Dao Ming Si sat in his car, and practiced exactly what he would say to her. She would be angry, of course she would be, but he needed to explain . . . he needed to apologize . . . he needed to say he loved her. Getting out, he slammed the door shut, and walked to the house. He knocked. Knocked again. Then knocked more insistently, wondering if she had seen him coming up the drive. That could be the reason she wasn’t answering.
“San Chai! Open the door,” he demanded, continuing to bang on the door.
There was only silence.
And then the door slowly creaked open. A little face peeked out from the side, and blinked the impossibly long eyelashes framing her beautiful brown eyes. A small thumb came up to her rosy lips, and she began to suck on it. As she continued to stare up at him, her tiny head tilted dangerously back, she began to teeter back and forth. And then, of course, she fell back on her little bottom. That rosy mouth opened, and she began to wail from the shock of the fall.
He quickly stepped in, and bent to pick her up. He gently cradled her in his arms, and she immediately began to snuggle closer. Her thumb slipped back into her mouth, when she finally quietened.
“Hey,” he softly whispered down to her, “where’s your mommy?”
Her thumb slipped out of her mouth, as she stared at him openmouthed.
“Where’s your auntie San Chai,” he asked softly.
“Daddy!” she shrilly called out, and wrapped her little arms around his neck.
He laughed softly, and said, “No, I’m not your daddy. Where’s your mommy? Is anyone there?” he called out.
“Who’s there,” a voice called out. “Shen Shen, where did you toddle off to?”
The little girl began to struggle in his arms, wanting to get down. He placed her on the floor.
. . . . . . . . .
“Dao Ming Si?!!”
They were sitting in the living room, Shen Shen sleeping beside him. It seemed that she had taken a liking to her ‘daddy’.
Xiao You nervously stared at him out of the corner of her eyes, her eyes constantly going toward the door and then returning to him once more.
She’d changed. He remembered how she looked before she went to Canada. She was shy, and meek, but she had also been strong. He’d wondered why a sweet girl like her was going out with a jerk like her Zhong Ze. And when she came back from Canada, she had been determined. To find Ximen and complete her mission. He didn’t have many memories of her, he’d never really paid much attention to her, but what he did remember wasn’t what he was seeing now. She’d grown smaller, thinner. She was nervous . . . jittery. She couldn’t even meet his eyes.
“Xiao Yo—,” he began.
“What are you doing here?” she interrupted. “How did you find me? I thought I took care of that,” she murmured to herself. “Why are you here?”
“Xiao You, are you okay?” he asked, ignoring her other questions for the time being. “Do you need help?”
“No, and even if I did, it wouldn’t be from you. This is what living like this does to you,” she bitterly replied. “It’s not easy for single mothers, you know?”
“Why are you alone? Ximen has been looking for you ever since you left,” he disclosed. “He’s worried sick about you and your child. Your daughter,” he murmured, smoothing his hand over Shen Shen’s head, laying on his thigh.
“How did he know about my daughter?”
“Apparently, you left behind a booklet that clued him in. He’s been desperately searching for you. Let him take care of you,” he insisted.
Her hands clenched in her lap, and her mouth took on a mutinous curve.
“I wouldn’t let him take care of me when we were together. Why would I do that now?” she asked. “Besides, he didn’t want me when it was just me. I know that he’s only doing this for his daughter. I was never enough for him,” she stated evenly.
“Xiao You,” he began, wondering how he could convince her.
“Why are even here? Shouldn’t you be in Spain with Yesha?” she suddenly asked. “You’ve ruined your own life thoroughly enough, am I supposed to let Ximen do that to me?” she asked sarcastically. “Ximen’s just like you, except he never professed to love me the way you did San Chai. She was heartbroken when you left, do you have any idea how hard it was for her to go on? To live for the child you so callously left behind? What right do you have to say all this to me?”
“Xiao You, there were reasons,” he began to explain, going on the defensive. “It wasn’t my choice, I had to go . . . I don’t even know why I’m saying all of this to you,” he muttered, looking away from her glaring eyes.
“What could possibly have taken you away? You abandoned the woman you loved and your child!” she gritted out. “You left her alone to suffer; to go through her pregnancy alone. I don’t know why you’re back in Taiwan,” she murmured, “but I’m guessing you found out about Wei Yi. Have you tried to take him away from San Chai? Have you threatened a custody dispute if she doesn’t come back to you?. Are you using her love for your son to control her, to keep her near you? Isn’t that what all men do? And that is what I imagine Ximen will do if he finds me. He doesn’t love me . . . that would only make it easier for him to blackmail me into going back to him.”
She abruptly stood up and went to the window. His eyes followed her. She took a deep breath, and he could see that she was trying to calm down. She turned to look at him.
“Why are you here?” she asked in a lost voice. “Why? I’m finally getting my life back on track. I can’t handle him coming back into my life. You don’t know what it was like, how he treated me. I wasn’t important to him,” she said softly, as if repeating it to herself for the millionth time. “And commitment born from obligation doesn’t lead to happiness. We would only be miserable. Why are you here?” she repeated her question.
“I was looking for San Chai,” he frankly admitted.
“Why? She’s back in Taipei. Why are you here, looking for her?”
“She left Taipei when she heard that I was returning. Yesha is gone, and I found out about Wei Yi. I didn’t come back just for him, his existence just gave me the courage to come back for her. I didn’t leave her . . . I didn’t betray her . . . do you love your daughter, Xiao You?” he asked, looking at her intently.
“Of course,” she replied.
“My daughter is precious to me as well. That was the only reason I went to Yesha,” he stated. “I thought San Chai could be strong even without me, but that newborn baby couldn’t have protected herself.”
“When did San Chai leave?” Xiao You asked. “She’d already been without you for two years. And if you’ve been looking for her ever since you returned, that would make it three to four years in total. Don’t you think she’s moved on by now?”
He was silent for a moment, digesting that idea. His lips tightened. And then his shoulders slumped, and he sighed.
“She left the same time you did,” he replied. “And that’s why I’m here today. I was looking for her, but my detectives made a mistake and thought they had found San Chai when they found you. It has been four years since we’ve seen each other. But, even if she has moved on . . . I need to tell her what’s in my heart. I need to explain. I need closure. And I need to see my son,” he murmured, turning to look down at Shen Shen.
“Don’t you think Ximen deserves a chance to know her?” he finally asked. “She deserves a father’s love.”
“Don’t ask me that,” she pleaded. “Just . . . don’t. I can’t handle him being in my life again. I know I’m being selfish, but I’ll love her enough for the both of us. Don’t you see? He’d see her as an obligation, and treat her accordingly.”
“Xiao You, a father’s love is stronger than you think. I don’t know why Ximen treated you the way he did, and I’s sure he has feelings for you, but his love for his daughter will surpass anything. He won’t think of her as an obligation, she’ll be his treasure,” he promised. “That’s how I think of Mei, and that’s how I think of Wei Yi.”
“You loved San Chai,” she argued. “That baby was conceived in love.”
“But I didn’t love Yesha,” he solemnly replied. “Give him a chance,” he asked.
“I . . . I need to think about it. You don’t understand how hard this is . . . I can’t trust him so easily,” she said. Her hands trembled as she ran them through her hair. Her eyes were haunted as she tried to wrap her mind around the thought of seeing him again.
“Please, give me time. Don’t tell him where I am until I contact you,” she finally said, turning to him. “I know he has your loyalty, but give me time,” she asked.
“I won’t tell him, for now,” he reluctantly agreed. “But call me as soon as you can. I can’t keep this a secret from him for long,” he told her, gently moving Shen Shen’s head from his lap. “This little angel wants her daddy,” he said, getting up from the sofa.
”I’ll see you out,” she replied, leading him to the door.
He stopped at the door.
“Dao Ming Si?” she asked curiously.
“You have no idea where San Chai is?” he asked, turning to look at her. “Wouldn’t she have contacted you?”
“I called her the day I left, but she didn’t have time to talk,” Xiao You disclosed. “Who knows? If we’d talked, I might be with her right now,” she mused. “It would’ve been much easier.”
“Call me,” he instructed, stepping out of the house.
“Goodbye,” she murmured, gently closing the door.
. . . . . . . . . .
“So, what do you think?” she asked the silent shadow standing behind her.
To Run Again
TWO YEARS AGO . . . .
She turned to her bedroom, making sure to safely put Wei Yi down in his cot.
She then began to frantically pack, wanting to be away before Ah Si returned. He had a few days warning, and he could already be on his way back. She had no thoughts of where to go, but she had enough money from a dead relative’s legacy to make sure that it was somewhere far away. She didn’t have to worry about work or shelter for the time being.
“What is it now, Lei?” she barked into the phone.
“San Chai . . .”
It wasn’t Lei.
“Xiao You? What’s wrong?” she asked, worried at the unhappy note she heard in her friend’s voice.
“San Chai, I’m leaving him,” she blurted out.
“What happened?” San Chai asked.
“Nothing. Nothing happened. He’s just a lying son of a bitch, and I can’t believe I thought that there was any hope for us,” she said, beginning to sob into the phone. “I’m taking your advice, and leaving him,” she finished determinedly.
“Are you sure about this?” San Chai, waiting anxiously for the response.
“I am. I feel . . . I just feel so disgusted with myself,” she said softly. “I feel like a naïve little fool, and I got exactly what I deserved,” she admitted tearfully.
“That bastard Ximen. I’m going to get him,” San Chai muttered, forgetting for the moment that she had been running away as well.
“It’s not his fault, San Chai,” Xiao You interrupted. “He never lied to me about who he was. He never made any promises,” she said. “I compromised my needs, my dreams to be with him. And I realize now that I can’t do that any more. I can’t give in. I can’t compromise.”
San Chai heard the sirens in the background as Xiao You conintued to talk into the phone.
San Chai turned when she heard the sirens a split-second later outside her window.
“Xiao You?” she began, suspicion welling up inside her.
“Where are you?” San Chai asked, moving toward the door.
Her eyes widened when she opened it. Xiao You was standing outside, two small bags at her feet. Xiao You’s arms were wrapped around her stomach, her body shaking.
“San Chai, I’m leaving him. And I need you right now,” Xiao You said, stepping inside.
“Xiao You . . .,” San Chai began.
Xiao You stopped, seeing the mess scattered around the room.
“San Chai?” Xiao You asked, turning to look at her, the closet clean-freak.
“He’s coming back, Xiao You. He’s coming back,” she murmured. “I can’t wait around here for him to come back into my life and hurt me all over again. I can’t let him have that chance. He’s going to hurt me, I just know he is,” San Chai uttered, turning away to continue her packing.
“San Chai, calm down,” Xiao You murmured, going over to put her hands on San Chai’s slight, trembling shoulders. “You don’t have to defend yourself. Men can’t be trusted, I know that. Ximen never loved me, and he hurt me. Dao Ming Si loved you, and he still hurt you. Let’s do this together,” she suggested.
“Let’s do this,” San Chai replied, turning to smile at Xiao You hopefully.
They nodded in agreement.
. . . . . . . . . .
There would be no looking back.
13 MONTHS AGO . . . .
The harsh breathing was loud in the nearly silent room. Her body strained, and sweat dripped from her forehead.
“San Chai,” Xiao You ground out, her face red from the exertion. “I don’t think I can do this. She doesn’t want to come out.”
“Xiao You,” San Chai shouted into Xiao You’s ear, “Don’t give up!”
The labor had lasted for more than 40 hours. Xiao You was losing her strength, and that was the most worrying thing of all. Her determination to give birth to this baby had disappeared, and she was barely holding on to her consciousness.
She had lost so much blood that the doctors had begun to fear for her life. If a miracle didn’t occur . . . only one of them could be saved.
It would kill Xiao You to lose her baby.
It would kill her to lose Xiao You.
“Xiao You, you have to do this,” she murmured desperately, gripping the limp hand tightly. “You can’t leave your baby. Shen Shen, think of her. You can’t leave me alone here. Xiao You, please,” she murmured, her shoulders drooping.
. . . . . . . . . . .
“Push, Ms. Yang, push,” the doctor began excitedly. San Chai felt her hand being squeezed in return, as if to tell her not to worry.
And the miracle, the one San Chai had so desperately been praying for, occurred.
It took only a few more minutes.
“Wwaaaaahhhhhhh!” a child’s scream rang through the room.
“Congratulations, Ms. Yang, you have baby daughter,” the nurse said, placing the child in Xiao You’s arms.
San Chai looked at the two, her eyes swimming with tears. It had been a long and hard pregnancy. It was a long and hard labor. But looking at both mother and daughter, and seeing the happiness welling up in Xiao You’s eyes, San Chai knew that it was all worth it.
“What?” San Chai asked, seeing Xiao You’s lips move but hearing nothing.
San Chai bent down, placing her ear next to Xiao You’s lips.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
“I won the bet. You’re going out on that date with him,” she murmured weakly, her eyes sparkling with merriment.
ONE YEAR AGO . . . .
“This is our new home,” Xiao You murmured to her daughter. “We’re going to live her with Auntie San Chai and Wei Yi. And we’re going to be so happy.”
Xiao You sighed as she looked at their home.
Even if they didn’t find other men to love. Even if they had found that their hearts . . . their stupid hearts would only love those hurtful men. Even if they couldn’t find the happily ever after she had so often dreamed of as a kid, they had each other. San Chai was the only support she would ever need.
And they had these little angels. It made all the pain she had suffered through worth it.
And now, they had their home, and they could stop living in hotels, moving from place to place. They had been so careful that day when they left. San Chai had insisted they go in separate directions.
San Chai had left from Xiao You’s apartment, going up north, thinking that even if Ximen followed Xiao You’s trail, not only would he be going in the wrong direction, he would be going after the wrong woman. Xiao You had done the same. She had left the home with Wei Yi, and gone south. If anyone looked . . . if anyone cared to look . . . they couldn’t have found them.
Xiao You touched her short hair. She had grown it for Ximen, but now she had gone back to wearing it short. Even shorter than before. It was a symbol of her independence. From her past, and from his influence.
After reaching their destinations, San Chai insisted that the girls change their looks, even going as far as to cut their hair. San Chai bought a car with her bundle of cash, new identities and made her way to Xiao You’s location. They had lived in hotels most of the time. Only when it was time to give birth, had they thought about anything permanent.
“It’s almost been a year, San Chai,” Xiao You had reflected. “I don’t think they’re looking for us anymore. I’m sure they’ve given up hope.”
“Even Dao Ming Si?” San Chai asked speculatively.
“He left you once before. This is just a matter of letting you stay gone,” Xiao You said persuasively. “I . . . I don’t want to run anymore. I’m tired. The baby is coming, and Wei Yi needs stability.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“I guess we need to find a home,” San Chai said smilingly.
TWO DAYS AGO . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
“So, what do you think?” she asked the silent shadow standing behind her. “How do you think they found us?”
“Does it matter?” San Chai asked, coming out into the light. “They found us. We’re just lucky I answered the door that first time; it gave us some time to think. And Wei Yi’s habit of calling you daddy, what with your short hair and all, helped us in that matter.”
“They won’t remain silent,” Xiao You muttered. “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Ximen WILL find me, and Dao Ming Si WILL find you. I’m just glad that they were so easy to convince. I don’t know if I’m ready to face Ximen.”
“This is our home, Xiao You,” San Chai protested. “Are you really thinking of running away? We can’t just react anymore, we have to think carefully and then act.”
“I don’t know. I . . . don’t . . . know. All I know is that I don’t want to see him again.”
. . . . . . . . . . .
“You know there’s only one thing we can do,” San Chai said.
. . . . . . . . . . .
“We need to do something,” Xiao You finally said. “You’re right, we need to act.”
NOW . . . .
“So, we’re here now,” San Chai murmured. “How do you feel? Do you think we made the right decision?”
They heard the pattering of little feet coming toward the room.
They turned toward the door.
A little girl came running in, her pigtails bouncing behind her.
“Mommy!” she shouted joyously, beginning to jump up and down in excitement, clapping her small hands together.
A woman entered behind her.
“Madam, we’re glad to see you back,” the woman said. “This is Xiao Mei, and I’m her nanny,” she introduced the little girl bouncing around her. “Master Dao Ming has been waiting for you to come back home,” she imparted.
“Mommy, we’ve been waiting for so long,” Xiao Me said, leaping into San Chai’s arms. San Chai picked her up. Xiao Mei leaned in and gave her a big, wet smack on the cheek, snuggling deeper into San Chai’s arms.
“San Chai,” Xiao You began, looking worriedly at her. “Was this really the right decision?”
“I know, baby,” San Chai murmured, leaning down to peck one chubby cheek. “Sorry for making you wait for so long,” she said, hugging the little girl closer. She felt a tug on her jeans, and looked down and saw Wei Yi staring up at her. His little mouth was trembling, and she could only guess he was jealous.
“Xiao Mei, this is your brother,” San Chai said, putting her down. The two stared at each other.
“Wei Yi Gege,” she shouted and hugged him tightly, beginning to kiss his face all over.
San Chai turned to look at Xiao You.
“This was the only decision we could make. You said it yourself. We needed to act, and we needed to end this once and for all,” San Chai said.
Xiao You nodded in agreement.
“I just don’t want to run anymore,” they both murmured quietly to themselves.
Staring Into His Eyes
“Look, I can’t do anything about the meetings!” he gritted out, talking into the phone. “I don’t have time for this. Just cancel everything for this week, we’ll see about it later,” he ordered, and disconnected the phone.
He quickly shut if off, and threw it on the backseat.
Sighing, he lay his head down on the steering wheel, and asked himself, ‘What am I doing here?’
He knew. Of course he knew, he was waiting here, trying to get up the courage to go in and ask her if she knew where his . . . heart was. She might have said she didn’t know, but he still had hope.
He sighed again. ‘I hate this. I hate the waiting,’ he murmured to himself. ‘She’s been gone for more than two years, but now . . . coming so close and losing hope once more . . . this is making it harder.’
One hour went by.
And then another.
In the time that he had been sitting there, getting more and more uncomfortable, there had been no sign of life inside the house. He shouldn’t have listened to her. He should’ve returned the day after. He should’ve told him. And now it was three days later, and all he could do was wait outside her house.
He looked out of the windshield and saw the same car sitting across the street, and right in front of the house, that had been sitting there for hours.
His eyes narrowed.
The loser in that car had been there all day today.
He couldn’t stand this anymore. The man inside that car was poaching on F4 territory. It was time someone taught him a lesson.
He got out of his car, and blinked at the harsh sunlight. He should’ve gotten his sunglasses. He couldn’t see anything! He heard the other car’s door slam shut, and footsteps coming toward his location. He smiled, looking forward to the confrontation. But first, he needed his sunglasses. He wanted to see the man who’s ass he’d be kicking.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” the man called out from behind him. “Are you stalking that woman?” he demanded angrily.
Ximen blinked his eyes in shock. Was that . . . ?
“Hey, I’m talking to you!” the man said, still making his way over.
But . . . why would he be here?
“Dude, you’re so gonna get it,” the man shouted.
“Dude?” Ximen muttered to himself. Finally, he had the sunglasses in his hands, and he turned just in time to catch the punch right in his face.
“What the hell, Ah Si?” Ximen shouted, cradling his aching cheek. “Idiot,” he muttered.
“What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” they asked simultaneously.
“I . . . I’m here to see Xiao You,” Ah Si admitted.
“I . . . I’m here to see San Chai,” Ximen admitted.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
“XIAO YOU?” Ximen asked. “You knew where she was, and you didn’t tell me?”
“SAN CHAI?” Ah Si demanded. “You knew where she was, and you didn’t tell me?”
“I’m telling you now. San Chai’s in there,” Ximen said sharply.
“Well, I’m telling you know, Xiao You’s in there, too, I guess,” Ah Si finally said, in confusion. “Wait, so San Chai was in there? She heard me, and she didn’t come out?”
“What are you doing here now?” Ximen demanded.
“I wanted to ask Xiao You if she really didn’t know where San Chai was. I guess she would lie again,” Ah Si muttered.
“They played us,” Ximen said in shock. “Let’s go, I need to talk to her.”
“And I need to talk to her.”
The two ran up to the door and began to bang on it.
There was no answer.
“San Chai, I know you’re in there. Open up,” Ah Si shouted.
“Xiao You, there’s no use hiding,” Ximen shouted.
“They’re not in there,” a voice said irritably from behind them.
They turned to see an old lady standing behind them.
“What?” they asked together.
“Enough of that. Good boys take turns,” she instructed. “And we’re all tired of listening to both of you blabbing over each other and staring at each other. Neither one of you is that pretty.”
They turned to look at a group of seniors standing on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“What did you say?” Ximen asked.
“Those two girls left last night. They had a lot of stuff with them, and told me they’d be gone for a while,” she revealed.
The two nodded to the old lady, still in shock over what they’d heard. They started back toward their cars.
“What do we do now?” Ximen asked in a hollow tone.
“Let me call my assistant. They’ll just have to start the search again,” Ah Si said with a sigh.
“I’ll call Assistant Xu,” Ximen said, turning his phone back on.
. . . . . . . . . . .
A voicemail. They dialed in their passwords and waited for the message. “Sir, she’s come home. Madam is in your home.” The phones dropped from their hands.
They turned to stare at each other.
. . . . . . . . . . .
My Baby Girl
San Chai stood quietly in the room, leaning a shoulder against the wall. She looked out the window, trying to find answers. It was finally nighttime, and the stars were so vivid in the clear sky. She looked back at the sleeping forms in the bed behind her. She, herself, had gotten ready for bed.
What was she doing? She wouldn’t know until she finally saw him. She wouldn’t know until she saw the love of her life.
She heard the noises. The outside door slamming shut. Footsteps racing to the room she was in. Pounding on the floor, leaving no doubt as to the urgency he was feeling.
Ah Si was here. He was home.
And he would want answers.
All she knew was that this felt right. Being back in her home, and waiting for him to come home to her, felt right.
The door banged open behind her, and she gasped, throwing a panicked look at the two little figures snuggling close on the bed. Turning back, she glared at him.
“Do you know how hard it was to get them to sleep?” she asked in a hushed voice.
He looked at the children, and back at her apologetically. His eye caught Wei Yi’s small figure, snuggling close to Xiao Mei. The two held hands even in sleep. His two little angels. One he’d held and cared for since her birth, and one he had only seen today. But that could wait, for now he could only look at San Chai.
His eyes locked onto hers.
. . . . . . . . . .
They stared at each other in silence, just drinking in the sight of the other.
‘He’s changed,’ she thought to herself. ‘He has new wrinkles around his eyes.’ Small, barely there, but she could see them. She didn’t know how to describe it, but he’d matured. His eyes revealed that he’d truly become a man. He had become a father. There was only one question left unanswered.
‘She hasn’t changed at all,’ he thought to himself. ‘The same smooth skin, those cherry lips, and dark as night hair. She was as beautiful now as she had been the first time they’d met.’ Motherhood had made her even more beautiful.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
“You . . . you’re back,” he hesitantly murmured.
She quickly moved to him, and pulled him out the door, hushing him all the while. They couldn’t afford to awaken the two. They wouldn’t get a moment of peace tonight.
“What . . . what’s going on?” he asked, confused. The light in her eyes, it was nothing like the battle-ready, angry look he had been expecting. He had expected that she would hate him. “Why are you like this?” he asked plaintively. “Why aren’t you angry at me?”
If she wasn’t angry . . . and he knew she couldn’t have forgiven him . . . it could only mean she’d given up on them.
“You think you deserve it?” she asked softly, contemplatively. “My anger?” she clarified.
“Yes! That anger that sent you running when you learned of my return. That same anger that kept you running for two years. Where is that anger?” he demanded, reaching out to grab her arms, left bare by her skimpy nightgown.
She gasped, feeling a man’s touch . . . his touch after so long. The warmth . . . their weight . . . their grip felt so good. She moaned softly as he pulled her in, closer to his warmth.
“Why are you here? Why are you making this so hard for me?” he groaned, pulling her into his arms, and enfolding her in his embrace.
“Hard?” she asked, nuzzling his throat with her lips, tasting the underside of his jaw with her tongue. “I thought I was making it easy for you by coming home. You won’t have to search for me anymore,” she murmured, a split-second before her tongue slipped between his lips.
Dao Ming Si hauled her close and kissed her luscious pink lips with all the fierce desire that he had pushed away and forgotten with iron-clad restraint. Only now that she was back . . . only now, when she was in his arms, did he let his passions loose.
Pulling back, he stared into her eyes, her face, to reassure himself that it really was San Chai in his arms. He didn’t know how . . . he didn’t care how . . . but she was back in his arms. And that was all that mattered for now.
Using his body, he nudged hers against the wall. Her eyes drifted close, and she tilted back her head, giving him greater access. He stole a sexy, savage kiss that lifted her lashes and he gave her a slashing smile of challenge in reward. Lowering his head, his lips feathered across the expanse of her neck. He suckled her skin, using his teeth to nip her sharply.
She gasped at the sensation, her back arching to bring her body flush against his.
Smiling against that salty skin, he suckled strongly once more, wanting to mark her. He’d lived on the memory of that taste for four years.
She pulled away slowly to stare at him. He stared back, breathing hard, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in her body once more. But they needed to talk before anything more could happen.He gave her one final, soothing kiss, and stepped away. Even after touching her . . . holding her in his arms . . . tasting her . . . he couldn’t let himself believe that she was back. He couldn’t, not until he knew why she had returned.
Taking her by the hand, he took her into the living room.
“I . . . San Chai, what are you doing here?” he finally got the courage to ask. “Why? Why now? Why not two years ago?”
“It was time to return now,” she simply responded.
“And why aren’t you angry at me? You were angry enough to run away and stay away for two years. I’m living in your home, and you haven’t said anything.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
“What’s wrong?” he asked suddenly, struck by a thought.
“Are you dying? Because the San Chai I know would never have made it so easy for me. The San Chai I know would’ve punched me, not kissed me. Did you . . . did you come home to die?” he asked anxiously.
He sprang up.
She looked up at him, astonished at the speed with which he was moving to the door.
“We need to call my doctor. He knows the best specialists, and we can start your treatments. What do you have?” he asked, the panic evident in his eyes.
“I . . . ,” she trailed off.
“Tell me!” he demanded, “I can handle it.” He came back to sit next to her, gripping her hands tightly in his.
“I’m not sick,” she finally got out, shocked at the emotions pouring out of him.
She slowly pulled her hands away, and getting up, moved away from him.
“We do need to talk,” she agreed. “But nothing MADE me come home. It was just time.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“Then what? Have you forgiven me?” he finally whispered brokenly. “Do you know how hard it’s been to live without you?”
“How much I love you?”
“Do you know how you broke my heart?”
“And how hard it was to live here, waiting . . . just waiting for you to return?”
“I know, Dao Ming Si. I’ve been through this,” she said reflectively. “You remember, right?”
Dao Ming Si looked at San Chai. She was the woman he had loved for so long. She was the one he had worshipped with all his being. And he had lost her because of that accident. If he hadn’t lost his memory . . . if he hadn’t, then he would never have loved Yesha. He would never have hurt San Chai. He would never have broken her heart repeatedly, and almost lost her to Lei. If that accident hadn’t happened, then he would never have felt he owed it to Yesha to go with her and travel around the world.
That night would never have happened.
And he wouldn’t have his daughter, little Xiao Mei, right now.
Staring at the woman he had loved for years and years, so much so that it felt like an eternity, looking at her lips swollen from his kisses, and saw the mark she’d allowed him to put on the side of her neck . . . all he could feel was confusion at the moment.
What was going on? Was this a game San Chai was playing with him? Did she want her pound of flesh? Hadn’t he suffered enough in the two years without her? He’d had to leave her for a woman he didn’t love . . . that he couldn’t love. He’d had to live without her for four years, until he was finally set free. If it hadn’t been for Yesha’s . . . accident, he would’ve been here much sooner, but even then . . . he’d come back too late.
He couldn’t do this anymore. Having had her in his arms once more, he couldn’t let her go again.
Sighing, she stared at his entreating eyes, and then turned to look at the picture on the wall. It hadn’t been there when she’d left home. It was the same picture she used to have by her bedside, the one in their wedding clothes. He’d blown it up and hung it on the wall. It was an aching reminder of all they could’ve had.
“You know, when Ximen found me, I lied to him and told him that I hoped you hadn’t been looking for me, but that wasn’t how I really felt,” she began, all the while looking at the picture.
He stared quietly at her back, not daring to ask, not daring to hope what she meant with those words. Even his beleaguered brain couldn’t think of any other meaning to those words.
“I heard Xiao You saying those things to you, hurting you, and I was happy,” she admitted, turning to see his reaction. “I was really happy to see the hurt on your face.”
His expression gave nothing away now.
“When I left that day, it’s true that I was afraid that you would hurt me again. That thought scared me more than anything in the world. And I couldn’t let you into my life, because that would give you another chance to break my heart. But behind all of that, there was another motive, a silent one. I didn’t realize it was there until I’d been gone a while. Do you know what other motive my departure served?”
He looked at her quietly, unwilling to say the words.
“I wanted to hurt you, the way you’d hurt me. More than anything I wanted you to feel the pain that I felt. And seeing you after two years . . . that urge to hurt you was still there.”
He sat there quietly, not wanting to incite her to more anger.
“And that wasn’t right,” she finally continued after an eternity of silence. “It wasn’t right that after four years without you, I still felt something for you. It was twisted . . . that urge to hurt you, but it was still ME feeling something for YOU. That wasn’t right. I didn’t feel right. That feeling made me dirty. It made me feel evil,” she confessed.
He silently sighed with relief. The fear that had been coursing through his body the entire time he had been looking for her hadn’t been that she would hate him, but that she would feel nothing for him. And she didn’t feel nothing. She felt the strongest emotion there was, second only to love. And it gave him hope.
Her eyes glared at him, telling him she knew what was going through his mind.
He got up, moving toward her.
She quickly turned to stare at the picture once more.
“When we were together . . .,” she said, sighing. “When we were together, I took our love for granted. You were always the one chasing me, always. And I never really had anything more to do than to let myself fall in love with you. And you made that fall so easy. It didn’t hurt at all. I could never think of a time when you wouldn’t love me. In my mind, in my heart, I always believed that you would be there for all eternity. That your love would always be there for me.”
“I . . .,” he began, coming up to stand behind her.
“That’s why . . . that’s why I felt free to treat you the way I did. When you did something wrong, when you shouted at me for doing something stupid, I felt free to call you on it. I told myself that you needed at least one person in your life that could stand up to you. But even then . . . when you were at your most pigheaded, you were still my pighead,” she confessed on a broken sigh.
His hands came up to hold her shoulders, trying to give her the comfort she needed. Even if he was the last person she could want this from now.
“I . . . when you got amnesia, the fact that you couldn’t remember me made me feel unworthy. I thought that I was your whole universe, but it only took one bump to knock that all out of your mind. How meaningless had I been to you? And the thing was . . . the thing was that when you chased me, I fell in love with you. But when I chased you . . . you didn’t, you couldn’t love me. I couldn’t make the man who was in love with me, realize that he actually loved me. You felt sympathy for me . . . you felt friendship for me . . . and ultimately you felt disgust when I made you feel guilty. When we had another chance to fall in love, we couldn’t. It made me doubt our love. Intellectually, I knew that you couldn’t help it; the brain works in mysterious ways, and the trauma you had suffered was just blocking your memories. But . . . in my heart . . . I could only wonder why I couldn’t make you love me.”
“San Chai, I loved you. I always loved you. Never doubt that. My amnesia might have silenced the voice crying out your name for a while, but when that was voice was freed I could hear it shouting San Chai. Only your name.”
She leaned back against him, slowly, as if afraid that the support wasn’t really there. Relaxing bit by bit, she finally let herself go. His strength kept her on her feet.
“After the two of you came, I spent the past two nights just thinking. And the thought that kept coming to my mind was that I was tired of running. I was tired of hiding. I was tired.”
“Thank you for coming back,” he murmured against her ear.
“I realized that . . . I had hurt you enough. I’d suffered two years without you, and you’d suffered two years without me. We were even. I also thought that you deserved to know your son, and I deserve to return to my home.”
“San Chai . . .,” he began.
“Imagine my surprise when I returned and saw that someone was already in my home. I was extremely angry,” she said in a calm voice.
“San Chai . . .” he repeated, not sure of what to say.
“You have something to tell me?” she asked, turning to look at him. “Something about Xiao Mei?”
“Will you believe me?” he asked in response.
She pulled away and stalked to the sofa and sat.
“San Chai?” he asked impatiently.
”We’ve hurt each other enough, right?” she asked softly. “I don’t think you’d lie to me anymore,” she concluded, patting the space beside her.
He sat beside her, and took hold of her hand. His other hand began to play with the ends of her hair, and she, as if it came naturally, placed her head on his shoulder.
“When I got that call, I felt that my world had crashed down around me. My only thought was how much this would hurt you. I could imagine the look on your face. I could almost hear your heart breaking. And then, when I turned around, you were there, and you knew the truth.”
She nodded her head, remembering that exact moment. That was when her heart had broken. It had only begun to heal when she’d held Xiao Mei in her arms. Not because of how Xiao Mei was, but because of that unconditional love that had poured out of that little, innocent body. She believed San Chai to be her mother, and Xiao Mei had loved her without even knowing her.
“I left, but there was always doubt in my heart about what Yesha had said. I went to her, but not for a moment did I believe that we’d been together. I’d been so drunk that night. I barely remembered it. It wasn’t physically possible for me to perform. In fact, I didn’t think she was pregnant,” he fiercely said. “I’d never physically betrayed you when I had no memory of you, why would I betray you when I could think of no other but you?” he murmured, placing a kiss on her forehead. “My life was bleak, and my only purpose I had was to find the truth, prove my innocence and return to you. When I saw her again, in her palace in Butan, she was pregnant. I could see the swell of her belly. And that was when I began to have doubts of my innocence.”
Her hand tightened around his.
He squeezed her hand gently in return.
“I stayed with her, thinking that I had a duty to stay, but even then I hadn’t lost hope. Quietly I searched for the man that might have been with Yesha in my absence. And when I had almost given up, I found the man that Yesha had had relations with. I learned that she had deliberately gotten herself pregnant, just so that she could pull me back into her life. I don’t know why she did this, only that she had come to hate me. When I revealed that I already knew the truth and would be returning to Taiwan, she tried to kill herself. She survived relatively unscathed, but the same couldn’t be said for Xiao Mei. While running to the hospital, with Yesha in my arms, I felt the baby feebly kicking against Yesha’s stomach, into my side. I felt the little foot.”
He pulled away, and looked entreatingly into her eyes.
“That was a human life in there, and I was the reason it had been hurt. I had been selfish. Yesha returned from the hospital, but she knew the power she held over me. She laid down some ground rules. I couldn’t contact you. I couldn’t clear my name. And the thought of you meeting another, of moving on, tortured me constantly. She took great pleasure in having me with her. She didn’t want me anymore, definitely not, but she didn’t want me to come back to Taiwan.”
“Ah Si,” San Chai said comfortingly, wiping away the tear that had made a trail down his cheek.
“I needed you,” he whispered, “but you weren’t there. You couldn’t be there. And so, I took comfort in that child. When Xiao Mei was born prematurely, we could see that she had been affected by Yesha’s suicide attempt. Xiao Mei can never be like other kids,” he confided in San Chai. “She has trouble speaking, she has trouble understanding, but she tries her hardest to make me happy.”
“She’s a beautiful child,” San Chai murmured in agreement. “And she’s so earnest.”
“When I held her in my arms, and saw how tiny she was, how fragile she was, I knew I had to stay for her. She had no one else but me. Yesha had gone into a depression after the birth. She stayed depressed long past the time such post-birth depression should last. She wouldn’t move. She wouldn’t eat. She would do nothing. You know that Yesha is dead, but do you know how she died?” he asked, looking down at her.
She shook her head in response.
“While the official version is that she had an accidental overdose from a potent medicine, in reality, she killed herself,” he said softly, exhaling with the words.
“What? But wouldn’t we have heard that? Yesha was a princess,” San Chai protested.
“I found her, and the letter she left behind. It was easy to hide the letter, and pretend her death was an accident; that she had accidentally taken a triples dose of a medicine whose double dose could be lethal,” he replied. “I took care of the doctors, and burned the letter after reading it.”
She turned to look at him in shock.
“Why?” San Chai asked, wondering what could have put the woman they had known into the hate-filled, depressive mode she had been in. What could have pushed a woman like Yesha, who had survived despite the terrible illness she had, and had smiled while suffering?
“She left a letter. She apologized. To me and to you. And told me why she’d taken me away from Taiwan, even though it was clear that she didn’t want me. You see, after she left me, she’d fallen in love with a man. In a short amount of time. He was her soulmate. The man I found that day had been her lover’s twin, and she’d paid him to tell me that story. Just so that I’d stop searching; she didn’t want me to find the real truth.”
“She loved this man more than she had loved me, and my mother interfered.”
San Chai’s eyes widened. She hadn’t expected this.
“When I disappeared with Yesha, and then came back to you, my mother hoped that Yesha would be able to bring me back home. In trying to get to Yesha, her thugs killed the only man Yesha loved. Yesha went crazy. And her only thought was to get back at my mother in a way that would hurt the most. She permanently took the Dao Ming heir away from Taiwan. She kept me off my mother’s radar. You might not know this, but my disappearance caused the Dao Ming Corporation to almost collapse. And with no hope of knowing where we were, my mother couldn’t fight the rumors. Yesha almost succeeded. But something . . . something set her off. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I saw your picture with Wei Yi in her vanity drawer when I was packing up to come back home.”
“What?” she breathed out, the sound barely a whisper.
“She’d taken me away to hurt my mother,” he said, turning to look at her. “She’d never meant to hurt you. You were just collateral damage. She played a role, and got me to come to her. After that, she forgot about you. She forced herself to forget about you. But when she saw you, and our child, and when she saw the pain in your eyes, she decided to let me go. But you see . . . she knew that I would come back and save the corporation because I had to; I cared too much about all the Dao Ming employees. And she couldn’t bear to see my mother win. She couldn’t bear to keep me, but she couldn’t bear to let me go back either. So, she did what she felt would make everyone happy. She took herself out of the picture. Permanently.”
He got up, and moved away from San Chai. His eyes refused to meet hers. His hands clenched, as he tried to speak the next words.
“While I hope to be with you . . . while I want to live with you and grow old with you . . . you have to realize . . . I was the cause of Yesha’s death. I brought her into my mother’s sphere. My leaving the company, and then dropping off the face of this earth, pushed her over the edge. She caused a man’s death. And she’ll never be punished for it. Yesha killed herself, so that I could be happy with you. My happiness, my existence, my choices caused a woman’s death.”
San Chai came up behind him, and her hands turned him around to face her.
She slapped him on the face.
He stood there, saying nothing. He felt that he deserved it.
“YOU didn’t cause Yesha’s death!” she shouted at him. “It was your mother’s actions, because she’s an evil being. It was Yesha’s choice, because she couldn’t live with her grief. It wasn’t your fault,” she shouted, gripping him by the shoulders.
“I . . .,” he looked at her, at a loss for words. “Do you forgive me?”
“No,” came the abrupt answer.
“You forget, Ah Si,” she murmured, pulling him into her arms. “There is nothing to forgive. None of this was your fault. The only mistake you made was getting drunk and forgetting what happened the night before. If I can take this chance, and believe that you could never hurt me . . . then you have to believe me too.”
“It’s not your fault.”
He was silent.
“It’s not your fault,” she repeated.
His arms tightened infinitesimally around her tiny waist.
“It wasn’t your fault. Funny how you don’t take responsibility when it is your fault, but when it isn’t . . . you’re so eager to take the blame. Only a pighead, my pighead, could do that,” she murmured into his ear.
His arms tightened even more, expelling the air from her lungs.
“You stupid woman,” he murmured in response. “Will you give us a chance?”
. . . . . . . .
“Will you?” he repeated.
She squeaked as him arms tightened even more.
“Yes,” she gasped out. “I was ready to give you a chance at the first kiss. This just . . . makes me love you even more.”
. . . . . . . .
His legs buckled, and he landed on the floor, kneeling in front of her.
Looking up at her confused face, he could only thank God for bringing this woman back into his life. He would do nothing to let her down.
“Thank you for believing in me,” he murmured, reaching out to grab her hand.
“Thank you for coming back home.”
He raised himself to his knees, and threw his arms around her waist.
“Thank you,” he whispered, his head buried in her stomach.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
“I love you,” she whispered, cradling his head, and letting him cry the tears that he needed to that night.
Tomorrow . . . tomorrow would be the day to tease him about them.
Xiao You stood in her old bedroom, looking out the window at the garden below. Two years had gone by, and she was back exactly where she had started. What had been the point of running then? Sighing, she turned to look back at Shen Shen lying on the bed, asleep. Her arms were over her head, her little body lying diagonally across the bed. One tiny leg hung over the side of the bed. She was only a year and a half old, and she was already mimicking her dad’s mannerism.
Ximen could only sleep when he was lying exactly in that position. He’d never admit it, of course. He’d start the night sleeping in the middle of the bed, with her body cradled in his arms. He’d gradually move into that position. A giggle escaped when a thought popped into her mind. Often, he’d kick or push her off the bed because she’d been in his way. A full laugh escaped when she thought about the time she’d gotten so tired of having her sleep ruined weekly that she’d put his hand in warm water. The poor guy wouldn’t look her in the face for a full week. And he’d changed the sheets for the first time in his life.
Her smile drifted away. There’d been another reason for that act. The main reason for why she had set out to embarrass him. Half asleep, with memories fresh with her grievances, she’d resolved to punish him. She’d recently caught him flirting, and an ugly thought had popped into her mind. When she’d caught him playing eye tag with a model right in front of her, she’d began to wonder how faithful he’d been to her. Seeing his gaze following the woman like a hungry wolf waiting to pounce had been like a physical ache. The thought of his hands, his lips coming to her after touching another had made her physically sick.
Xiao You forced herself to remember that night. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in her life, and something she had forced herself to forget because any embarrassment she had suffered had always been less important than staying with Ximen. It was as if he’d brainwashed her, and she’d been a willing subject. She knew that if she saw the reality of her situation, she’d be forced to leave. So, she’d closed her eyes to what they really had.
She remembered how eager she’d felt preparing for the night. After finishing college, she’d become an owner of a dessert café and a caterer for high-end parties. Pretty soon, because of the support she’d received from San Chai, Jing, and Xiao Qiao, she’d become well known. And her extraordinary talent with sugar had become legendary.
She’d been asked to cater desserts for an important dinner party at Ximen’s home . . . at his parents’ home. This was the place he spent two out of seven nights of the week. While Ximen had moved out, his commitment to his parents was that strong. Not only did she have to share him with his other apartment and his persistence in not spending the entire night with her, she also had to share him with his parents.
Initially, he’d spent more time with his parents than he had with her. He’d only just started sleeping over when she’d decided to leave him. What did she have to show for two years of a relationship? Her lover had decided to sleep over. The saddest thing had been walking into that home . . .seeing his parents, and not being able to take her rightful place in Ximen’s life. That more than ever had brought home the fact that she wasn’t Ximen’s girlfriend. She was only his mistress.
She’d met Mrs. Ximen for the first time. This was the woman that had birthed Ximen. They’d easily bonded over preparations for the party, and she’d soon felt comfortable with Ximen’s mother. His mother had been the sweetest woman Xiao You had ever met, but Xiao You could easily see the grief in her eyes. She hadn’t felt comfortable enough to ask Ximen’s mother if she was okay. And Ximen never mentioned his parents. In fact, when she’d asked him about his mother before, he had quickly shut her down. The one time she’d talked about her own parents, he’d shown his disinterest.
She remembered the scarlet woman. The red of that dress had been seared into her memory. She’d seen how expensive it was, and she couldn’t help but compare it to the black and white plainness of her own caterer’s dress. She could never compare. And he’d sat with that scarlet bitch. He’d talked to her all night. He’d laughed with her. He’d touched her.
And then . . . he’d asked for dessert . . . so that he could feed it to that . . . thing. And it hadn’t been from any of the waiters or waitresses walking around, he’d asked her. She’d been unbelieving. They’d had a fight that morning. But she hadn’t thought that he would do this to her. That he would show her how easily he could replace her. She couldn’t say no; she was working. And he didn’t back off. Her hands had shook as she handed him a plate, as she fought the urge to hurl that plate in his face.
And that night, in her bedroom . . . they’d had their confrontation.
“What are you doing?” he asked coming into the room.
“Can’t you see?” she retorted sarcastically.
“I can see you’re packing. But why?”
“You don’t need to know.”
“Xiao You,” he said, sighing in frustration, as if tired of all the drama; as if tired of her.
“Don’t. Just don’t,” she shouted at him. “You’ve showed me how important I am in your life. You’ve showed me how much I’m worth. If I’m truly that worthless, why don’t I just leave? You can easily replace me with that scarlet bitch!” With those words, she shut her suitcase and walked to the door.
“I can see that you’re angry at me. But why are you leaving your home?”
“It’s not my home. It’s your apartment; the one where you set me up as your mistress. I’ll gladly vacate it for your next one. Now move aside,” she ordered.
He’d grabbed her arms.
Of course the excuses had then come. Quickly. She’d been amazed at how it had become all her fault. Thinking back on it now, she was amazed at how she’d started to believe him. She’d made him angry that morning. She’d been foolish to take that job at his parents’ home. And most important of all, his fidelity to her was making him seem impotent in the eyes of society. People had begun to wonder where his appetite had gone.
Her eyes had widened at that suggestion.
“We can easily show them you’re not impotent,” she’d quietly replied. “Tell them you’re in a long-term relationship with me.”
“Xiao You we’ve been through this time and time again. I’m not ready for commitment. And revealing our relationship will invite all sorts of speculation and then questions regarding our upcoming nuptials.”
“You’re not ready for commitment? Yeah, right. You mean you’re not ready to grow up,” she’d retorted angrily. She wrenched herself free of his grip and stepped through the door.
“Xiao You!” he’d called out angrily. “If you leave now, it’ll be over. I won’t come after you.”
Without a thought, without volition, her body had frozen. ‘Go!’ she’d softly cried to herself. ‘Go!’ her brain had ordered.
Her heart refused to listen. She’d begun to cry, hating herself.
He’d moved up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
“We’ve been together for a year now. I’ve been faithful to you. You love me,” he’d murmured confidently in her ear. “And I . . . I need you. I want you. You make me happy. Why can’t you be satisfied with what we have?”
She’d silently accepted her defeat. She wasn’t ready to leave him yet, but if nothing changed, she was sure a day would come when she would leave him.
Thinking about it now, she wondered how she’d stood it. How had she quietly accepted his dictates and allowed him to set all the parameters of their relationship? Easy. He had the power. She’d loved him with all her heart. And he didn’t love her back. Why had she ever thought that what they had would be enough? She’d set aside her desires, she’d killed her dreams, and she’d swallowed her pride to be with him. She’d stopped loving herself in her quest to love him.
Turning to look at Shen Shen once more, Xiao You thanked god once more for sending her this little angel. Only her baby had been enough to pull her out of the destructive relationship she immersed herself in. Only Shen Shen made her realize that she couldn’t ever be truly happy with Ximen. And yet, two years later, without wanting to be, she was back in his life because she had nowhere else to go.
She felt the hair rise on the nape of her neck. Turning toward the door, she saw what she’d expected to see. Ximen was here. She hadn’t heard anything. She hadn’t felt a breeze or smelled his scent. But she had known. Her inner radar was as strong as ever.
Taking a deep breath, she bravely met his gaze.
She felt his eyes moving over her body. What would he see? Short hair. Lightly tanned skin. Her hollow face, and her too bright eyes. Her slight body. She felt frail as his eyes traced over every part of her body.
“Ximen,” she murmured in greeting.
There was no answer.
She’d wondered what she’d see in those eyes if she ever had a chance to see them again. Irritation? Anger? Challenge? Disgust? But it was none of those emotions.
She saw joy. Pure joy in that gaze.
Her eyes grew questioning.
What did he have to be so happy about?
And she saw . . . no, it couldn’t be, she thought, shaking her head.
Glancing again, she saw it again. Despite all the odds, she finally saw what she’d been waiting for so long.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
She saw love.