Granny didn’t seem to like Xiao Shi. She was an extremely honest old lady. If she didn’t like someone, it showed on her face. Xiao Shi had brought some of Granny’s favorite snacks. Granny didn’t spare them a single glance. She tugged at my wrist instead.
“My dear Sheng Sheng, it’s so boring here. Let’s go home.”
I smiled apologetically at Xiao Shi and wheeled the old lady out of her room.
She could walk. But she was just discharged from the hospital and slightly weak. It was safer for her to be in a wheelchair.
I pushed her along while a group of people followed us behind.
Xi Qingchuan’s mother walked alongside us, chatting with Xiao Shia bout the charity ball that was going on that evening. It appeared that both of them would be attending the event.
The old lady interrupted them suddenly.
“Is Chuan attending the ball tonight?”
“Of course, he has to be there,” Xi Qingchuan’s mother replied.
“In that case, have we made arrangements for Sheng Sheng’s gown to be sent over?”
Xi Qingchuan’s mother froze.
I hurriedly whispered into the old lady’s ear.
“I’m not attending the ball, Granny.”
“Who’s going to be Chuan’s dance partner then?”
“Qingchuan will have the first dance tonight. Xiao Shi is a fine dancer. Besides, they’re great dance partners. We’ll have them rehearse briefly before the ball starts.”
“Sheng Sheng knows how to dance too, right?” Granny poked me in the waist with her finger and gave me a pointed look.
I did. I wasn’t bad at it, too. But I wasn’t interested in attending the ball.
I pursed my lips.
“I’m no good at dancing.”
“You just need a little practice. I’ll have Chuan return home earlier tonight. He’s married now. Isn’t it strange to have him dance with another woman?” The old lady had a fierce note to her voice. “Quick, prepare Sheng Sheng’s gown. It has to match Chuan’s attire. It’s been decided.”
The smile on Xi Qingchuan’s face looked strained. Xiao Shi smiled gently.
“Actually, I’ve already found a dance partner for the ball tonight. It’s my boyfriend.”
She was trying to make things less embarrassing for herself and for Xi Qingchuan’s mother.
What else could I do? The old lady had given her orders.
Xi Qingchuan was going to be so mad when he saw me tonight.
He probably thought he was going to be dancing with Xiao Shi tonight. He wouldn’t expect the sudden switch in his dance partner to yours truly.
The bodyguard carried the old lady into the car. I followed her inside. Xi Qingchuan’s mother and Xiao Shi took the second car.
I had a troubled look on my face. I dropped a piece of black chocolate into the old lady’s palm.
“You can only have one.”
She shoved it into her mouth immediately, and became drunk with bliss.
“I only feel alive when I get to eat chocolate.”
“Be good and take your medication like you’re supposed to. You can have two pieces next week.”
The old lady smiled widely.
“Alright, anything you say.”
She was in a good mood now after having some chocolate. I decided to use that to my advantage and negotiate with her.
“Granny, can I not attend the ball tonight?”
“No,” she said firmly. “You have to go.”
“I can’t dance at all. Besides, I don’t like attending such events.”
“My dear Sheng Sheng, there are people who’d kill themselves to get an invitation to such events. You’re such a silly girl.” She held my hands in her own rough ones. “Besides, Xiao Shi is going too. Are you going to stand aside and do nothing while they do their private little dance?”
“Granny, Xiao Shi has a boyfriend.”
“It’s just for show.” She tapped my forehead with her finger. “It’s a complicated circle. You’re too stupid. You’ll need time to learn everything. There’s no way you can get out of attending tonight’s ball. Who cares if you’re a bad dancer? You’re going to have the first dance with Chuan. The whole world must know that you’re Mrs. Xi now. You’re the future mistress of the Xi family.”
I harbored no such ambitions. I really didn’t want to attend the ball. But the old lady’s words showed that she was firm on the matter. She was going to be mad if I insisted on not going.
It was all because of the old lady that I had managed to survive for so long in this family. I didn’t know why, but we got along especially well. She had taken a liking to me ever since I had joined the Xi family. I liked her as well.
My gown was sent to my room not long after I returned to the Xi residence.
Xi Qingchuan was going to wear a black tuxedo that evening. My gown was a deep purple and had a fainter purple lining on its hems. It had a wide, square neckline. The gown was a perfect fit.
The old lady’s voice would be heard a mile away.
“My dear Sheng Sheng looks so pretty. Look at that figure, and that face. Hahaha…”
The makeup artist was just standing next to us. My face flushed from all that praise.
She didn’t stop there. She dragged the makeup artist in as well.
“Doesn’t my granddaughter-in-law look lovely?”
“Miss Xiao looks beautiful in this gown,” the makeup artist replied.
“Why are you addressing her as Miss Xiao? You should be calling her Mrs. Xi or Missus!” The old woman’s face turned dark instantly as she scolded the makeup artist. The makeup artist turned pale and hurriedly corrected herself.
The old lady may be the only person in this household who saw me as Xi Qingchuan’s wife. Even I didn’t see myself as his wife.
I had my makeup done and put on matching jewelry. The old lady insisted on letting me wear her precious pearl necklace. She said that it was a perfect match for my gown. The necklace was undoubtedly beautiful, but it was much too valuable for me to wear.
The old lady insisted though. Xi Qingchuan’s mother and my sisters-in-law were around when I came downstairs. They turned around when I appeared. I could see the flash of surprise in their eyes. That, and jealousy.
They were jealousy of Granny’s affection for me. It made it harder for me to fit in.
I approached Xi Qingchuan’s mother and greeted her. She had been drinking tea. She suddenly placed the teacup in her hands aside, then frowned and asked my eldest sister-in-law. “Is the car here yet?”
“It’s waiting outside, mom.”
“Let’s go then!”
She didn’t spare me a single glance. She had my sisters-in-law lead her out of the house.
It wasn’t a surprise that she didn’t like me. I might have been part of the Xiao family, but my status wasn’t anything to be proud of. My mother had no place in the family. I never thought of my mother as a kept woman though. But Xi Qingchuan’s mother didn’t like me at all. Xiao Shi was the one she favored.
I took the other car and got a call from Qiao Yi on my way to the ball.
“Let’s go out for supper later tonight.”
“I have to attend some charity ball with my dad later. How boring,” she whined. “I hate wearing gowns. I’m always the tallest person in the room, no matter where I stand. It’s like a giraffe standing in a herd of zebras. What’s so fun about that?”
I started giggling.
“Stop flattering yourself. The chances of supper tonight are slim. We’ll probably only get to have cocktail.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m attending the ball tonight too.”
“Are you for real?” Qiao Yi shrieked excitedly.
I couldn’t share her excitement. I had no idea how Xi Qingchuan was going to react when he saw me tonight.
I began waiting earnestly for Qiao Yi’s arrival when I reached the venue. Everyone else was a stranger to me.
This might sound embarrassing. Even though I had lived with the Xiao family since I had been sixteen years ago, I had never attended an event like this.
I saw Xiao Shi in the crowd. She was holding an azure-colored cocktail while chatting with someone else. In her white gown, she appeared like a lily in full bloom, beautiful and beyond one’s reach.
I took one look before losing interest and turning my eyes away. It was then that I heard the hushed voices of the young women standing near me.