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256 End of the Maid’s Day

    Being a dog person, it was impossible for Yujia to not grin upon seeing Mimi. It seemed like there was just a natural instinct within her which made her feel the urge to just run her fingers all through Mimi's fur, along with giving the cute dog a million pats and "who's a good boy"s.

    Mimi seemed to recognize her as well. Either that, or his friendly attitude towards all humans made him act the way he did. He immediately fixed his attention on Yujia and was full of doggy-kisses and tail-wagging, barely paying attention to Zixu. Maybe he just found Yujia, who was still very unfamiliar, more interesting than someone who he already knew very well.

    Yujia found Mimi's energy and happiness contagious. Though she was already tired from everything she did today, being around Mimi was like being around a natural charger, replenishing all of her lost energy.

    She didn't understand how people could be around dogs without giddy smiles bursting across their face.

    "I love your dog," Yujia said as she turned around to look at Zixu.

    He was staring at her, not Mimi, his gaze somewhat different, in a way that Yujia couldn't quite describe. She blinked, and the gaze disappeared, replaced by his usual one. "Hm? You do?" he asked, in a more rhetorical way.

    Yujia nodded, her eyes narrowing. She considered asking Zixu about his stare, but she decided against it. Maybe she saw wrong. Or maybe she just misinterpreted him, yet again.

    "Mimi is so sweet. I really missed him since the last time I saw him," she ended up telling him, all the while petting Mimi over and over again.

    "In the future, if you miss him, you can come over to visit," Zixu carelessly replied.

    "Really?" Yujia glanced up at him again.

    Zixu paused. He tilted his head, then told her, expressionlessly, "Actually, it may not be a good idea for you to visit often, considering your identity."

    "Ah. Right." Yujia's hands froze. She straightened herself, sighing. "You have a point."

    There was some bustling noise outside in the courtyard, which Yujia noticed after tearing her attention away from Mimi. The noise ceased after a while, and Shen Li was the one who ended up peeking in from the open doors that Mimi burst through in.

    "What's going on outside?" Zixu asked.

    "Young Master, they're some servants from Second Young Master's courtyard who say that they were trying to give the dog a bath, before it escaped. They wanted to know if the dog ran into your yard, considering that they heard barking..." Shen Li's words fell off when he noticed Mimi, cowering behind Zixu.

    Yujia stood up, dusting off her hands. Mimi's eyes went to meet hers, a sort of pleading within his expression. He definitely didn't want to take that bath.

    Zixu definitely noticed Mimi's unwillingness as well. He let out a soft breath, informing Shen Li, "Tell them the dog is not in my room."

    Shen Li paused, but he didn't question his young master. He simply nodded, bowed, and left the room. There was some noise outside again, sounds of Shen Li explaining to the servants that the dog was not here, before everything returned to silence again.

    "Why didn't you tell them?" Yujia questioned while Mimi fell in her arms again.

    Zixu bent down and scratched the back of Mimi's ears, which the dog seemed to like. He explained, "Mimi is stubborn enough to not take that bath if he doesn't want to. He would need a few people to drag him out, and it would be inconvenient and noisy." He glanced at the paper windows, seeing the dimming light filtering through. "Anyways, it's not early anymore. You should get going, through the back. Mimi can send you off."

    Standing up again, Yujia agreed. "Alright."

    That was the end to her day with Yu Zixu.

    ...

    Zixu sent her out of his courtyard, but he didn't follow her after that. She was still dressed like a maid, after all, and it would be strange for a young master to send off his maid. Mimi followed after her happily though, running along without a worry in the world. That was just Mimi's personality, eager to spend time with every new person he met.

    The moment he saw her leave the courtyard, he went back to his room, sat at his desk, and stared down at the table.

    Something was really wrong with him.

    He told her that confession as a test. That was all it was. There were no feelings attached, no underlying meaning behind it. It was hilarious seeing her reaction as well, though Zixu did his best to not burst out in laughter.

    Yet now, once everything had long been said and done, he was finally beginning to think about his words. Most of all, he thought about a single moment with her, pressed into his mind. It was a simple one, where she was just absorbed with petting Mimi.

    And in that moment, Zixu wasn't sure why, but she suddenly seemed different to him.

    Maybe it was the fact that she seemed to love Mimi as much as he did. Maybe it was the lighting, with the warm, orange sunlight framing her expression. Maybe it was the way she smiled so brilliantly, comfortably, and genuinely- not at all a smile that was forced.

    When he arrived at that last thought, Zixu realized that this was it.

    It was her smile.

    Thinking about the image of her smile right now, he realized that he was grinning himself. It was a smile that was spread wide across his face, unlike his usual, reserved one. He couldn't wipe it off either, no matter how hard he tried, just like how he couldn't get her off his mind.

    As he grinned, almost laughing at how ridiculous this all was, he leaned forward and buried his face with his hands.

    What were these feelings going through him, right now?

    It wasn't like anything he had ever felt before. It couldn't be compared to the love he felt for his family. It couldn't be compared to the affection he felt for Mimi. It couldn't be compared to the few true friendships he had kept in the past.

    It was a foreign feeling. It was terrifying, but at the same time, thrilling. Exhilarating.

    Above all, he couldn't stop thinking about her. Even after she left, even after he had much better things to do, even after he did everything he could to distract his thoughts, she was the only person on his mind. He began to recall so many things that occurred between the two of them in the past, from drinking together, to painting with her, to helping her out, to all those countless conversations between them in the past. At the same time, he began to wonder if he started to see her differently only because of that one smile, during that one fragment of time- or, if from the start, from all those interactions between them, he had been falling into these spiraling emotions, deeper and deeper.

    Could it be that only just now, he actually started to realize his true feelings? That he, Yu Zixu, someone who prided himself over his observation skills and his ability to notice things about people, couldn't even notice these growing feelings within himself?

    He wanted to say that this was nonsense. Yet painfully- tragically- he knew perfectly well that it was likely the truth.

    While he debated all these things in his mind, the events of the day kept replaying, and he mulled over the tiniest of details.

    He began to regret that confession.

    It was just supposed to be a test. None of it was supposed to be factual. None of it was supposed to spiral into the current emotions he had rushing through himself.

    He wondered if he chose a different final test, he wouldn't be feeling these things right now. But then, he realized that he was destined to fail.

    Yu Zixu arrived at the conclusion that he had fallen in love, for the first time in the twenty-two years of his life, with Yang Yujia- and all because of her smile.

    Lastly, he was not happy with this conclusion, at all.
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