Deal or no deal

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Finally, Li He lifted his head, his nose crinkled with disgust. "Eww...what're you talking about? That's disgusting! Hui is my little sister!"

All Hooney's suspicion dissolved and replaced with validity. Anger claimed him ready to strike Li He with his fist, holding himself back from punching the other man. It was the thought of Hui's reaction that held him back, how upset his servant would be.

Now, he understood all those times when she denied the relationship he pressed on her. All those times he tried to get her to admit to it only to fail over and over. Everything came clear as day, those two were not lovers, they were siblings. Close siblings.

Hooney snarled. "How could you? How could you let your mother and your wife treat her like that? How could you even continue treating her as a slave even after knowing she's your sister?!" He bellowed through his clenched teeth and yanked Li He to his feet. "You're lucky I was the one who bought her. It could have been any human trader! She could have been sold to prostitution or worse! Dead by now!"

"I'm sorry...I'm trying to make it up, it isn't that easy trying to protect my father's honor while trying to protect her at the same time!"

Hooney loosened a shaky breath, trying to calm down from his rage. He let Li He down and let go of his rumpled robe. Hooney walked back around to his desk, red and shaking. He tried steadying himself and weighted his grave eyes on Li He. "So, you let an innocent girl suffer for your dead father's honor?"

Li He snorted. "I'm sure you're aware of our tradition. Family's honor is important to people like us."

Hooney sucked his breath and argued no further. "I will sell her back to you in one condition."

A flicker of hope brightened Li He's face and leaned over eagerly. "What is it? Name your prize."

"Let her be my concubine. Her freedom will be my dowry." Hooney offered.

Li He's throat bobbed. "No, she needs a husband. She doesn't need to be a concubine. She'll forever feel rejection. There's only sadness waiting for her if she's to be nothing but a concubine."

Hooney scoffed and shifted on his chair. "You know I couldn't marry a girl like her. My entire family would be opposed to it! My uncle is the emperor for crying out loud!... I could give her a better life even as a concubine."

"No, she needs a husband." Said Li He sternly. "It doesn't have to be you! Sell her to me, I mean her well, she's my sister and I love her dearly. I will find her a good husband."

"Come now, brother. Think about it. I'm wealthy and I like her...a lot!" Hooney tried loosening his tight muscles into a grin.

"Brother?" Li He dead-panned.

"Yes."

"No."

"Then, I cannot guarantee a deal. I can keep Hui here in the manor safe and close to me as my servant. I will take care of her."

"You may as well doom her to a lifetime of unhappiness!" Li He snarled. "What're you going to do? Have children with her and doom your own children to the same fate as their mother? It makes you no better than any of us!"

"The concubine spot is open." Hooney murmured, reminding the stubborn man.

"Wife!" Upset, Li He yanked himself straight to his feet, dissatisfied. He needn't be shown the door as he excused himself grudgingly out.

*****

I was leaned on the wall waiting for the meeting to be over when Li He brushed through like an ill-tempered storm. I heard their rising voices during the conversation and I could tell just by how fast and how stiff he walked that he was upset.

"Li He!" I called out as I pushed away from the wall and scampered after him.

He turned his head at the sound of my voice and stopped. "Hui."

"What happened?" I asked.

I could see Li He is trying to calm down. His jaws were tensed, and his eyes filled with anger. Whatever they discussed, it didn't favor him at all.

"Nothing." He forced a smile. "I simply talked to him about some issues."

My forehead knotted into a frown, I could tell when Li He lies, and I knew he was lying. "What issue?"

"It's nothing for you to be concerned about." He paused, his lip twitched. There's a lot of thoughts clashing in his mind, and I knew I couldn't get any more out of him. Li He doesn't want to tell me anything and if I pry more, he'll just get mad and tell me to go away.

He waited, giving me an opportunity to say something, but I couldn't think anymore, not when I could tell he's clearly upset. I stepped back and let him on his way.

Li He walked away while I walked back to master Hooney's office to find him just as rattled. His head inclined up to me from his desk as soon as I walked in. "Sit down, Hui."

I closed the door quietly and took my usual spot on the wooden bench by the wall. Lowering myself to it carefully, minding the stiff air still swirling inside his office. I saw that master Hooney was staring at me, curiosity-filled in the way his eyes followed me from the moment I walked in until I sat on the bench.

His gaze made my stomach flutter, and this attention somehow made me nervous. I returned his gaze.

"Do you know who your father is?" Master Hooney asked silently.

I found his question bewildering, I don't know what groped his interest all of a sudden. "No, I don't. Mother told me he died before I was born."

"I see." He murmured and forced a smile, the same force smile Li He showed me.

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