When Zhao Moyao came home, he was surprised to smell a familiar aroma that brought back memories of the past. He followed the savory scent to the dining hall where the dishes were already laid out.
"Grandfather, you're home early." Zhao Lifei walked out from the kitchen with two more plates of food.
"Hm, what did you do this time?" Zhao Moyao chuckled at the premium treatment he was receiving.
His lovely granddaughter was cooking his favorite dishes that his wife used to cook before she passed away.
"You always assume the worst, grandfather." Zhao Lifei mused at his skeptical behavior.
In the past, she used to curry his favors by cooking his favorite dishes, but now, she did it to have family bonding time with the only relative she could ever consider "family."
Zhao Lifei has a lot of blood-related acquaintances, but there was a small handful that was considered "relatives." She had a long line of titled aunties and uncles, but not many of them actually cared about her.
For as long as Zhao Lifei could remember, she always dined alone.
Mother dearest always seemed busy with her fashion line, whereas father dearest was too busy in his office. But Zhao Lifei knew it was because they couldn't stomach food around her, knowing she was the biggest mistake of their seemingly perfect marriage.
Sitting in an enormous dining hall filled with an eerie silence, maids and butlers at her whim, warm but tasteless food, brightly lit but black and white world, that was all Zhao Lifei remembered from her childhood.
Unlike her friends who enjoyed food with a table filled with happy chatter, Zhao Lifei dined with her imaginary friends and family.
The room would be filled with the quiet sound of utensils slicing through food, metal against porcelain, and endless minutes of wondering if her parents would finally join her for dinner...
"I have to assume the worst in order to prepare myself for the best." Zhao Moyao said, sitting down at the head of the long dinner table.
"Don't worry Grandfather, I didn't do anything bad this time." She laughed, setting down the last dish before sitting down in the seat right beside him.
"I made your favorites this time, the ingredients were really fresh. I bought them from this really nice granny." Zhao Lifei smiled as she placed steamed fish, braised chicken, and stir-fried green beans into his rice bowl.
Had this been anyone else, Zhao Moyao would've pushed the rice bowl away. He disliked it when someone meddled with his food, especially by placing various dishes into it. But this was his precious Xiao Fei and he would never do something like that to her.
Seeing her bright and hopeful eyes, Zhao Moyao happily ate. Their conversation was lively and filled with chatter.
The world before Zhao Lifei was shimmering with light, warmth, and color. It was nothing like the meals she used to have as a child.
The servants quietly watched from the corner of the room with their heads slightly bend low.
They couldn't believe their usual cold-hearted and quiet Master was capable of smiling and interacting with one of his grandchildren. They've rarely seen any of his grandchildren welcomed into the Zhao Main Mansion.
Zhao Moyao refused to acknowledge his long line of grandsons and granddaughters who he deemed useless and spoiled.
He always said, 'So what if they share my blood? Do they share half of my competence, brain, and hard work? No. Everything was handed to them on a golden platter.'
He was his grandchildren's harshest critic. No matter how hard they've tried, not many of them were able to curry his favor.
But Zhao Lifei was different.
She knew the right cards to play, the right things to say, and the right moves to make. For as long as Zhao Lifei could remember, she was always trailing after her grandfather, ever since she was a child.
When he pushed her away, she still followed after him. When he walked faster just to lose her, Zhao Lifei's stubby legs would run after him.
Zhao Moyao always gave a test to his grandchildren.
He would visit them when they were young and too tender to face a grumpy and terrifying face. If they ran or cower away from him, he would not care for them. Why should he care for children that were scared of him, but then only loved him after realizing the wealth he had?
Unlike many of her older cousins, Zhao Lifei didn't flinch at his gaze. Instead, she stared right into it.
She was familiar with cold, judging features and expressions. Growing up with relatives that wore fake smiles and secretly shunned her behind her back, Zhao Lifei didn't see faces — she saw the wicked shadows of their heart.
Zhao Moyao was one of the rare people that shone with brightness. His face wasn't hidden by a mask of false love. His face wasn't hidden by malicious shadows, instead, she saw his grumpy and ferocious expression as clear as day.
His face was always scrunched up in a permanent scowl, but his eyes were gentle. He was one of the first people to look at her for the girl she truly was and not some unwanted mistake.
"Gwandpaw!" Was the first thing she said when she saw him. Instead of hiding behind her mother's legs, she ran straight to him with a smile.
Zhao Moyao was caught off guard by the angelic smile and immediately retraced his steps. He turned his back to her and walked away.
But Zhao Lifei was stubborn and didn't want to lose the light. So, she chased after him with her crooked smile, cheerful laughter, and childish names. Her constant pestering and attempts to worm her way into his heart worked, and soon, she found a safe place within it.
But adorable and innocent smiles wasn't enough to win the man over.
When she was only six years old, he took her to do an IQ test. With a score higher than any of his grandchildren, he saw the first seed of potential.
The tiny glimmer bloomed into a magnificent flower when she graduated from elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college early! She was at the top of her classes and all of her teachers talked about her great potential.
Zhao Moyao was the first to witness what she could do.
At the young age of twenty-one, when most wealthy socialites her age was out partying and drinking, Zhao Lifei was buried under mountains of paperwork.
She handled nearly all of Zheng Corporation's contracts, investments, project proposals, and private funds. She was able to perfectly calculate all of the potential incomes from projects and investments, it made Zhao Moyao realize how much of a hidden weapon she was.
In a society ruled by finance and business, Zhao Lifei's impeccable ability would bring her very far.
But then her wings were cut off by a man.
She lost sight of who she was and for two long years, Zhao Lifei was a shell of who she used to be.
Terrified of sitting behind an office desk, shaking at the idea of doing paperwork, she seemed traumatized by something and Zhao Moyao couldn't place a finger on it.
He didn't know the tragic accident that had befallen Zhao Lifei when she overworked and stressed herself out. He didn't know what she lost in that cold, dark office room filled with the sound of a pen against paper...