Mingxi’s emotionless words almost made Zhao Zhanhuai choke.
Zhao Zhanhuai thought that the moment Mingxi saw him, she would express an emotion of ‘why did you just come?’, but what he absolutely did not expect was this kind of distasteful expression on her face.
He stabilized his emotions and decided not to be so nitpicky with a child. He continued, “Are you still going back to class? If not, let’s talk while we walk. I’ll bring you out for hotpot.”
Mingxi said, “That’s what Zhao Yuan likes to eat. I don’t like to eat hotpot.”
“Then we’ll eat something else.” Zhao Zhanhuai was still very patient as he tried to please her. “Also, it’s going to be Mom and Zhao Yuan’s birthdays next week. You must be home by then. Stop being difficult, Mingxi.”
Mingxi looked at Zhao Yuning. “Looks like you didn’t tell them what I said.”
Zhao Zhanhuai looked at Zhao Yuning who was behind him. “What did she say?”
Zhao Yuning’s face instantly fell. He thought that since their eldest brother was here Mingxi would change her attitude, but why was she still acting this way? Why was she still so cold and stiff toward them?
Suddenly, Mingxi unzipped her bag and pulled out a photo.
Zhao Zhanhuai remembered it. This was a family photo that they gave Mingxi when she first came back to them. She printed two of it so that she could frame one and keep it on her bedside while the other would be kept in her school bag.
This morning, he saw that she didn’t take the photo on her bedside with her.
As for this one—
“You should keep the photo well. Why did you take it out?” Zhao Zhanhuai stared at Zhao Mingxi. It was only at this moment that he noticed that Mingxi was acting out of the ordinary.
Mingxi walked over and gave the photo to Zhao Zhanhuai.
Zhao Zhanhuai furrowed his brows and refused to take it.
Thus, Mingxi could only crumple it into a ball and throw it into the nearby trash can.
When she did this, she didn’t even raise her eyelids, it was as if she was merely throwing trash.
Zhao Zhanhuai and Zhao Yuning were stunned. They looked at Zhao Mingxi in shock.
Mingxi continued to rummage through her bag. After confirming with her own eyes, she said, “Aside from this photo, I don’t think I have anything else from your family. The school bag and clothes that I took were all the ones I brought when I first came two years ago.”
Zhao Yuning furrowed his brows. “What do you mean?”
“This means that I don’t have anything from the Zhao family on me, so please stop approaching me. Whatever I want to say I’ve already said to Zhao Yuning.”
No matter how gentle Zhao Zhanhuai was, he couldn’t just stand there and take this. He looked at the trash can which was full of fruit peels and lowered the tone of his voice, “How could you just crumple up our family photo and toss it in the trash? What do you take our family for?”
Mingxi looked at him as if she was a curious child. “Isn’t it just a copy of a photo? Do you have to get so mad over it?”
Zhao Zhanhuai instantly felt that this line was familiar. He abruptly recalled when Mingxi first came to the Zhao family home, she had a few photos of when she was living in the small town with her grandmother.
Mingxi was only willing to let them see one photo. After they were done, they didn’t know if it ended up in the hands of Zhao Yuan or Zhao Yuning, but in the end they forgot to return it to Mingxi and it was lost ever since.
That was the first time Mingxi cried as she fought with them.
They said the same thing, “Isn’t it just a copy of a photo? You still have a lot. Do you have to get so mad over it?”
Zhao Zhanhuai paled. He felt a sharp stab in his heart, yet he said nothing.
He looked toward Zhao Mingxi, but she had already turned and went downstairs.
It was only at this moment that Zhao Zhanhuai and Zhao Yuning found out why they felt that something was off the instant they saw Mingxi at the hallway.
Mingxi had changed her school bag.
What she took with her was her own bag that her grandmother had gifted her.
Mingxi had also changed her hair tie.
She had tied her ponytail up with a simple black hair tie.
She did not bring a single thing Madam Zhao got her when she was in a good mood and brought her out shopping.
Furthermore, the teddy bear ornament that Zhao Zhanhuai got her which she used to treasure so much was no longer there.