74 When the Fourth Miss Learns of the Past Once More

    Xiaoyi blinked at her question, a flustered smile appearing on her face as she shrank back. "Big sister, what's with that sudden question?"

    Yujia lifted her chin, replying, "Let's not pretend like that never happened. I know for sure that for fifteen years of my life, you never made a move to speak or interact with me. So, although since two years ago, you made efforts to get closer to me and now wish to learn about painting from me, it's understandable that I want to know exactly why you did so, right? I know that being the pathetic, sickly Fourth Miss, there isn't much that can one can exploit from me, but I still want to know reasons."

    Hearing this, Xiaoyi bit the inside of her cheek. "I- well- it's a long story."

    "I have time," Yujia smiled, "and I happen to enjoy stories."

    "Then..." Clear hesitation displayed on her face, Xiaoyi looked at her hands, as if trying to think of where to start. A few seconds passed, and then she raised her head, her story finally beginning.


    When the Fifth Miss of the Yang Household was born, her mother, Madam Zhen, was already sickly and barely hanging on by a thread. They all thought that it was a miracle that a woman near death was able to give birth to such a healthy child, but it was even more of a miracle that she managed to claw her way out of death's grasp, staying barely alive for a couple of more years to look after her child.

    But besides all of this, there was nothing else quite exciting about Yang Xiaoyi's entire childhood. Being the youngest child, she was naturally pampered by her father and lived quite comfortably.

    Sometime throughout all of this, the young Fifth Miss could recall seeing the young Fourth Miss who was only a year older than her, playing all by herself in a poorly built courtyard. Yang Xiaoyi could recall trying to play with her older sister, yet when her mother found her, a cough through her breath, she was dragged away and back to the courtyard that she belonged in. She could remember the moment where her mother told her that the Fourth Miss was the child of someone that the Madam, the main wife of the household, felt intense animosity towards, and that associating herself with people of the Fourth Miss's kind was only going to harm her.

    So, the Fifth Miss listened to her mother, being the obedient child that she was. She didn't like to hear her mother speaking to her with that tone of voice, and she didn't feel that inclined to play with her half-sister anyways when she had her other older sisters who adored her much more.

    It was only that sometimes, the Fourth Miss truly looked a little lonely.

    Another year passed, and then, on the night that Yang Xiaoyi turned eight, her mother died.

    She didn't expect it to happen. She didn't want it to happen. On that night, she didn't even care for any celebration for her birthday or any gifts. As long as her mother would come back, she wouldn't want anything else in the world.

    But then, her mother was there in one moment, and the next moment, she wasn't.

    They tried to tell her many things- to say that her mother merely went away or that she was tired and went to take a long sleep- but she was there to witness what happened to her mother herself. She saw life slip away from her mother's eyes, and how her hand drooped and turned cold while the apologetic smile on her lips fell away. No matter what they said about how her mother passed or fell asleep, Yang Xiaoyi hated the pretty words they used to decorate it.

    It was just death. Cold and hard death.

    Madam Zhen was never the main wife, and the Yang household was small. Her funeral was held discreetly, and then everyone acted like such a woman never existed.

    Yang Xiaoyi, though, never thought of it like that. She held her fragmented memories of her mother closer to her heart as she grew older, replacing the motherly figure in her life with sheer memories, the past things that her mother told her.

    A good young miss should be polite and well-versed in etiquette. A good young miss never started arguments and treated others with warmth and kindness. A good young miss educated herself with the arts to prepare herself to be a more desirable wife.

    And lastly, a good young miss didn't associate herself with people like the Fourth Miss who was despised by Madam Zhang and would only make her life harder.

    Years passed, and the Fifth Miss grew up. Her sisters did as well, things all happening to them and their lives. The First Miss married and then came back, had a child and then lost it. The Second Miss, her true sister, ran away from the household to seek her own potential. The Third Miss married away, and unlike the First Miss, she never came back for good.

    As for the Fourth Miss and herself, they both lived independent lives of their own.

    Life was simple. The Fifth Miss learned to wash away the grief of losing her mother and chose to look forward, to the ever simple life she could already picture ahead. She would not have the tragedy of the First Miss or the recklessness of the Second Miss, merely following the Third Miss in her example of marrying into a stable family and fulfilling her role from an obedient daughter to an obedient wife.

    Yet on her fifteenth birthday- it seemed like all important events happened on her birthday- Yang Xiaoyi was paid a visit by the Second Miss, Yang Yichen.

    The two of them were always close growing up, despite having completely different personalities and hobbies. Yang Yichen came to her privately, without alerting the attention of anyone else in the household. She gifted her with a few interesting things she found throughout her journey of being in the military, and then, she gave a final question of advice before she left.

    "Xiaoyi," she asked, "are you truly content following what others tell you to?"

    At the time, the Fifth Miss was confused as to what her older sister meant, merely replying by nodding and answering that yes, she was content. Except, when her sister left and the days passed on, the question echoed in her brain.

    Was she content with being the obedient daughter? Was she content with marrying whoever her father arranged her to and becoming that obedient wife that everyone expected? Becoming the woman that her mother expected her to grow into?

    It was in that moment that Yang Xiaoyi realized that no, she wouldn't be content with that. Despite the fact that she was raised with those words whispered in her ear, she would never be truly happy if she turned into someone like that.

    With the doubt that was fixed in her brain from that one question, she began to doubt other things that her mother told her as well. Was it truly right to work so hard learning how to play the zither and spend days and days memorizing the different strategies of Go when she enjoyed painting much more? Was it truly right to avoid the Fourth Miss, someone who was connected to her by blood, just because everyone else did?

    Slowly, Xiaoyi began to change her ways into things that felt more natural to her, and one of them was reaching out to the Fourth Miss and speaking to her in the first time in fifteen years.

    She knew that what she was doing likely wouldn't be appreciated, and that an easier life was the one that others had set out for her, but for some reason, something tugged at her heartstrings, telling her to follow what she wished, to seek what would give her true contentment.

    Yang Xiaoyi just wanted to be happy.
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