Xiao You stirred softly in the bed, her body stretching and coming awake. Her head hurt. It absolutely ached. Why?
Her eyes widened, her mouth frozen open in a yawn. Last night. Ximen. Her pregnancy. She’d thought about it and thought about it until she’d been left with a migraine. But her brain couldn’t give her the answers she so badly needed. She still didn’t know. The curtain that hung between her past and her present still refused to lift.
Turning, her gaze landed on the man sitting by her bedside. Why was he still here? She’d refused to talk to him, preferring to ignore his presence. But he’d stayed.
She knew the doctor had told him about her pregnancy. She’d asked the doctor to do so, knowing it was something that she couldn’t do herself. But deep inside she knew that Ximen needed to know. She didn’t want any secrets between them.
But she was finding it so hard to face him. The same thoughts began to circle through her head, causing the headache to flare up once more.
Who was the father of her baby?
Who was the man that had planted his seed inside of her?
Who had she loved so much to allow that close?
Until she could find those answers, she wouldn’t let Ximen any closer. It wouldn’t be fair. Not to Ximen. Not to her child. Not to the man she’d forgotten.
He yawned and began to stir in the chair.
She quickly turned away, pretending to be asleep. Hopefully he would leave soon.
She couldn’t face him yet.
Her heart didn’t want to face reality.
But her head knew that this was the only answer.
She had to let him go. For his own good. She couldn’t keep him close when she couldn’t promise him a future.
“Daddy!” Shen Shen ran over to Ximen and hugged him furiously. She planted a kiss on his lips and then snuggled close. Her joy was evident in her voice and sparkling eyes. He wondered again at the resiliency of youth. She’d been inconsolable when Xiao You had first disappeared, but she’d eventually adapted. Xiao You’s disappearance had forged a much deeper bond between father and daughter.
He adored her … loved her down to her little toes. And nothing had changed that for him … not even when he’d discovered that she wasn’t his daughter. She might not be the daughter of his blood, but she was the daughter of his heart.
“Daddy, Auntie San Chai made lasagna today! And then we ate some, but before we could get more, Uncle Ah Si came home and tasted some. He said ‘yuck!’” She related the story while bouncing energetically in Ximen’s lap. Her young face scrunched up in a familiar Dao Ming Si expression, mimicking the face he must have made when he tasted the food. Ximen began to laugh.
“They began to shout at each other,” she said with supreme indifference, revealing how common that occurrence was around this house. “Auntie San Chai threw the lasagna and it fell on the floor and on Uncle Ah Si. And guess what, daddy?”
“I learned a new word.”
“A new word?” He smiled, planting a kiss on her forehead. Hmm, she felt warm. He wondered if she’d overexerted herself today? This was the first time she’d been allowed over since Xiao You’s breakdown.
“Dumbas—,” she began to shout.
“That’s enough,” San Chai said with a nervous laugh, revealing her guilt. “Ge and Jie are waiting for you in the playroom. Go with nanny.”
“Okay,” Shen Shen shouted in agreement, jumping off of Ximen. “Daddy will we go home tonight?”
“You don’t want to stay with Auntie San Chai and Ge and Jie anymore? It’s only been a few days.”
“I miss gramma,” Shen Shen said with a pout. “I miss you, daddy.”
“I promise,” he said, kissing her on one chubby cheek. “Grandma misses you, too.”
There was a moment of silence. The group sat in a morose silence, trying to digest all that had happened over the past few days. Everyone was here. His brothers. Their wives. The only one missing was Xiao You.
“What do I do?” Ximen finally asked with a sigh. “How do I feel?”
“It’s okay to be happy,” San Chai said softly, smoothing a hand over his arm, giving him her warmth. “This WILL be what Xiao You needs to heal,” she said confidently. “You have to believe that. Ximen?”
He turned to look at her.
“Congratulations.” She smiled her special San Chai smile. It still had the power to light up the room.
He couldn’t help but smile back.
There was a pop and Ximen turned to see the open champagne bottle in Ah Si’s hand. Butler Liu handed over the glasses and Ah Si poured out before passing them around. There was a quick round of toasts, as they all allowed a moment to celebrate the new life and hope in their lives.
“What do I tell her?” Ximen finally asked, staring at the bottom of his empty glass.
“Tell her it’s your baby,” Jing ordered.
Ximen turned to stare at her questioningly.
“She’s refusing to talk to you … even look at you, right?” Lei asked.
“It’s because she needs to think about her child now … and by extension the father. To her … you can’t be the father. If you don’t tell her…”
Ximen’s eyes widened.
“She’ll end up pushing you away,” Jing finished. “And you’ll be more apart than ever.”
“Tell her you were in a four year relationship,” San Chai suggested. “She’ll need that or she’ll feel like a … slut.”
“You have to show her that her child … a child she didn’t even know was a possibility … was conceived in love … in trust … in an atmosphere filled with hope for the future,” Xiao Qiao said softly.
“Do I tell her about … her previous pregnancy?”
“No!” everyone cried out simultaneously.
“What about her scar? She had the C-section. What if she starts wondering about it? She’s in the hospital now. What do I tell her?”
“She won’t know unless you tell her. Just say it was some random surgery and warn the doctors not to mention it to her or the consequences could be dire. You don’t want her to be reliving those painful memories at such a vulnerable time,” Mei Zhou advised, putting a hand over Xiao Qiao’s. “When a woman is pregnant, she shouldn’t be stressed.”
“It’s not the time to tell her.” Lei seconded Mei Zhou’s opinion. “Let her enjoy this pregnancy.”
“She needs the good memories that THIS pregnancy will create. Maybe they’ll help her to eventually face Xiao Tian’s loss,” Ah Si said. “You’ve had the courtship to replace the horrible beginning you two had. You’ve attempted to give her memories of a normal relationship. But the pregnancy also has to be peaceful. Nothing like last time.”
“There can’t be any cloud,” San Chai said in agreement. “Last time was just all wrong. The oppressive atmosphere. The loathing she felt for her own weaknesses. The bitterness she felt towards you … her baby’s father. The love and fear she felt for her child. No proper care. We can’t have any of that being mentioned this time around.”
“Xiao You needs to feel cosseted, cherished,” Lei said softly. “Soothe her fears and show her your love. Prove it. Surround her with it so that she’ll never doubt it. Even when she remembers everything.”
“I will,” Ximen promised, gaining strength from everyone’s support. They believed in him to not let Xiao You down. And he had to believe that he had it in himself to keep her happy.
“She will be happy, right? She’ll be happy that I’m the father?”
“Ximen, she loves you,” San Chai assured him. “I’ve shared enough late night confidences with her on that subject. She practically worships the ground your almost flawless feet walk on.” The words were accompanied with a roll of her eyes.
“”You’ve cherished her as a friend,” Ah Si said.
“You’ve courted her as a potential lover,” Mei Zhou said.
“You’ve fulfilled her every girlish desire,” Xiao Qiao put in.
“You’ve taken the time to know her inside and out,” Jing supplied.
“And she trusted you enough to let you close twice,” Lei finished. “You’re the father of her child. She’ll let you close this time. In fact, she’ll welcome you with open arms.”
“Xiao You, look at me,” he demanded, putting a hand under her chin and turning her to face him.
“Ximen, go away!”
“I don’t want to see you!” she shouted, closing her eyes. Tears began to flow from behind her lids, sliding down her pale cheeks. Her nails dug into the palm of her hands as she tried to avoid his gaze. “I don’t want to talk to you! I don’t want to listen to you! You can’t be in my life anymore, can’t you see that? My child is the most important person in my life. My child and …”
“My child and the father of my child,” she answered bleakly.
“I’m the father of your child.”
“Ximen? What are you saying?” Xiao You finally breathed out. She wanted to understand.
“We were in a relationship before your accident. We’ve been in a relationship for the past four years,” he confessed, looking away.
“Then why did you hide it?” He could see the hurt in her eyes. She felt betrayed. He’d hidden such a big thing from her. She felt rejected. Why would he need to hide their relationship from her?
“Our relationship was … is complicated,” he breathed out. “I love you. I’ve loved you for so long, but even I have to admit that I’ve hurt you as much as I’ve made you happy. I thought … that when you lost your memory we could have a new start.”
“How long would you have hidden the truth?”
“I wasn’t really hiding it,” he argued. “I was waiting for your memory to come back. The doctors said, and I agree, that it wouldn’t be good for you to face the past you’ve forgotten. And …”
“And?” she demanded, her hands clenching in the hospital sheets.
“I didn’t want to put you in a position where you felt pressured to love me because of our previous relationship. I didn’t want to put you in a place where you knew me as your lover and a stranger at the same time. I didn’t want to hurt you that way.”
“So …?” she began doubtfully. “Where do we go from here?”
“You’ve made me the happiest man alive,” Ximen expressed, his eyes finally revealing his emotions. “I don’t know if you’re ready to face what will happen next, but I was ready to marry you before this news, and this changes nothing. By accepting me, you give me the gift of a lover, a wife, and a soulmate. And you allow me to be a lover to you and to be a father.”
“It’s up to you. What will you do next?” Ximen stared at her, waiting for a reaction. Any reaction.
Xiao You’s eyes flickered toward him and then nervously swiveled away before returning briefly to meet his gaze.
In that brief glance he saw bemusement, and then dawning wonder. He saw relief. And then the reaction he’d been waiting for … hoping for. A flicker of joy. She was happy to be carrying his baby. An answering joy welled up inside of him. The joy was momentary, as it seemed all joy had been in their lives.
The look in her eyes sharpened and then confusion appeared when she turned to look at him once more.
“But … how can you say that I’m pregnant with your child?” Her voice carried no accusation, just curiosity. “We’ve spent the past two months dating and all the newspapers have labeled me as your mysterious new lover … mistress … what-have-you. No one knew about me?”
“I …,” his voice trailed off.
“How long did you say we were together?”
“… Four years.”
“No one knows anything about me, Ximen.” Her eyes were clouded with confusion as she tried to understand this disconnect.
His eyes widened. This was something he stupidly hadn’t prepared for.
What could he say? How would he … could he explain? How could he bring up the past two years of separation without all the misunderstandings? The loss? The anger and mistrust? How could he tell her they had only one joyous week together before his father and his own stupidity tainted their relationship for the next four years? How could he say that to her?
Her hands clenched at the continued silence. Her feverish thoughts could only come up with one explanation that made sense. She turned to glare at him.
“Did you make a conscious decision to hide me from the world? We’ve been together for four years but no one knows about that relationship? This is the media we’re talking about. The newspapers knew about our first date and the exact flowers you brought me. How could they not know about a relationship that you, the Ximen heir, were involved in for four whole years?!” There was a pause and then the next words were spoken on a broken sob. “What was wrong with me that you hid me from the world?” A mere whisper. “What was wrong with our relationship? Why would I agree to an arrangement like that? … More importantly, why would you make me?” Finally, the accusation that he’d been dreading.
“Was I your dirty little secret?”
Those idiots. They’d all been too optimistic.
He was screwed.
Better I Should Know
Heaven bent to take my hand
And lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer
To a long and painful fight
Truth be told I’ve tried my best
But somewhere along the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
And the cost was so much more than I could bear
“I’m afraid Mr. Ximen that I have to caution you on what you may tell Ms. Yang. The situation is much more serious now than it was before. While Ms. Yang is still suffering from the emotional upheaval of what occurred between the two of you, that problem is now compounded by her pregnancy. She is not at a point in time where you can reveal the past four years to her. To do so would not only cause possible injury to her but also to your child. Are you willing to take that risk?”
The doctor’s words resounded through his head as he sat outside the hospital room. Xiao You was inside, still waiting for her answers. Still wanting to know why no one outside their little group had known about their relationship.
She wanted to know if she was his dirty little secret?
He snorted softly.
How the hell could he explain … any damn thing without spilling everything about the past? How could he reveal anything without risking her health … without risking their child’s life?
How would he ever face her if she lost this child too?
God, his heart ached. He rubbed a hand over his chest, trying to ease the pain growing inside of him. Leaning back, he rested his aching head against the wall. His temples pounded from the stress.
She had never been his dirty little secret.
Even when he’d thought of her as a gold-digger he’d wanted to protect her. The media had attempted to investigate Xiao You for the past two months, digging rabidly into her background to search for any scandalous secrets. Finding nothing due to F4’s protection, they’d speculated like crazy. They’d torn her apart. Making up what they couldn’t find. He’d even found her in tears once over a newspaper article.
That was why he’d hidden their relationship the first time around.
But if he told her that … then what? She’d ask why he’d stopped hiding it now. What was so different this time around?
How could he tell her that she’d been his mistress before? Yes, he admitted that he’d only ever let himself think of her as his mistress. He couldn’t have offered her any more than that. He couldn’t have made a commitment to her … not when he thought about her the way he did.
But now … it was different now because he wanted to marry her … to be with her forever. He wanted to make her his so that no one could take her away. And he had to admit that a part of him wanted the world to know her so that she could never hide. So that she could never run away from him again.
If he told her that he wanted to commit now … then she’d ask why he couldn’t make the commitment before … why was he ready now?
Would he bring up his father? The money? The rejection? His behavior? Her return? Blackmail.
Even the word left a sour taste in his mouth. He didn’t want to taint their relationship with his father’s evil deeds and his mistrust.
The two-year gap? The time she’d spent running from him?
Would he tell her about Xiao Tian?
His hands reached for his cell phone. Should he call his brothers? Should he call San Chai? No, he needed to handle this on his own.
He closed his eyes, trying to ease the strain. The same thoughts circled round and round in his head. What would he tell her?
What could he tell her?
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen…
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
Better I should know
So don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so…
She’d never been his dirty little secret.
What man would keep a woman … be intimate with a woman when he thought she’d betrayed him? What man … with even an ounce of pride would have taken that woman back into his life knowing she wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for the money his father had paid her?
She’d never understood that.
She’d never understood that a man would have to need … crave … love a woman to be that desperate. She’d never understood that even if he’d never said the words in those two years, she’d always had his love. Even if his love had only made him loath himself.
Xiao You had NEVER been his dirty little secret.
His mind conjured up an image of her. Her fragile body, deceptive in its fragility, hiding the inner steel that had helped her to come through so much tragedy. Her innocent face that still shown brightly, exhibiting all emotions without reservation. There was no hint of the cynicism that should’ve been carved into it by humanities cruel acts … none of the hurt and distrust. Her liquid brown eyes … her pouty lips … her soft skin. The way she moved so freely … gracefully … everything that a woman should be.
Xiao You was his goddess.
She’d always been the goddess he’d simultaneously worshipped and hated. And that had never been a comfortable state of mind.
Heaven bent to take my hand
Nowhere left to turn
I’m lost to those I thought were friends
To everyone I know
Oh they turned their heads embarassed
Pretend that they don’t see
But it’s one missed step
You’ll slip before you know it
And there doesn’t seem a way to be redeemed
Xiao You stared at the doorway, knowing that he was sitting right outside. He was so close … yet so far away. She knew that he was hiding things from her. She knew that now more than ever.
Four years of her life were missing. Gone. How could she have dismissed them as insignificant? Had his seduction been so heady? Had she fallen so completely under his spell? Apparently a lot more had gone on than anyone had felt necessary to tell her. Were they protecting her or was Ximen protecting himself?
More and more she’d begun to wonder why she had forgotten just those four years. Why not everything? What was so special about those four years? Why had she erased everything from the night of Teng Tang Jing’s birthday party on? What was it about that party?
The only thing that came to mind was meeting Ximen for the first time.
She’d never thought to wonder whether she’d had any other relationships in the past four years … and now she had proof positive not only had she had a relationship, she’d been intimate with the man sitting outside those doors. He knew her body as intimately as she knew it herself … he’d been inside of her … he’d planted his seed in her womb … and no one had told her. Everyone had hidden that relationship from her.
What was so dangerous about having that knowledge? How could it have hurt her to know?
She didn’t know whom to trust anymore. Definitely not Ximen.
He was the man she loved … the man she trusted with her heart … but it seemed that she couldn’t trust him with her past.
Her hands, without volition, rested on her stomach. There was a baby growing inside of her. His baby. Her baby. A baby whose conception she didn’t even remember.
Had that baby been conceived in love … she didn’t know. All she knew was that the baby had been conceived in secrecy. The world didn’t know of Ximen and Xiao You because apparently he had hidden her from the world.
A moment. Disorientation. She cried out softly, clutching at her head.
Closing her eyes, she lay back against the pillows, fighting the nausea that was welling.
Ximen. Sitting amongst a bevy of beauties. He was drinking a golden liquid, his hand lazily trailing down the naked arm of the woman sitting plastered against him.
She blinked and the image was gone.
She shook her head, trying to clear it.
Another flash. She closed her eyes tight against the intrusion.
It was a balmy night and noisy. She was pulling someone. Ximen. She was pulling him and he was reluctantly following.
Xiao You’s eyes sprang open. Where? When had that scene occurred?
Closing her eyes, she sought the memories once more. It was a bit easier this time.
They were … in a backyard … there was a pool nearby. But no, she could see the tops of buildings from this place … the top of Taipei. It was the roof of a building. And she was intently looking toward something. Without turning her head … she knew that Ximen was there … focusing on the same thing.
And then the words.
‘Ximen. The one I love.’
Those words that meant so much to him.
She knew they did. Even without knowing how she’d gotten there, she just knew.
Those words that meant so much to someone else … but it wasn’t her. Another woman … faceless. Her rival. Was she the reason that Ximen had kept their relationship a secret? Was she the reason that Ximen had never publicly claimed her?
‘The one I love.’ Those words that reflected the ones in her heart.
Xiao You’s eyes flashed open.
Another woman. She closed her eyes, trying to remember more.
One more image.
Ximen. Crying. She slowly moved forward, her steps heavy, her heart hopeful. And his arms around her. His head on her shoulder. Seeking comfort.
Her eyes flashed to the closed door.
How long ago had that been? How long ago had she known that she loved this man? How long ago had that shared sunrise occurred?
Her heart clenched in despair. She felt so alone … so …afraid. She was pregnant and didn’t even remember the conception. She remembered love … but couldn’t remember when that love had started.
She didn’t even know if Ximen loved her in return.
Everything … had everything in the past two months been a lie … born out of necessity? Had Ximen known that she might be pregnant and set out to seduce her?
She needed to know. She needed to remember. The only one she could trust was herself.
No one else.
We all begin with good intent
Love was raw and young
We believed that we could change ourselves
The past could be undone
But we carry on our backs the burden
Time always reveals
The lonely light of morning
The wound that would not heal
It’s the bitter taste of losing everything
That I have held so dear.
Xiao You turned to glare at the man standing at the open door.
“Can I come in?”
She reluctantly nodded. She didn’t want to face him, but she needed to know the answers.
He came and sat down in the chair next to her bed.
They were quiet. Her hands pleated the bed sheet between her fingers, trying to wait patiently for him to say something. As the silence continued, her patience began to grow thin. At the point when she was about to scream in frustration, he spoke.
“I am a billionaire … part of F4. I’ve never done anything that wasn’t in the newspapers the next morning. That kind of life isn’t for everyone,” he said quietly. “Most people steadily wilt under all that attention and slowly die inside until there’s nothing left but for a shell of who they used to be. Others choose to run away, never to return. You don’t know, but I have a brother. He was one of the ones that chose to run, and we’ve never heard a word from him since.”
She nodded silently, trying to understand. “You didn’t think I was strong enough?” she questioned, prodding for him to continue when he remained silent. “So, you …?” her voice trailed off.
“Compounded by that glaring attention, my exploits are nothing to be proud of,” he continued, ignoring her question. “I am … was a womanizer … I’m the man that gives a woman only a week and then I move on. Every woman I’m seen with gets equal attention in the media … she is torn apart … slandered … branded as Ximen’s one-week mei-mei. My bad reputation clings to her like mud. Being seen with me was never a good thing. And up until you … I never cared about that. Every woman I was with knew the score.”
Her mind flashed back to the memory that had surfaced of him with so many women, drink in hand. She could certainly imagine him as a womanizer. The press had avidly commented on his constancy for the past two months.
“When I met you, I was not ready to settle down. While I hadn’t cared about my infamy when involved with other women, I knew you were different even if I wasn’t ready to admit how different. There was an instant attraction … something there that attracted me to you like a moth to a flame. I couldn’t control myself. I tried to run away … I tried to scare you. But you were a lot more brave than I and you fought me until you had me within your grasp,” he said with a smile.
“I … I chased you?”
He smiled mischievously and nodded at her surprise.
“You wouldn’t leave me alone. You were shameless,” he revealed. “When I gave in … we spent the most glorious week together. We shared something … almost sacred, but I didn’t know if I could give you forever. Mind you, you were never greedy. You didn’t ask for forever.” His hand came out to caress the back of her hand, needing the contact. She pulled away sharply, almost instinctively. She wasn’t ready yet.
“Why couldn’t you give me forever?”
“Because my father’s blood runs through my veins.”
She stared at him blankly, trying to understand why he had become so cold so suddenly. It was as if all emotions had been wiped clean from his face. For a moment he scared her with his ruthless cast. She stiffened.
Ximen sighed, and suddenly he was back to being her Ximen once more.
“My father was the most ruthless man … a complete bastard. He always got what he wanted, no matter what the cost. He forced my mother to marry him, knowing that she didn’t love him. He played house until he tired of that, and then turned to multiple other woman. Later on in life he showed regret and tried to atone for his sins, but a leopard can’t change his spots. And he never stopped manipulating everything to suit himself. And his blood runs through my veins. If he could hurt the only woman he professed to love … then what could I do to you?”
Xiao You sighed, trying to understand this complex man. His insecurities and his fears tugged at her heart but she was afraid to trust the sentiment. How much of this could she believe?
“I couldn’t commit, so … so I hid you from everyone. I hid our relationship. I tried to protect you in my own way, not wanting you to be painted with the same brush that every other woman I’d ever been with had been painted with. I knew that you were different and this kind of attention would hurt you. The media knew nothing about you because that’s how I wanted it. I didn’t want you to wilt … I didn’t want you to run away … and I suddenly didn’t want you to be labeled my … whore.”
“And what Ximen wants, Ximen gets?”
“No. But I got my way in this,” he said with a sad smile. “I was nurturing you in my own way,” he said in a harsh whisper, “but you never understood that. Because of that misunderstanding, we separated for a while. God Xiao You, I loved you more than you ever realized. That separation almost killed me.”
He stared at her. Her eyes widened when she saw the tears welling up in his eyes. This man … this strong, invulnerable man was crying for her … for them. Her heart began to ache, and answering tears welled up in her eyes.
“Don’t,” she whispered, her hand reaching out to smooth down his cheek. He turned his head and gently placed a kiss in the center of her palm, holding her gaze all the while. “I worship the ground you walk on,” he confessed, “and the thought of losing you again scares me more than death. Trust me,” he entreated, his hand coming up to cradle hers against his cheek.
“What do we do?” she cried out, sliding her hand away. “I feel so lost. So afraid. How can I trust you after all you’ve hidden? I … I don’t doubt you love me … but what else are you hiding from me because you feel I need to be protected?”
“Nothing important,” he promised. “Only the little stuff that could hurt you and our baby.”
She opened her mouth to protest.
“Our baby, Xiao You,” he said softly. “We can’t risk him or her.”
There was a moment of silence before she reluctantly nodded. She had to admit defeat in the face of his stubbornness. She knew that he wouldn’t tell her anymore. She just had to trust that it wasn’t anything important.
Maybe it was better she didn’t know what she couldn’t remember.
“And now,” he continued, “I don’t care to hide anything anymore because I’m ready to commit … I was ready a long time ago, but you’ve only returned to me now. Now, I have nothing to hide, and that’s why the media knows about you. Now, the woman I’m with won’t be tarred with the same brush because this woman … you … aren’t just a one-week mei-mei … you’re my life. We’ll marry and live happily ever after.” His words rang with conviction. He slowly got up and leaned over her.
She pressed herself back against the pillow.
He smiled at her and a lean finger reached out to run across her cheek and down her throat, coming to rest in the hollow of her throat … against the wildly beating pulse that revealed the excitement in her heart.
He leaned down, his lips already tingling … imagining the silkiness of her lips.
“Xiao You,” he murmured, “Say something if you don’t want this.”
She closed her eyes in reply, tilting her head back.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The two turned simultaneously to glare at the door, pulled abruptly from the haze that had enfolded them.
Lei and Jing slowly came in, Jing blushing at what they had interrupted.
“We’re interrupting,” Jing said. “We’ll come back later.”
“No!” Xiao You protested. “Come in. I’m so happy that you came to visit. Please don’t leave.”
The two entered, Lei shrugging apologetically at Ximen.
As Jing and Xiao You plunged into an inconsequential conversation, Ximen pulled Lei to the side. “What are you doing here?” he hissed at his usually astute brother.
“We were worried that everything might not go smoothly,” Lei hissed back, becoming defensively. “I thought that everyone was being too optimistic, and Jing agreed. So, we came to check up on you two.”
“Everything is fine,” Ximen whispered back furiously. “Now get out! Both of you.”
“We’re leaving,” Lei returned, clapping him on the back. “Jing,” he called out, turning toward the girls. “It’s time to leave.”
The door creaked open behind them.
The four turned to stare at the door.
A little head peeked in, complete with two little pigtails.
Three hearts stopped.
“Mommy! Mommy I haven’t seen you in such a long time!”
Lei moved forward, trying to catch the child. She darted between his legs and ran toward the women.
“Mommy, I missed you so much!”
Xiao You smiled, staring at the beautiful little child.
She wondered if their child would be as pretty her.
“Jing, you didn’t tell me you had a baby,” she said softly, her heart melting at the joy in those doe-brown eyes.
The little girl ran over and launched herself at Xiao You.
Xiao You froze, her eyes widening in shock. She began to choke, as she tried to catch her breath. She turned to stare at Ximen with questions in her eyes.
He looked away, unable to meet her gaze.
Shen Shen snuggled close to Xiao You.
“Mommy, don’t ever leave me again,” her voice plaintively ordered.
She reached up her little hands and framed Xiao You’s face, forcing Xiao You to meet her innocent eyes.
“I love daddy,” she said, reaching over to pat Ximen’s bowed head. “But granna says that little girls need their mommies too.”
Fuck. Lei slowly leaned against the wall. For the first time in his life he knew how Ah Si felt when he did something extremely stupid.
Fuck. Jing covered her mouth, trying to understand how everything could have gone so wrong. They’d come with the best of intentions … and ended up ruining everything!
Ximen leaned back in the chair, his eyes closed, closing out the world.
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen…
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
Better I should know
So don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so…
“Mommy! Mommy!” The little girl giggled, running over to Xiao You.
“Shen Shen!” Xiao You called back with a laugh, opening her arms for the hug. She quickly pulled the little girl onto her lap, cuddling her close. “How was your visit with grandma today?” Xiao You stared at the precious child in her arms. Her wriggling warmth, her need to cuddle and be with her never failed to touch Xiao You’s heart.
How could she have ever forgotten her? Did that mean she was a bad mother? The insecurities ate away at her sometimes. Could she be a good mother when she didn’t even remember giving birth to this child? But the love in her heart was real … very real. Even if she didn’t remember the actual birth, Shen Shen was her daughter. And no one could tell her differently.
“Fun! Granna gave me cookies and milk and then we played until daddy came home. And then daddy played with me.”
Xiao You nodded and sat back, listening to Shen Shen’s rendition of her afternoon with her grandma and father. It had been four months since she’d seen Ximen. It had been one month, three weeks, five days and six hours since Ximen had stopped trying to talk to her.
A part of her knew that this was only because the doctors had ‘suggested’ he back off.
“Daddy misses you,” Shen Shen said, looking up at her mother.
“And how do you know that?”
“Daddy told me,” she muttered in reply. There was a brief pause. “Why don’t we live together? All parents do,” she said insistently, still trying to understand the separation. Her little fingers played with a button on Xiao You’s shirt, refusing to meet Xiao You’s gaze. She’d spent the first couple of years of her life without her father, but even so it had been remarkably easy to get into the habit of living with her father in the two months Xiao You hadn’t known about her. And Shen Shen was a creature of habit for the most part. She wanted to live with both her parents. They weren’t cooperating. “Wei Yi ge’s parents live together. All people who love each other live together.”
“Who said that?”
“Wei Yi ge said that. He knows. He says that you probably don’t love daddy. Don’t you love daddy, mommy?”
“I …,” Xiao You’s voice trailed off. What could she say? Whenever she tried to delve into her emotions, all she saw was the turmoil knowledge of her past had created. She couldn’t handle it … she couldn’t face it. Her past had made her doubt everything … her emotions … his love … whether they could ever be happy together.
“Daddy loves you.” The certainty rang in the little tot’s voice.
“And how do you know?” Xiao You leaned forward slightly, eager to hear the answer. Had Ximen said something?
“He has pictures of you all over his room, mommy. I sneaked in today. Daddy usually keeps the door closed, but today it was open. There were pictures of you. All over the walls. And daddy was just sitting there staring at them. Mommy you were smiling in lots and lots of them. Mommy there was a picture of you in the dress you wore yesterday! The pretty pink one.”
“I see.” Pretty pink one? She’d only recently bought that outfit. Was Ximen spying on her? Keeping tabs on her? She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Glad that he hadn’t forgotten about her? Sad that they couldn’t communicate face to face? Angry that he felt the need to spy on her? Why couldn’t she just pick one emotion?
“Mommy how come you don’t smile any more?”
“I smile. I smiled when I saw you today,” Xiao You pointed out gently.
“It’s not the same.”
“It isn’t? How?”
“Mommy, I miss daddy’s smiles too.”
Xiao You sighed and let Shen Shen wriggle out of her arms and down. She watched her run off, probably to play with Wei Yi and Xiao Mei. She’d moved back in with San Chai and Dao Ming Si after her discharge from the hospital, and she still wondered if she’d made the right decision. Her temples began to pound from the stress of the conversation she’d just had with Shen Shen. It was so tiring to question every decision she made. It made her want to give in.
Her hands clenched. But how could she … how could she go back to him? Not after all he’d revealed that day.
FOUR MONTHS AGO …
Jing and Lei had immediately left after Shen Shen’s entry, leaving the two to their own devices. Xiao You was glad that they weren’t there to hear the entire truth about her relationship with Ximen. She wondered how many people knew what had gone on between her and Ximen. It could only be described as a very dysfunctional relationship.
Xiao You stared up at him. She could feel her heart tearing in two. She still couldn’t believe the words that had come out of his mouth. But she’d asked for it. You couldn’t hide from the truth, even if it wasn’t a truth you had forgotten. Tears had welled up in her eyes.
“And that’s the whole truth. You’re not hiding anything anymore?” No flashes of sudden memory had come pouring back with his revelations, but she somehow knew deep inside that he’d spoken the truth.
And it had been bleak. But she’d asked for it. She couldn’t forget that. She couldn’t blame him for their shared history.
Her crush on him. He even went into details about how she had chased him. That part was still embarrassing and didn’t get better with the retelling.
Xiao Gen and the billboard. That explained the little scene she remembered of him crying.
He’d told her about their glorious week together. That still made her blush. Glorious. That was the word he’d used. It amazed her that a man of his experience could call a week with little old her as glorious. That had made her happy. Until she’d heard the rest.
His proposal. Her tears. Her rejection.
And then why she’d rejected him. His father. The money.
He’d told her the sordid truth about his father, hiding nothing. A few words had painted the picture of just how cold, ruthless and manipulative of a man he had been.
How manipulative? This time Ximen revealed the full extent of his manipulations. Ximen revealed how she’d been blackmailed into coming back.
He’d hidden nothing. Including his behavior while she’d been gone. Even in the midst of her shock she’d felt flames of jealousy burning in her heart for those faceless women that had taken a part of him. But she hadn’t spoken, fearing how much her bitter words would reveal that jealousy.
And then he’d actually described the two years they’d been together. The details had been like a dagger in her heart. For a while she couldn’t breathe … couldn’t speak … couldn’t accept.
“You mean I put up with all that?” Xiao You had broken in incredulously. “Why the hell would I put up with such behavior? What was wrong with me? What inferiority complex did I have? San Chai may be the weed in your little F4 group,” Xiao You had pointed out indignantly, “but that doesn’t mean I’m some fragile flower to be stepped on. Why the hell would I have let you walk all over me?!” She’d practically shouted the last words. How could she degrade herself like that? It made her shudder to think about the woman she’d become in a past she couldn’t remember.
“Probably for the same reason I stayed with you for two years despite the fact that I thought you had only came back to me because my father paid you. The fact that I was faithful to you, touched only you … sought you in my triumphs … hated only you, even when I thought you were a gold-digger. You loved me as much as I loved you. And that meant that BOTH of us were willing to be unhappy together rather than being content with anyone else.”
“What kind of love is that?”
“It was our love,” he’d replied softly. “It wasn’t beautiful, but it was ours. And neither one of us was willing to give it up.” He put out a hand to smooth Shen Shen’s hair back into place.
Xiao You’s arms instinctively tightened around Shen Shen’s little body, and she looked up at Ximen questioningly.
There was a moment of hesitation. Almost imperceptible.
“No more lies,” she warned him softly, warning him that this was his last chance.
“You found out you were pregnant two years ago,” Ximen continued, sitting back down, moving away from her. “Thinking that I didn’t love you and couldn’t accept our child, you ran away with San Chai. That was the reason we separated.”
“San Chai? Why did San Chai run away?”
“Dao Ming Si and San Chai were having their own problem at the time. You’d have to ask her.”
Xiao You nodded, accepting that.
“And then? What happened then? Did you forget about me? Did you get a convenient bout of amnesia?” Xiao You asked.
“Forget about you? Forget?” He began to laugh at the irony of that statement. He raked his fingers through his hair, pulling it roughly back from his face. “I wish I could’ve forgotten,” he muttered without rancor. “All the bitterness. All the poison my father had injected into our relationship. All the mistrust. And the anger. I wish. But I didn’t forget.”
“I realized that even knowing what I thought I knew about you … I couldn’t live without you. I couldn’t live without my child. You were the only woman who would ever move my heart, and I swore to find you. It took me two years. Two years of cold loneliness … of trying to hold onto hope. Of waiting. Of wondering. I needed you everyday that you were gone.”
“And then I found you … I found our child. And I found out that you hated me. You’d erected barriers between us. And that hurt most of all. Because while it seemed that I needed you to live, you could live perfectly fine without me. I attacked your defenses and eventually … eventually you accepted me again. That was the happiest day of my life.”
“And then I had to go and ruin it all. Without a second thought, without any trust … I tore apart what we had.” He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Xiao You gazed at him, wanting to look into his eyes. But he was hiding those eyes.
“Why? How?” her voice was choked up with emotion. She tried to understand what he was telling her.
“I don’t know,” he murmured dejectedly. “I don’t know how it happened. And now you’ve forgotten everything.”
“You mean I chose to forget everything? This wasn’t the cause of an accident?” she asked in confusion.
He shook his head jerkily, revealing that her amnesia was more from emotional trauma than anything.
“What am I forgetting? Why am I suppressing our past?”
“I … don’t know,” Ximen finally said softly. “But even after all you’ve forgotten, you didn’t forget me. Please, please remember that,” he entreated softly, finally meeting her gaze. “You remembered our first meeting. That has to mean something, right? Xiao You?” he asked huskily.
Xiao You looked away from the soft glow in his eyes. What wasn’t he saying? What emotional trauma. Why this amnesia? What wouldn’t he tell her?
“I need to think about this,” Xiao You abruptly replied. She knew he wouldn’t tell her anymore. He wouldn’t lie to her, but he wasn’t telling her the complete truth either. And her hands were tied. She couldn’t risk her baby in her quest to find out more about the traumatic truth he was hiding from her.
“Xiao You, please,” his hand came up to brush her hair away from her face.
The response was instinctive. The movement sharp. Her hand flew up to slap his hand away. The noise was loud in the silent room, Shen Shen having fallen asleep a long time ago. He froze and then pulled away, his face expressionless.
“I’m sorry, but I need to think about this alone.”
He sighed in defeat.
“I’ll see you later.”
Later had never come. They hadn’t talked. They hadn’t even seen each other. She’d refused.
And in the end he had walked away. He’d stopped trying to speak with her.
Her heart clenched. Had he given up? On her? Had he given up on them? Did she want that? Was it for the better? Deep in her heart she knew that she still loved him and only him. She wanted to be with him. She needed to hear his voice … she needed to feel his touch … she needed to be surrounded by his warmth. But she was fighting those instincts with all her might.
The past made her feel so dirty. Their relationship was so complex. So tainted. Could their love really overcome all that had come before? She felt so vulnerable when she thought about putting her heart back in his hands … about trusting him once more.
She felt a gentle flutter in her womb. She smiled softly. The baby was kicking, trying to comfort her. He … she was sure it was a he … he could feel her distress and was trying to comfort her.
She felt a twinge. Ow. That hurt. She smoothed her hands over her stomach, trying to soothe the baby.
There was a brief, sharp spasm. Ouch. She doubled over, trying to breathe in the aftermath. She sat back, and then doubled over once more. There was a longer spasm. Intense pain. Spots had begun to appear before her eyes. She fought the dizziness. The blood was rushing to her head. She couldn’t afford to faint. She needed to get help. For her baby. Nothing could happen to her baby. Not her baby.
She tried to breathe, forcing herself to get up. Slowly, very carefully, she made her way toward the door and help. It was too early at six months. Only six months. Her baby had small chance of survival outside of her womb. She couldn’t lose this baby.
“San Chai,” she cried out weakly, pausing to catch her breath. “Help.” She began to move once more toward the door, clutching at her baby. “San Chai.” Reaching the intercom, she pressed a button, before falling against the wall, and sliding down to sit on the floor. Help would be on the way soon. They’d be safe. “It’ll be okay.”
The next few moments, before darkness rose up to envelope her were a jumble of thoughts and confusion. Nothing made sense. A chaotic flow of voices and images flashed through her mind. But most eerie of all she could hear a voice crying out in the back of her mind.
“Not again! Oh God, not again! Please not again.”
Xiao You slipped into unconsciousness with a sigh. But not before recognizing that it had been her voice saying those words.
“I want this blue jumper and blue crib,” Xiao You laughingly told the saleslady, pointing at the items in question.
“Are you sure? You don’t even know if it’s a boy.” San Chai’s voice asked teasingly from the side.
“I’m sure it is,” Xiao You replied confidently.
A memory? Was that a memory of when she’d been pregnant with Shen Shen? Her brow crinkled, and she moved slightly on the bed.
“See, I told you,” Xiao You crowed with delight. “The sonogram proves it. One baby boy on the way.”
“Wouldn’t you have rather been surprised?” San Chai asked, her arm around Xiao You’s waist.
“San Chai, I read the end of a book before I start it because I can’t stand the suspense. You think I’d wait a full nine months to find out about this ending?”
“Very happy,” Xiao You said happily. “At the end of nine months I’m going to have a beautiful baby boy. I’ll have me happy ending and that gives me peace. He’ll give me all the happiness and love that Ximen couldn’t give me.” Her voice broke on the last words.
When had that happened? She hadn’t wanted to know the sex of the baby. It was going to be a surprise. She liked surprises. Everyone liked surprises.
It had to be a dream.
“San Chai,” Xiao You ground out, her face red from the exertion. “I don’t think I can do this. He doesn’t want to come out.”
She stirred in the bed, panicking. Why was she giving birth? It wasn’t time. It couldn’t be time! It had only been six months. Her movements became more violent … more agitated as she tried to cope with the dreams.
“Stay awake, Ms. Yang. Don’t fall asleep. You have to push,” the doctor instructed.
Push. Push. Breathe.
Push? Why would she need to push? It was too early.
And why the worry? Why the order to stay awake? Who would fall asleep during a birth? Had Shen Shen’s pregnancy been complicated?
“If only she’d taken better care of her health. I don’t understand these women. Don’t they understand that prenatal care is important? The baby could’ve been saved if we’d caught this problem earlier. But she didn’t care. And look at her. She looks like she hasn’t taken care of herself either. She owed it to her child to take care of herself.”
What were they saying? She loved her baby. She took care of her baby and no one could say any different. This child would be healthy and loved.
How dare they say she wasn’t taking care of her baby?
It was a woman’s duty to take care of her body once she found out she was pregnant. It was a woman’s duty to ensure that the child remained healthy.
Xiao You stirred once more, trying to come out of the darkness. She was tired of just hearing voices. She needed to see the faces. She needed to fight and argue. The voices didn’t make sense. The words made no sense. She loved her baby and she would never, never hurt her baby. No mother would. She wanted to shout that … but … but her lips wouldn’t work. Her eyes wouldn’t open.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Yang, we couldn’t save the baby.”
“No! My baby!” Xiao You sprang up in bed, her panicked gaze going down to her stomach. He was still in there. Her baby was still with her. She could feel the soft flutters.
“Xiao You?” San Chai’s sleepy voice came from the chair in the corner.
“San Chai, my baby … my baby is okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” San Chai murmured softly, leaning over Xiao You to give her a kiss on the forehead. Her hand smoothed away Xiao You’s hair, now drenched with sweat, from her face. “The doctors did a full battery of tests, and everything is fine now. You don’t have to worry.”
San Chai quickly explained, taking care to emphasize that everything was okay now. “You don’t have to worry. The doctors just want you to rest more from now on and not to worry. And that also means no bad dreams.”
Xiao You nodded obediently. “My baby will be alright?” She needed the reassurance.
“Perfectly alright,” San Chai promised.
“I won’t lose it?”
“Of course you won’t lose it!” San Chai said hurriedly. “Don’t worry. It’s not good for the baby. They’re keeping you overnight for observation. We can take you home tomorrow.”
Xiao You nodded quietly, relaxing back in bed.
“Is there anything else you need?”
Xiao You hesitantly nodded.
“What is it?”
“Ximen … call him, San Chai.”
“Xiao You?” There was surprise and then swift understanding as Xiao You spoke again.
“I need him.”
Everyone Gets Scared
“She wants to see you,” San Chai said with a smile.
Ximen got up with a start, looking at her beseechingly. “You’re not …” He cleared his throat. “You’re not playing with me, are you?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Would I do something like that?” San Chai asked with a pout, crossing her arms in mock anger.
“Yes,” everyone stated in unison.
San Chai blinked in surprise. “Ah Si,” she began in a dark tone, heading toward her cowering husband. Everyone began to laugh as she started to hit him with a piece of paper. All present knew that she really wasn’t angry; otherwise she’d be hitting Ah Si with something a lot harder than a paper. San Chai was providing a way for everyone to de-stress through laughter after the tension Xiao You’s condition had created.
Ximen sat back down, suddenly weak at the knees.
No one should ever have to go through what had happened tonight. And Xiao You had gone through this once before. She’d been all alone. He hadn’t been at her side. He hadn’t been there to comfort her or to take her hand. He hadn’t been there to tell her everything would be okay and that they would still have each other even if God took away their child.
He raked his fingers through his hair, trying to regain control. He’d wanted to be there for her, but hadn’t had the courage to barge in. The guilt was beating at him. He hadn’t been there once before, and she’d lost their child. She hadn’t been able to deal with that reality. She hadn’t been able to get over that disappointment. When the news had come that Xiao You was in the hospital, his first thought had been about Xiao You. What if he lost her again?
His deepest fear had been that he would lose Xiao You forever this time.
He hadn’t seen her for months. Long months, where he’d tried to deal with his anxiety and his fear that something bad would happen because he wasn’t there during this pregnancy either. He’d become superstitious.
And now … now he was finally being given the chance. Xiao You needed him. She’d admitted it. His heart pounded with joy at that news.
But his legs wouldn’t work. He couldn’t move. Glancing around he saw the understanding in everyone’s eyes. They were all there. His family. Mother. His brothers and their significant others, his sister-in-laws now. All the little kids, who were now mostly asleep. Even Ching He and Mimi. They were all there, supporting him. Supporting Xiao You.
Rubbing his eyes in wariness, he got up. They’d been there over the past few months, giving him updates on Xiao You’s condition. Helping him to bear the distance from her. They’d comforted him … accompanied him through the lonely nights … and they’d never given up hope. And now, now he was finally being given the chance to see her.
Why wouldn’t his legs work?
Mei Zhou came over and pulled him up.
Lei grabbed him by the shoulders and began to steer him towards Xiao You’s room.
And Ah Si held the door open.
It seemed that he needed one final push from his brothers.
She was lying on the bed, her eyes closed. Her arms were wrapped around her stomach, cradling their child. Shen Shen lay in a cot next to her bed.
“Xiao You,” he murmured softly, not wanting to disturb her. Moving over, he leaned over the bed, wanting to get a closer look. Wanting to touch. To smell her scent once more. To … taste her on his lips.
It had been so long.
Reaching out hesitantly, he brushed the bangs away from her face.
Xiao You reached up and caught his hand before he could pull away.
“Ximen,” Xiao You whispered, holding his hand to her face, cradling it against her cheek.
“Hmm?” he murmured, leaning down to plant a kiss on her forehead. He wanted to take the chance before she awakened fully.
“You’re here,” she murmured, opening her eyes. “What took you so long?”
“I was waiting for you.”
There was a moment of silence and then she nodded.
“When this was happening,” she began softly, “All I could think was that I needed you. I needed you to be there with me and the baby. I felt that … if you weren’t … something horrible would happen.”
He nodded in understanding.
Taking his hand, she placed it on her stomach.
“I couldn’t understand the fear,” she finally murmured. “I’ve … I’ve been through this once before and I should be an old hand at this, but there was this choking … suffocating sensation in my throat when I thought of going through this alone. I knew that I wouldn’t breathe easy unless you were next to me.”
Ximen smiled when he felt the baby kick under his hand.
“I’m glad that you called for me,” he admitted. “I’m glad that you didn’t let my lies and mistakes stand in your way. I’m glad from the bottom of my soul,” he breathed out, “that I can be here to support you and my child. Thank you.”
She put up her hand in reply and gently pulled his head down to place a kiss against his lips.
“No matter what lies in our pasts,” she finally murmured, “All I know is that you’re the father of my children. And I love you. Nothing can change that reality. Thank you for coming when I called.”
She hugged him to her breast as the tears began to flow. His shoulders shook as he finally let go of the emotions he’d been holding deep inside.
“I love you.”
“Ximen?” she asked, playing with the ends of his hair.
“I want to name the baby Xiao Tian,” she confessed swiftly. “There’s something about that name … something that pulls at me. It gives me a feeling of warmth. I want to give our baby that name.”
Ximen abruptly pulled away in shock.
“You don’t like it?” she asked hesitantly.
“I … I love it,” he whispered hoarsely. “I’ll love whatever name you pick,” he said softly.
She smiled brightly, her relief evident in her eyes.
“Then Xiao Tian it’ll be.”
“Honey! I’m home.” Ximen’s voice rang out in the foyer.
“Are you ever going to tire of saying that?” Xiao You asked, coming up to plant a kiss on the offered cheek.
“Only when it gets old.”
“When what gets old?”
“Having you here. Finally. With me,” he murmured. He began to kiss her, silently urging her to open her mouth and accept his kiss. This was bliss. This was what it meant to be at peace. He finally got to sleep together with Xiao You every night, his arms wrapped around her. He was there to rub her back when it ached. He was there to help her out of bed when she needed to get up during the night. He went for the midnight runs when she got her cravings. He kept her warm and made her feel loved. He finally had a chance to support her.
And Xiao You was content. His presence had taken away all the nightmares. It was as if she had no more fears. She had never felt more secure in her life.
“Here,” he said, handing her a handful of pamphlets and pushing her toward the dining room. “Let’s lay all these out.”
“What is it?”
“Stuff to help us plan the wedding,” he informed her, spreading the papers out.
“Ximen, can’t we wait?” she whined, jumping up. “I’m only going to have one wedding!” she protested violently. “If we start now and it takes a month to plan … I’ll be at eight months when we have our wedding! And I don’t want to look fat and dumpy in my wedding photos!”
“You’ll look like an angel,” he promised, pulling her into his arms.
“Why can’t we wait?”
“We just can’t.”
“Because I’m afraid that if I don’t tie you to me right now, you’ll be snatched away,” he answered in a driven tone.
She froze at the emotion ringing in his voice.
“My heart can’t take this anymore, Xiao You,” he murmured softly. “I need to know that you’re mine before you have this baby. We would’ve been married years ago if it hadn’t been for my father’s manipulative actions. I could’ve … would have proudly called you my own. I don’t want to act like I have anything to hide anymore. I want us to be tied together. I want us to declare our love in front of our family and friends. I want this. I need this.”
“You really need for this to happen?” she asked softly.
He nodded, his hand coming up to cradle her cheek gently. “With every particle of my being.”
“Fine. But you take care of the details.”
“But don’t you want to plan your dream wedding?”
“Ximen,” she said with a laugh, “I can’t remember anything about our past. Who I was in those four years. The dreams I dreamt about us. Exactly what I wanted for our future. It’s all a blank slate. How would I know what my dream wedding was? All I know is that I had never given my future wedding any serious thought at all. Not from what I can remember.”
“You didn’t even think about it with your first boyfriend?” he asked quizzically.
“With Zhong Ze? God no. Even when I liked him, I didn’t see any happily ever afters for us. You take care of it.”
Ximen hesitated, and then nodded. “I promise you that I’ll give you the wedding of your dreams,’ he declared before picking up all the pamphlets.
“Where are you going?”
“To the one person who knows you better than I do.”
“You don’t mean …”
“San Chai,” he said with a nod.
“One dream dress?” her voice rang out in the silent room.
“Done,” he replied. “Exactly like the one Xiao You loved in that two year old edition of Vogue.”
“You’re the maid of honor,” he replied. “Xiao Qiao and Jing will be her bridesmaids. Exactly as she planned three years ago.”
“The cutest little girls in the bunch.”
“And that is?” her voice was suspicious bland.
“Your daughter, along with Shen Shen, of course,” he said quickly.
She nodded in satisfaction.
“Wei Yi is the oldest male child,” he mused out loud. “Are you sure he can take on the responsibility?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“Well, he is Ah Si’s child and I’ve noticed …”
“He’s a bit … forgetful.”
She nodded thoughtfully.
“While I’m sure that he’ll grow out of that eventually, I do see that tendency in him now,” the doting mother agreed thoughtfully. “Why don’t we have Lei’s little one keep an eye on the ring, as well?”
“I chose the church you mentioned,” he said, leaning back. “Xiao You used to go there every day?”
“Yep. Even though she wasn’t Catholic, she loved the serenity in that church. She felt at peace when she was there. She mentioned that church a lot when we left here,” San Chai said softly. “She missed that serenity in the last two years. She wanted to feel it again. She told me she’d even want to get married in that church because when she pledged her heart to another, she wanted her heart to be at its most peaceful. I still can’t believe she’s forgotten everything.”
“Food?” Her voice was sharp, as if to counteract the emotions that had been there a moment before.
“Her favorite dishes, along with mine. And the cake is the exact replica from the picture you gave me. I still can’t believe you remember it.”
“Well, we’d just started at the bakery and it was our first wedding order. She absolutely fell in love with that cake. The only reason I remember is that we had a big argument over it. I thought the profusion of strawberries was a bit tacky.”
“There were a lot of strawberries,” he agreed. “I put Ah Si in charge of that since he was mesmerized by the concept, and bummed out that you guys didn’t have that exact cake for your wedding.”
“Yeah, we really missed out,” she agreed dryly.
“I have wondered,” he began thoughtfully.
“What’s his fascination with strawberries? Don’t think I haven’t noticed his pajamas. I have to admit that was the first time I saw a male wearing strawberries.”
“Ask him,” she barked out with a blush. “Best man?”
“Ximen, who’s your best man?”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t picked one!”
“You need a best man,” she said insistently.
“Well, all three of them are my best friends. I talked to each hoping that two would say they didn’t want to be stuck with best man duties, but the bastards all said they expected to be my best man. How am I supposed to pick?”
“Well, Ah Si picked. Lei picked. Mei Zhou picked. What’s so hard this time?”
“Well, I’m the last one getting married,” he finally said. “And all three think this occasion is extra special.”
“Idiots,” she muttered.
“What if I pick all three?” he asked hopefully.
“No, that won’t work. They can be groomsmen, but not all three can be your best man. Then the idiots would pout over the separation of duties. And we can’t trust Dao Ming Si with too much responsibility.”
“You shouldn’t be saying that.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“You’re his wife! You’re supposed to be praising him to me.”
“I don’t want my husband ruining my best friend’s wedding day,” she protested. “Well, Lei was best man once, at Mei Zhou’s wedding. And Mei Zhou got to be best man twice when you got appendicitis. We can’t trust Ah Si. He’s already lost my engagement ring twice and my wedding ring once. I can’t trust him to get you to the church on time. I don’t even want to think about where you’d end up.”
“So?” he asked.
“So, it’ll have to be Lei again.”
“Ah Si’s going to kill you,” Ximen murmured.
“If he hears how you’ve been talking about him. Such disrespect for the leader of F4.”
“But we won’t tell him, will we?”
“I won’t have to tell him anything.”
“He’s standing right behind you.”
She sighed softly, taking off her earrings.
“What’s wrong?” he murmured against her hair, placing a soft kiss before pulling away. “Tired?”
“No.” Xiao You leaned back against him, seeking his warmth. “Why wasn’t Ah Si speaking to San Chai?”
“He wanted to be best man and San Chai said no,” he explained with a laugh.
“It was just so beautiful … just like a dream. You knew exactly what I wanted even when I didn’t.”
“That’s because we know you.” His hands began to unbutton the million and one buttons on the back of her dress.
“Doesn’t it scare you?” she asked after a moment of silence.
“What?” he murmured, nuzzling her ear.
“I still don’t remember anything. According to the doctors, I might never remember our time together. I might never remember falling in love with you … our past … our memories are all gone. Doesn’t that scare you?”
“Why would it scare me?” he asked, turning her around to look at him.
“Without my memories … I’m not the Xiao You you fell in love with.”
“Your memories about relationship don’t make you the Xiao You I love,” he replied. “You’re my Xiao You, and even if you’ve forgotten everything about us except for the last few months, it makes no difference. You fell in love with me in two months, so what do those four years matter?” He planted a swift kiss against her lips.
“What now?” he asked teasingly, beginning to tickle her.
“We can’t go on a honeymoon,” she complained. “I wanted to go away to some exotic location with you.”
“It’s too close to the end of your pregnancy. We can’t risk anything,” he reminded her.
“I know, but it’s tradition. Nothing bad will happen just because we didn’t fulfill this tradition, right?” she asked worriedly.
“What else could go wrong?” he asked in an ironic tone. “Anyways, we’re together. That’s all we need, right. You. Me. And Shen Shen. That’s all we need.”
She got up and sidled into her granny nightgown, shivering from the cold.
“I feel so dumpy … I’m so big,” she suddenly complained, staring down at her tummy. “How can you stand to look at me?” she wailed, “I disgust myself.”
He stared, surprised at her sudden mood change and then shrugged his shoulders. He’d gotten used to her mood swings in the past few months.
Pulling her close he began to cuddle her. “I’ve never loved you more … never wanted you more. It’s only the baby keeping me away from you. Feel,” he ordered, placing her hands against his hardness.
She blushed a fiery red, pulling back, as if burned. She stared at him in surprise, still blushing. Looking down, she gasped.
“Was it that shocking?” He asked.
She frantically shook her head.
She stared at him.
“I think … my water just broke.”
“Ximen the baby is coming. He’s early. I’m scared. I don’t know why,” she murmured distractedly, “I feel like something’s going to go wrong. I feel like we’ll lose Xiao Tian. Why do I feel that way?” she asked in confusion. “Shen Shen’s birth wasn’t like that.”
“Everyone gets scared at a time like this, but the trick is not to be scared alone,” he said reassuringly, quickly picking her up.
“Ximen, what are you doing?! I can walk. I’m not an invalid,” Xiao You squealed loudly.
“Xiao You, sit back and relax. Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Ximen grunted.
“Small stuff?” Her hands came up to wrap around his neck, holding him close for comfort.
“Like walking to the hospital and then to your hospital bed. Checking in. Settling in,” he replied. “I’ll take care of that and you worry about the big stuff. Just remember this,” he ordered as he gently placed her in the car.
“What?” she said, beginning to pant from a contraction.
“You’re not alone. Not this time.”
Stay With Me
The pain was unbearable, the contractions coming hard and fast.
“Ximen, it hurts,” Xiao You cried out, her breath coming harshly. “I can’t … I can’t. Help me. Help me … help our child … I can’t let him down. Not this … time.” Confusion raced across her face as she tried to assimilate the words she had just spoken. This time? She tried to clear her mind, trying to focus through the maelstrom of emotions and sensations coursing through her mind and body.
“You have to stay awake,” Ximen grated out, his heart pumping in fear. Grabbing onto her hands, he shook them, trying to return her attention to him as her gaze grew distant and vague. “Look at me and don’t pay attention to anything else.” His voice was harsh as it ordered her to concentrate. “Just breathe,” he murmured, urging her to mimic his motions. They began to breathe together as he desperately tried to calm her down.
The doctors were already in the room, ready for the birth. She was fully dilated, but the baby wouldn’t come. Something was wrong. Seriously wrong.
“Ximen, I… don’t forget I love you,” she murmured tiredly. “Take care of … take care of Shen Shen and yourself. Don’t … don’t blame yours—,” her words were becoming more and more slurred as the energy drained from her body. She had been in labor for 24 hours now and she’d begun to lose the will to fight.
“Can’t you do something?!” he shouted at the medical staff, before turning to lean over Xiao You, looking into her beloved face. “Xiao You! Wake up! Don’t go to sleep! Please, I don’t want to lose you.” His breath came out in a sob, the sweat dripping onto her face from his. He gently wiped it away, running his fingers through her sweat-soaked hair. “Don’t leave us.”
According to what San Chai had said, it was the same. Everything was happening in the same way. The doctors had suggested a C-section immediately, but Xiao You was worried about the ramifications and had insisted on a natural birth. Her stubborn will had won against the doctor’s advice. Ximen wished he’d tried harder … he wished he’d found a way to convince her.
He didn’t want to lose Xiao You. He didn’t want to lose their child. His heart rapidly beat in fear, his hands trembling as he tried to grapple with the situation.
“Mr. Ximen, this isn’t good. If we can’t get her to wake up,” the doctor began hesitantly.
“Xiao You! Wake up! We need you to work with us. Try harder for Xiao Tian!”
She jerked out of sleep, and began to strain once more … trying to take the breaths he’d ordered her to take. “I can do this … I have to do this,” she muttered through gritted teeth, her hand weakly clutching at his. “We have to do this, Ximen. We have to protect the baby. We have to protect Xiao Tian.”
Leaning down he planted a swift kiss on her forehead, nodding eagerly. He began to breathe along with her, grimacing in pain as her hold on him tightened. But the burst of energy wasn’t enough. She quickly began to fade away once more.
“Ximen,” Xiao You ground out, her face red from the exertion, “I don’t think I can do this. He doesn’t want to come out.” As she spoke the words, she heard an echo. An echo? Her brow crinkled in confusion. It was her voice … repeating the exact same phrase. When … when had she said those words?
“Xiao You,” Ximen shouted desperately into Xiao You’s ear, “you have to do this,” he murmured desperately, gripping the limp hand tightly. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the echoes surging through her head. Ximen’s voice was overlaid by San Chai’s. “You can’t leave your baby. Think of him and only him. You want to hold him in your arms, don’t you? Xiao You, please, he needs you to work a little harder,” Ximen pleaded. “He needs you. We need you … I need you.”
“Stay awake, Ms. Yang. Don’t fall asleep. You have to push,” the doctor instructed. Ximen could feel Xiao You slipping away. His hands gripped hers, wanting to keep her awake with the strength of his will, but even he couldn’t prevent her eyes from closing and the world from darkening around her.
“Xiao You! Xiao You! Wake up! Don’t leave me!” Ximen’s voice … crying out to her in the darkness. There was such pain and loneliness in that voice … she wanted to answer … she needed to answer, but her lips wouldn’t move.
“Ximen,” she whispered softly before letting the darkness take her away. “Ximen.”
“Shen Shen wanted to visit you today but we were afraid all the tubes connected to you would scare her too much. San Chai took her again today, but she’s really worried about her. Shen Shen misses her mommy. Shen Shen’s daddy misses you too.”
Ximen’s voice. She tried to concentrate.
“It’s been two days since you went to sleep. The doctors can’t find anything wrong with you … at least no medical reason. They say you’re just resting. They’re useless. The bastards. What do they know? They should’ve taken better care of you. If you’d had better medical care then you would never have slipped into this coma from exhaustion. Why didn’t they act faster? I’m going to make sure neither one of them practices in all of Asia ever again. They failed you.”
That was Ximen. That was F4. Threatening and roaring when things didn’t go their way and seeking to punish someone … anyone when things went wrong. Even if it was God’s will. She smiled slightly.
“You have to wake up,” he murmured desperately after a pause.
Sensation against her hand … his lips caressing her skin. His hand cradling hers against his cheek.
“Shen Shen needs you. I need you. I can’t live without you. Not again. A world without you is not a world worth living in.” Another sensation. Wet droplets were falling against the hand cradled against his cheek … Ximen’s tears.
“Please wake up. Please.” A broken sob.
The sound broke her heart, giving her the will to move slightly. Her fingers fluttered lightly against his cheek, trying to give comfort.
“Xiao You?” his voice was incredulous as he tried to grapple with the miracle. “Xiao You, you’re awake?” He lightly shook her hand, and she fluttered her fingers in response. “Doctor! Nurse! Anyone! She’s awake! Xiao You’s awake! Someone get your ass in here now and check on my wife!”
She smiled slightly. That was her Ximen, demanding attention like a little boy with no expectation of waiting. The effort to move had exhausted her. She began to sink back into sleep. There was something she wanted to tell him … something important. There was something she wanted to ask him … but they’d take care of all of that later. It would have to wait since she could no longer stay awake.
She turned to stare at the flowers and fruit stuffed in every corner of the room. “Everyone went a bit overboard, didn’t they?” she asked with a weak smile. He ignored the comment, staring deep into her eyes. His eyes were focused on the lingering sadness he saw in that gaze. The others had just left after being allowed a brief visit with her. San Chai had taken Shen Shen with her, wanting to give the two some private time together. They’d promised to come back with a full report on Baby Ximen. Xiao You hadn’t been allowed to see him yet.
“No more kids,” he suddenly said, striding down to glare at her mulishly. “Two is enough.”
“But … I thought you always wanted four. Two boys and two girls.” There was a mild protest in the tone. She wasn’t really worried about his proclamation. All new fathers went through this phase.
“That was before I saw the toll it would take on you. I can’t put your life at risk anymore. It’s not worth it. Twice was enough.”
He was at a loss for words when he heard the question.
She sighed softly, and her lips began to tremble before she tightened them.
“Xiao You, what’s wrong?” His voice demanded an answer.
She lifted her gaze to stare into his eyes. Her fingers clenched briefly into fists before she finally opened her lips to answer. “I’m just … remembering.”
“The past. We’ve had a rocky history, huh?”
“You remember …,” he began in astonishment, the surprise clear in his voice.
“Everything,” she replied quietly. “I guess I was ready. I remember the beginning of our relationship … falling in love with you and that wonderful week we had together.” She smiled softly. “I remember your father. The money. My family being forced to leave Taiwan,” she said in a dark tone, turning her face away once more to look out the hospital window. “All of our history. Two years together. The two years apart.”
“But we’re together now. You fell in love with me even when you didn’t remember,” he broke in desperately. He was beginning to be afraid. What did this mean? Was this the beginning of a rejection? Were the memories too bitter … bitter enough to take away the sweetness of their love?
She looked at him and smiled in agreement. “We belong together. If nothing else, our history shows me that. I was just … remembering.”
“Don’t you want to see our baby? They should be done with him by now,” he said suddenly, trying to change the subject. He wanted to wipe away the sadness clouding her eyes. He wanted to see her happy once more.
She nodded eagerly.
He charged out of the room, a man bent on a mission. She could hear his voice demanding assistance. Xiao You wanted to see her baby, and nothing would get in the way of that. Typical Ximen.
“I counted. Ten toes. Ten fingers. Everything accounted for. One healthy little baby boy, just like you expected … prayed for. Be careful, I was told it’s his lunchtime. A nurse will be in to assist you with the first feeding.” He sat back and watched as the nurse came in to assist. And then finally they were alone. Him and Xiao You and their son. His eyes teared as he saw her cradling his son to her breast for the first time. The child began to root away at her eagerly, seeking the nourishment he could only get from his mother’s body. Her hand came up to gently cradle the little head and she turned to smile at Ximen, sharing this moment … her sense of wonder with him.
“So, we name him Xiao Tian?” he finally asked. “I wouldn’t let them fill out the birth certificate until you woke up. I didn’t care about the regulations. I needed you to name our child.”
“No, we can’t name him Xiao Tian,” she said with finality. “That’s not his name.”
“Xiao You?” His voice revealed his confusion.
“How can we name him that?” she asked him.
“I don’t understand.”
“Ximen,” she said softly, “Xiao Tian was his brother’s name.”
Ximen’s eyes widened in horrified surprise. What did this mean? “You remember …?”
“Like I said, Ximen, I remember everything,” she finished gently. “Everything means everything.” There was incredible grief in her eyes as she finally allowed him to see all the emotions running through her.
“You remember our first child?” His voice was hoarse as he tried to grapple with the ramifications.
Tears began to flow from her eyes. “Every little thing.”
“And that Shen Shen’s not our …?” His voice trailed off, unsure of how to finish that sentence.
“She is. She is our daughter … even if I didn’t give birth to her. She’s ours, Ximen,” Xiao You insisted.
He quickly nodded in agreement.
“Her father entrusted her to me … he was a heartbroken man and he saw that I needed her and could give her something that he was no longer capable of giving to any living being after his wife died. My love.”
“And with all of those memories swirling around in your head … why are you so calm? Why didn’t you say anything?” he finally asked in confusion. “How can you deal with this so calmly?”
Xiao You sat on the beach, enjoying the breeze. It was so beautiful here, like a tropical paradise. She enjoyed the sensation of the sand between her toes, staring out at the deep blue sea. She didn’t want to move one bit from this location. Lying back, she relaxed. She didn’t question why the beach was deserted or why she was here all alone. It didn’t matter. She felt so at peace. She’d been so tired. She didn’t remember why, but the fatigue had nearly drowned her. But now … all the fatigue was gone. She felt rested.
She just wanted to stay here forever. Nothing would compel her to move.
She felt a momentary coolness and then the hot sun was shining down on her body once more. A shadow had blocked out the sun. Opening her eyes swiftly, she saw a figure moving down the beach. She squinted, trying to see who it was.
“Ximen! Ximen!” She ran after the figure walking along the beach and hugged him from behind. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Why didn’t you stop when I called you?”
He laughed softly and turned around to stare down into her eyes.
She exclaimed in shock and pulled away. “You’re not Ximen.”
He shook his head in agreement.
“Who … who are you?” she asked hesitantly, seeing an alien sort of familiarity in his features.
“Don’t you recognize me?” he finally asked, cradling her face in his hands.
Her brow crinkled in confusion.
“I’m Xiao Tian, your son,” he clarified, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs.
“Xiao Tian, my … son?” She winced as reality began to filter into the peaceful world she’d created for herself. “Did something happen?” she cried out suddenly, clutching at him.
“No, nothing happened. I’m your first child,” he said gently.
“My first child? But Shen Shen …”
He gently shook his head in negation, cutting her off. “No. You know that’s not the truth.”
Tears began to flow as memories struck hard and fast. The feeling of peace crumbled into pieces around her as full reality finally drove through and shattered her illusions. She fell to the floor. Her hands burrowed into the sand, her body beginning to tremble. “I lost you … it was my fault. Look at you. You’re all grown up … you look just like your father. You would’ve been just like your father. And because of me you’ll never have that chance out there in the real world. If I’d taken better care of you …’
“You took the best care of me,” he interjected softly, sitting down beside her and putting an arm around her shoulders. “You were the best mother … even if I never met you out there … even if you never saw me grow up, I was in your womb for nine months. I was next to your heart. You cared for me … loved me … cherished me. You think I don’t know that? Don’t blame yourself anymore. I never blamed you.”
She shook her head in denial. “No … you’re just saying that. If I’d taken better care of you, I wouldn’t have lost you.”
“Stop it, mom.” He gently shook her, pulling her out of her daze. “It wasn’t my time to be born. Stop blaming yourself for something that was already decided.”
He kissed her on the forehead. She hugged him tightly, relishing his warmth … his scent … so similar to his father’s. He pulled back finally. Getting up, he held out a hand to her. Capturing her offered hand, he gently pulled her up and brushed the sand from her clothes and turned her around to face the other direction. He pushed her gently, urging her to move.
“You can’t stay sitting anymore. I know you’re tired, but you have to start walking. Goodbye,” he murmured in her ear.
She whirled around to look at him.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not going anywhere. You are.”
“But I want to stay here with you,” she protested.
“You can’t stay here. You don’t belong here. You have to go back. They’re waiting.”
“Dad. Shen Shen. Spongey, although I think that was just cruel.”
“Spongey?” She shook her head, driving away irrelevant thoughts. “But I don’t want to leave you.”
“You have to. I don’t want you to stay here.”
He began to fade away … she threw out her hands, trying to grab onto him. “I don’t want to say goodbye, Xiao Tian.”
“Don’t worry. It won’t be forever. We’ll see each other again.”
“Xiao You?” Ximen asked anxiously, shaking her still figure. He snapped his fingers in front of her face, trying to bring her out of her trance. “Where did you go?”
“I was just remembering … a dream,” she said softly.
His hand came out to cradle her cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call a doctor so they can do a check-up? Remembering the past might have adverse consequences.”
“No, Ximen. I’m finally strong enough to deal with it all,” she reasoned implacably. “I have you. I have Shen Shen. I have our new baby … this new chance. You’re all here to support me, but I also know you all needed me. I couldn’t break down … not anymore. Also …”
“I had our baby to comfort me. Xiao Tian helped me.”
She reached out a hand and his hand came out to grip hers tightly in response. Leaning forward, he kissed her softly on the lips and, leaning down, he kissed the crown of their baby boy’s head.
“While giving birth, I remembered the truth about that past birth … it was hard to deal with. I was horrified by the parts I understood, but mostly I was confused. When I was … asleep, Xiao Tian came to me and helped me to view everything from a, I guess, an emotional distance. And suddenly it didn’t hurt anymore in here,” she whispered, placing a hand over her heart and then moving it to cover her son’s head. “I could remember our baby without it tearing me apart. The ache deep inside my heart … the pain that I hadn’t even known was there … suddenly disappeared. I only recognized that it had always been there because of its sudden absence.”
“You’re really okay?”
“I’m fine,” she reassured him. “I can finally move on … to live my life. I can finally let go of the guilt that was eating me up inside. It wasn’t my fault.”
“You’re right, it wasn’t your fault,” he quickly agreed, his hand tightening around hers. “It was something that just happened … it was nobody’s fault.”
“I will always love our first child … I will always remember Xiao Tian, now that I can do so without breaking down, but it really is time to move on,’ she repeated softly.
He nodded in agreement.
Her hands clenched.
“I love you,” she whispered. “I love Shen Shen. And I love this baby.”
“I love you, too. You’re my heart … my everything. I’ve almost lost you so many times that I think I’m getting a phobia about it,” he joked, leaning down to plant a kiss on her forehead. “Now I think we should hurry up and pick a name for this baby.”
“Because if we don’t, Shen Shen’s already picked out one. I don’t think our boy would want to go through life being called Spongebob, no matter how popular the show is.”
Xiao You giggled softly. “Oooh, don’t make me laugh. I’m still sore.”
He smiled softly in delight, happy to see her so carefree.
“And the thing is … I think Wei Yi and Ah Si are both rooting for that name too since they both love the show. And since this is the Dao Ming Maternity Ward, I’d really be worried about the dangers of our baby actually ending up with that name despite our wishes.”
Xiao You’s soft chuckles erupted into full-blown laughter interspersed with groans. “I’m going to kill you Ximen Zhong Er Lang. I told you not to make me laugh.”
Ximen stared down at Xiao You and his child. The door opened behind them and Shen Shen came running in, demanding to have Spongey back because he’d been too long with mommy and daddy. He watched as his daughter daintily sat down by the sleeping baby and cooed along with her mother over him.
His circle was complete. He was finally complete.
Xiao You looked up and caught his eye and smiled gently, knowing exactly what he was thinking. ‘I love you,’ she silently mouthed to him.
‘I love you.’
His circle was truly complete. His heart knew only joy because he knew that their happily ever after was finally here.