The sister

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Try and get along, said Hooney to me, and I made a promise to him I'll do my best to behave. He gave me a skeptical look which I returned with a smile.

"What? You don't trust me?" I murmured with the softest breath.

He let out a deep sigh. "Well, you know how you are...you're stubborn and quick to retort."

"You know I'm not one to start the trouble. I don't bite unless provoked." I argued.

I found him working up another tender smile. "I know, Hui. But you're a bit spicy when you're angry."

"Perhaps you should let Niang know not to piss me off."

A soft laughter, his arms draped around the smalls of my back and tucked me in closer to his body. "She already knows not to mess with you, but I can't help when catfight erupts because of me. Sassy felines don't get along. All I could do is break up a fight."

"Bet, you would like that, won't you?" I purred, my lips hovered close to his mouth, even though I found his cockiness a bit repelling.

"You know the last thing I need is two women fighting over me." He moaned.

I loosened my hug and freed him from my arms. "Oh, shut up. Niang couldn't even look at you directly in the eyes." I think I stroked his ego well enough for today.

"What's the matter? Something I said?" He asked, his voice pained with my rejection. He grasped for my arms again and tied them around his waist. "Come back and snuggle with me. We are not done, yet."

"Oh, I think we are." I retorted.

"No, we're not. Forgive me, but a man sometimes likes to dream about women fighting over him."

"Is that so?"

"Yes."

"Then, I'll fight any wench who come close to you."

"You better. Someone might steal me away from you, you know."

"Oh, I wouldn't know what to do if I ever lose you."

"That's why you should hold me and never let me go." Hooney crooned.

I smiled and held him for as long as he wanted...which was all night long.

*****

I was surprised when things turned out to be quite peaceful between me and Niang. Our quarters are on opposite ends of the manor which made our run-in with each other quite infrequent. That is how we preferred it and each time we crossed paths, she greeted me with a quip of a smile and a polite regard which consisted mostly of our minimal interaction. I was happy. I expected a war, a mean first wife whom I had to tiptoe around and avoid as much as I can when I came home into someone who couldn't care less.

Or was it a deception?

Niang was often followed by numerous aids tending to her while Meiling was assigned to my side. I found out Niang is the imperial's Minister of Defense's daughter who closely work with the Emperor and Crown Prince Yuan himself, the husband of Ai, Hooney's beautiful sister.

Li He, even though still involved with my life, isn't closely looking after me as he once did. I was his little sister that's no longer his problem. I'm now Hooney's headache. Although Li He still enjoyed my company and often wandered to my end of the manor during his free time. He spoke to me about his concerns and his endless ranting about his job...and of course...his wife.

Our closeness didn't go unnoticed, and soon, silent murmurs about him and I closely interacting and mingling with each other became the heavy gossip among the servants. No one knew of Li He's secret except Hooney. No one knew we're siblings except Hooney.

We were at the corridor one evening, Li He had finished with his duties for the day and decided to come for a visit. He brought my favorite rice cake for a snack, while I prepared warm tea for us to share. We were deep in our regular banter, laughing like careless children when Niang along with her personal aids made a casual stroll on my side of the manor.

Her looming presence cast a long shadow behind us. Li He and I turned around and saw her standing behind.

"Niang." I murmured casually and politely as I regarded her rank as Hooney's wife. "What a surprise to see you in this side of the manor. What can I do for you?"

She observed me and Li He for what felt like an eternity, before speaking in her signature disinterested voice. "Oh, nothing in particular. I was strolling along the courtyard, stretching my legs when I came upon you, and adviser Li He here." Her glance glided over to Li He who blushed at the lingering attention of an elegant woman.

I felt the sudden urge to smack him.

"Care to join us?" I invited out of pleasantry and otherwise lack of an alternative to say. I knew exactly what she's thinking. The same thing as everyone is already thinking. The same thought Hooney had before he knew Li He and I were brother and sister.

"No. I just wanted to say hi, that's all." She murmured before casually turning around to walk away.

I turned to Li He and he gave me a shrug. That visit was rather weird and rather tensed. Li He and I predicted what's going to happen. "You know she'll probably tell on us to Hooney." I murmured.

Li He kicked his feet and laughed, munching loudly on his rice cracker. "You know, with as many people mistake us for lovers, we could probably make a living pretending to be one."

I laughed with him. "It's amazing how no one can tell. We both have your father's eyes."

Li He relaxed his shoulders and leaned on his elbows, staring up in the darkening blue sky. His eyes shined with melancholy nostalgia. "He's your father too, Hui. He treated you nothing less than his own daughter."

I fell into a solemn silence.

"Have you always known?" I asked it seemed like the perfect moment to ask.

"No." He murmured, and I watched the bob of his throat as he spoke. "I didn't found out until father was on his deathbed. He asked me to take care of you. He knew the world would be cruel to his daughter once he's gone and he needed someone to protect her."

I believed Li He was telling me the truth.

"Once I found out, it felt like the world had shed its skin and everything I knew growing up was a lie. I never knew my father was having an affair with your mother. I never in my wildest thought you were my sister." He laughed bitterly. "I was angry at my father, but then at the same time, I felt relieved. All my infatuation over you vanished overnight and replaced with comforting security. Suddenly, it all made sense. " He looked at me and smiled. "You were my sister."

I smiled back at him and I think he already knew those feelings were mutual. "Li He..." I whispered.

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