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259 You Must Believe Me 7

 Dou Qingyan had never had anyone talk to her like that. After a long moment of surprised silence, she frowned and said, "What are you talking about? What's all this about congenital intellectual disability?"

"Congenital intellectual disability is the medical term for what is commonly known as mental retardation." Gu Nianzhi's eyes blazed with anger. There was a fire burning inside her, and she had to clench her fists to keep from punching Dou Qingyan in the face. Her voice was as icy as a frozen lake when she added: "Mentally retarded-do you get it now?"

"Never heard of it." Dou Qingyan's frown deepened. She shook her head. "Forget it, you're too young to understand what I'm talking about, anyway."

"Why wouldn't I understand?" Gu Nianzhi extended her hand to Dou Qingyan. "Give me your phone. I want to ask you something."

Dou Qingyan saw the change in Gu Nianzhi's attitude, and guessed that she was jealous. She handed over her phone with an easy smile. "My dear girl, what would you like to know?"

Gu Nianzhi broke out in goosebumps at Dou Qingyan's cloying, sickly sweet tone. She forced a smile as she swiped through the photo on Dou Qingyan's phone. "These were taken six, maybe seven years ago, correct?"

"Yes, you can see the date on the photos." Dou Qingyan scooted over and laid a hand on Gu Nianzhi's arm as she looked at the photos. She sighed. "We were so wonderful together back then. How did we end up being practically strangers?"

Gu Nianzhi took a deep breath. She took a closer look at the photos; there was no location information saved for the photos, so she forced herself to run an analytical eye over every single detail. She asked: "Where did the two of you live, back then? The scenery looks beautiful..."

Dou Qingyan fidgeted beside her, before saying with a smile: "In C City. Have you been there?"

"Yeah. I'm from C City actually, I just arrived in the imperial capital." Gu Nianzhi stared fixedly at the photos. "Are you sure the two of you were living in C City back then?"

Dou Qingyan gave a start; she appeared to have been hit with a sudden realization. She hesitated, before saying, "Oh, no, I misremembered. It wasn't C City. But don't bother asking me for the specific details, it's not like you've been there, anyway."

Gu Nianzhi chuckled. "Is that so? Let me ask you again: were you and Huo Shao really living together? Were the two of you really a couple?"

"Why would I lie to you? We were even engaged," Dou Qingyan said impatiently. She extended a hand towards Gu Nianzhi. "Now give me back my phone."

"No." Gu Nianzhi got up from the sofa, Dou Qingyan's phone raised above her head and out of her reach. She retreated to the tall potted plant beside the sofa. "Miss Dou, you're a liar. That in itself is not a crime, but you were stupid enough to lie about Huo Shao to my face. Tell me, are you mentally retarded, or merely suicidal?"

Dou Qingyan was momentarily speechless. She finally picked up on the jealousy and resentment radiating from the young lady before her, and her lips quirked into a smile. She slowly got to her feet and said, in a tone loaded with meaning, "...So it's true, then. I thought it was just a baseless rumor."

"I don't care what you've heard. You shouldn't listen to idle gossip, they're almost always spread by two-faced backstabbers. If you choose to believe them, well, you're more gullible than I thought." Gu Nianzhi could not stand Dou Qingyan. She tried her best to deny it, but deep down, she knew Dou Qingyan was right: the photos had cut her deeply.

Gu Nianzhi was convinced that Dou Qingyan had misrepresented the photos, but even so, she could not help the stinging pain in her heart. It hurt so much she found it difficult to breathe.

But this was not the time to throw a childish tantrum. Her top priority right now was to return the blows Dou Qingyan had rained upon her!

Dou Qingyan had hurt her, and Gu Nianzhi was going to return the favor ten, no, a hundred times over!

At that moment, Gu Nianzhi had transformed from a harmless, adorable little kitten to a ferocious leopard.

"Watch your mouth, young lady!" Dou Qingyan's face had turned purple with rage. She said, in a low, threatening voice, "Give me back my phone, now!"

"Give it back to you? I'll give it back when you give me a proper explanation of these photos." Gu Nianzhi refused to give in. "Miss Dou, I'll give you one last chance to be honest with me: what's up with these photos?"

"What do you mean, 'what's up' with them? They're exactly as they seem." Dou Qingyan huffed indignantly. "Why, what's wrong? Are you finding it hard to believe that your guardian once abandoned me like an old shoe? Or do you have inappropriate feelings for your guardian...?"

She looked Gu Nianzhi up and down. The friendly smile on her face had disappeared.

Gu Nianzhi saw that Dou Qingyan wasn't feeling the least bit guilty, and decided it was time to give her a taste of her own medicine.

She knew guests were not supposed to criticize or stand up to their hosts, but Gu Nianzhi felt that she would be enabling Dou Qingyan if she let her get away with it now. She did not like enabling liars.

Gu Nianzhi's face darkened. She swiped to the photo of Huo Shaoheng and Dou Qingyan in the kitchen.

"Miss Dou, as you seem to be unwilling to tell the truth, I'll just have to analyze your photos myself." Gu Nianzhi pointed to the photo of Huo Shaoheng feeding Dou Qingyan a grape as they stood in what appeared to be a kitchen. She said impassively: "This kitchen has a minimalistic design, made entirely of unvarnished white birch. The kitchen isn't equipped with a range hood, and the range itself appears to be by Verona, an Italian brand. You can see Italy's most famous lake, Lake Garda, from the kitchen window. This photo was therefore taken in Italy."

Dou Qingyan was flabbergasted. Her eyes flickered to the photo.

She did not actually remember where the photo had been taken; whenever she looked at the photo, her attention had always been drawn to the man in the photo. Why would she care about the kitchen decoration, or the view from the kitchen window?

"This second photo shows Huo Shao sitting in a wicker chair, reading a book in the sun." Gu Nianzhi pointed at the colorful butterfly orchids in the tiny flower bed near the wicker chair. "This specific variety of orchid is unique to Northern Ireland. Although they are also cultivated elsewhere, the bright, vibrant colors of these flowers can only be the product of Northern Ireland soil. Although the background has been deliberately blurred out in this photo, I can still tell that's the famous Glenarm village, in Northern Ireland. In other words, this photo was taken in Northern Ireland."

"Tell me, Miss Dou, where exactly did the two of you live together? C City? Italy? Or Northern Ireland?" Gu Nianzhi did not bother disguising the disdain in her voice.

Dou Qingyan's face turned in quick succession from red to white to green, before finally settling into an angry shade of purple.

It took a minute for Dou Qingyan to collect herself. She snorted and said with a lazy, indifferent air, "So the photos were taken in different locations-what's wrong with that? The point is, Shaoheng and I used to be in a relationship. We were happy to call any place 'home,' as long as we were together."

"Is that so?" Gu Nianzhi laughed as she swiped to the third photo in Dou Qingyan's photo album, the "bed photo" that had made her feel like throwing up on the spot. "What about this photo, then?"

"Hah, there's only a bed, Shaoheng, and myself in that photo. I don't believe you can tell where it was taken." Dou Qingyan casually put up a hand and flicked her long, wavy hair behind her. She folded her arms across her chest, deliberately pushing up her ample bosom.

"You're right, I can't tell where it was taken." Gu Nianzhi chuckled. "I have to wonder why you had to get a photographer to take such an intimate photo, however. Aren't these sort of photos usually selfies?"

Dou Qingyan immediately lowered her arms. Her eyebrows turned into an angry V as she spat out: "What are you talking about?! What photographer?! I took the photo myself, with a timer and a tripod!"

"Is that so?" Gu Nianzhi's expression was openly skeptical. "You're telling me that you managed to get this exact framing, angle, and composition with a tripod? Miss Dou, I know you don't have a brain, and I don't blame you for it, but you shouldn't assume everyone else to be as brainless as you are."

"So basically it all boils down to this: you refuse to acknowledge that Huo Shaoheng and I were lovers. Why, what's wrong? Does it pain you to admit it?" Dou Qingyan clenched her fists. She was trembling inside.

The photos had served as her pillar of support for the last several years. She wasn't about to let some girl she had just met destroy their significance to her.

"It has nothing to do with me. Miss Dou, please keep your fantasies in your head." Gu Nianzhi's heart was torn to ribbons, but she did not show it; she was the type to disguise her pain with outward indifference. Like Huo Shaoheng, she preferred not to let the people around her guess what she was really feeling inside.

This did not apply to Huo Shaoheng himself, however; Gu Nianzhi was as transparent as a crystal in front of him. She did not mind him seeing her for who she was.

Dou Qingyan closed her eyes. "Oh, forget it. What's the use in telling you about this, anyway? I'm going to look for Shaoheng..." She took a step towards Gu Nianzhi. "Now give me back my phone. Don't blame me if I lose my temper."

"Are you threatening me? And besides, you've been behaving like a diva having a hissy fit ever since you started talking to me-if that's you keeping your temper, I'd hate to see what you're like when you lose it." Gu Nianzhi was annoyed, and decided it was time to stop beating around the bush. "More importantly, Miss Dou, you and Huo Shao were already enlisted in the military six years ago. The both of you were Special Ops soldiers, which means neither of you would have been allowed to leave the country without good reason. Since you claim that the both of you spent time living in different countries, and even have the intimate photos to prove it, it seems to me that it would only be logical to conclude that the two of you were actually on a military assignment abroad, and not on a private vacation. Am I right?"

Dou Qingyan's heart sank like a stone. She staggered backwards as she stared at Gu Nianzhi in disbelief. She could hardly believe her ears. The young lady before her was shockingly astute-she had practically guessed the truth after looking at just a few photos!

"...W-W-What are you talking about? I don't understand what you mean." Dou Qingyan suddenly realized she was potentially in trouble; the photos were supposed to be highly confidential. She panicked when she remembered this, and lunged towards Gu Nianzhi, too flustered to remember to conduct herself like a proper lady. "Give me back my phone!"

"Make me!" Gu Nianzhi deftly side-stepped her and quickly ran out from behind the folding screen-which had kept the two ladies out of view of the other guests-and ran into the hall.

"Stop her!" Dou Qingyan shouted as she ran after Gu Nianzhi.

A few of the guards and attendants working in the Prime Minister's residence immediately rushed towards Gu Nianzhi.

Zhao Liangze and Yin Shixiong finally noticed what was going on with Gu Nianzhi. Their faces paled in horror: what had the little mischief-maker gotten into now? They cleaved through the crowd and stopped the guards and attendants before they could get to her.

Gu Nianzhi weaved through the crowd like a slippery fish. With a few neatly executed turns, she ran out of the hall and towards the back door.

As soon as she was out the back door, she ran headlong into a tall figure, who was walking up the stairs.

It was Huo Shaoheng, on his way back to the hall after meeting with the Prime Minister.