The stinging left by the malicious attack rendered me stunned and gaping. Slowly, widened eyes took in the sight of the person who had ambushed me with a wrath fitting for a long-time nemesis. As expected, it was Ho Cong’s mother.
Her short stature was surprisingly packed with overflowing fierceness that enabled her to swiftly land a strike on her unaware opponents. A familiar action that I was perhaps already accustomed with; just like before, her hard slap landed on my cheek before I could hope to react.
“You shameless woman! How dare you come back to Ho Cong! Your pregnancy is your fault; you should be asking yourself who you’ve slept with, not my son! Get lost! He has no time to waste on you!” she cursed, glaring at me while she took hold of Ho Cong’s hand to drag him towards their house.
I huffed out a short laugh full of irony. Judging by the burning pain on the side of my face, I could tell that the place she had hit had become swollen.
Yesterday’s fight had her smacking me on my left cheek, and today, she had targetted my right. Maybe it was some sort of twisted luck—at least now, both cheeks were equally bruised.
A shadow fell over my face as I promptly followed them; fiery wrath gushing forth from inside me as adrenaline urged my feet to rush and block the slamming of the front door in time. A hand pried the entrance open, my furious stare looking down to face the woman several inches smaller than me.
At the view of his mother's chubby and reddened face, I bit my cheek in a struggle to keep a leash on my exploding temper.
I was a traditional woman who believed that one should not argue with their elders. Ho Cong’s mother was not an exemption to that rule, thus it became the main reason why I rarely fought back with her.
But, there was only so much more that I could take. Lines had been crossed over and over, and I had chosen to turn a blind eye to it every time. Tonight was the moment I put a stop to my submissiveness—I knew, that I had every right to answer her back, “My pregnancy is all my fault? Why don’t you ask your son how I ended up with it then?!” I seethed, my trembling fingers starting to whiten with the force of prying the edge of the door ajar.
“How dare you mention that to my face! You’re pregnant because you cheated on my son, what else could it be?” screamed she, while trying to push me away in disgust.
“Auntie!” I yelled, not budging from her attempts to fend me off, “Just ask him what he had done the other night when we were at the hotel! Ho Cong, tell her! Just tell her the truth!”
I desperately tried to make eye contact with Ho Cong, but like the coward he was, he just lowered his head in avoidance and hid behind his mother. “Go, just—just go. Zhi, you’re pregnant now. You should avoid being emotionally unstable. My mother’s also not in good health, so you shouldn’t upset her. I would only feel bad if either of you were to be injured by this,” he muttered, his lips letting out a gasping sob.
My heart sunk as I grit my teeth in contempt; I could not believe how he could have such a weak spirit residing in his large body. I should have known better than to wish that he would defend me, especially with my awareness that he was a meek, useless man, who knew nothing but to hide behind a woman’s skirt.
Suddenly, the tug of war for the door stopped, causing me to stumble a few steps back at the abruptness, “No, on the other hand, don’t let her go. Since she’s here, we might as well get you both a divorce. She doesn’t deserve to marry a Ho, not to mention my son!” Ho Cong’s mother declared. She went back into the house to prepare for the formalities, leaving Ho Cong and I staring at each other in silence.
Neither of us broke the ice for the first few seconds. The tension was palpable, our wills clashing once again as I shook from extreme anger. I compelled myself to cool off until I could finally manage to ask,
“Who was the man?”
Nothing else mattered more now; all I cared was the truth. I knew I deserved that much.
“Zhi, go home!” He ignored my question and shoved me out of the door. He subtlety turned away when I staggered and urged me instead, “My mother has a short fuse; you know better than anyone else that she rushes into decisions due to her impulsiveness. What if she really forces us to divorce? Do you really want that to happen?”
“Then answer me and I’ll go. Why is that so hard for you to do?”
“No! Just leave now. You can hide somewhere for a while. I'll talk my mom out of it, and I'll bring you back when she gets over her anger.”
“Bring me back? What do you mean by ‘back’?” I jeered, laughing softly at his audacity, “Do you genuinely think I’d like to go back to a husband who lies and uses me? You think I’d go back to someone who sold me to other men for his own interest? What’s worse, you don’t even own up to what you did,” I rubbed a hand over my face in frustration and clutched my cheeks to hide the disbelieving sneer that had appeared at his words, “Do you really think I’d want to come back to you with your filthy benefactor’s child?”
“What do you want then, Zhi? Are you trying to quarrel with me?” He glanced at me pityingly and said, “I don’t like the thought of scolding you when you’re pregnant, even when I’m not the father. Just go, Let’s talk about this when you’re calmer.”
My head ached, a turmoil of emotions churning in my chest at his deliberate way of putting the blame on me. He was making me sound like the unreasonable one.
Shocked by his shamelessness, I let him take my stunned position as an opportunity to fend me off their porch. I stood still, blankly watching as he shut me out.
“Go away, Zhi. I’ll talk to you again when it’s appropriate,” came Ho Cong’s weak voice from behind the closed door.
Of course, Ho Cong would be a master at buck-passing?and shifting?subjects. He was exactly the kind of person cut out for politics and customer services, after all. He had intentionally misinterpreted and twisted my statements with ease to suit his needs, and disregarded my own worries and despair in the process.
Clearly, I could not get anything out of him for the time being.
Heavy steps expressed my low morale as I made my way back to where Driver Ho was, sullenly asking him to take me back to the villa.
As soon as I arrived, I went directly to the bedroom and slept from night till noon the next day. I winced at the heavy throbbing of my head by the time I woke up and sighed helplessly. There was no point in calculating the hours I have wasted; I had no job to keep me in schedule anyway.
After finishing my late lunch, I called Mr. Dong again to remind him that if I had not met his boss by seven o’clock in the evening, I would abort the baby.
Mr. Dong sounded rather composed upon hearing my threat again and simply replied, “It will be done, Miss Xia.”
I briefly noted the sky changing colors as it turned to dusk, meaning that the agreed meeting was fast approaching. I sat quietly on the sofa in preparation for the man in question to arrive.
Minutes ticked by in an agonizingly slow pace, making me hyperaware of any noise that resounded throughout the mansion.
Disappointingly though, the male had failed to arrive at seven o 'clock sharp, nor did he a quarter later, too.
Impatience brought out the incessant drumming of my fingers on my thigh. I took out my phone to call Mr. Dong once more to demand for the culprit’s whereabouts when I heard the doorbell ring.
Xiao Jin immediately went to greet the guest. Her polite welcome was followed closely by thudding footsteps, signifying the person’s entrance from the threshold.
I sat up straight and craned my neck to take a glimpse at the visitor.
My mouth fell agape at the figure walking in steady strides, assessing him with mistrust as he stood in front of me.
I mumbled in disbelief, "Why are you here?"
“Zhi—” He crouched down and intertwined my hand with his.
My vision spun, all too familiar with the scrunched up expression on his face. Not even a while had passed since he had told me to stay away, but now, here was my husband Ho Cong, squatting at eye level to deliver the false sincerity behind his gentle touches. His glasses reflected a harsh light under the villa's crystal lamps, effectively blinding my view.
I glared at him with my lips trembling in bottled outrage. After a minute, I said, “Are you saying that you’re the person who impregnated me?”
He fumbled as his eyes twinkled in uncertainty.
Typical behavior from Ho Cong when he was caught lying; I would be doomed if I had so much as thought of buying it.
Even a fool could figure out that there was something fishy behind this.
The warning bells had been set up the moment Ho Cong showed up to save the scene after I?threatened Mr. Dong to see the baby’s father.
With his presence here, it only became glaringly obvious that Ho Cong was indeed involved in this elaborate, wicked plan that was imposed on me.
My clenched fists shook, nails almost biting the skin of my palm while I appraised Ho Cong with a glower. I wanted to know how much my worth was. I wanted to know what enticed Ho Cong to push his wife in assuming the role of a prostitute in another man’s bed.
No amount of explanation could even properly convey the sinking feeling of my heart at his guilt-ridden face. I took a deep breath, trying to calm the erratic beating inside my chest.
Unfortunately though, my futile attempts to mellow down only spurred the blood to rush towards my brain. The fact that he vehemently refused on expounding on my predicament made liquid ice flow through my veins.
I fumed, forcefully removing his hand from mine, “Let me ask you again, is the baby in my belly, yours?”
He kept his head down and did not dare look at me as he grunted in agreement, "Hmm."
I lifted his chin with a finger, making him meet the pure hatred in my stare head on, “Are you admitting that you’re the person who has impregnated me?”
“Uh huh,” he hummed his approval.
“Good,” I got up from the sofa and took his wrist, coldly apprehending him, “Now that you’ve admitted that the baby is yours, let’s go back to your house and tell everything to your mother. She has good reasons to apologize to me—she slapped me in the face for nothing, twice.”
Ho Cong hesitantly pulled me back. The awkwardness he exuded made him stutter in turn, “Z-Zhi, you’re being unreasonable again.”
I scowled, “Aren’t we a married couple?”
He nodded in a rush, answering in a cheery voice, “O-of course!”
“We’re legally married and will be having a child of our own. It makes no sense for me to live somewhere else," I pointed upstairs to emphasize my point, "Help me bring down my luggage. I want to go home."
Despite my declaration, he stayed rooted on the spot, “Stop making a scene, Zhi. You’re pregnant, you should really think of your child. You should stay here and spend the night.”
My jaw painfully grit my teeth. If it were not for my heart beating so hard right now, I would have swung my arm in an instant to give him a several good slaps to outnumber the ones his mother had given me by far.
“Stop beating around the bush. Who sent you?”
“Zhi—” I yanked my arm away when he tried to grab onto it, pleading.
I ran a hand through my hair, closing my eyes tightly to reign in the irritation and rage inside. I had given up; I knew I would never get the answer I wanted from him at this point.
Falling back to the sofa in defeat, I curled into a ball and hugged my knees to bury my head in between, “Get out of here.”
“Zhi—” He tried to hug me.
“OUT!” My muffled yell carried enough force to express the seriousness behind the order.
This man was a waste of time.
He stayed beside me for a moment before I felt the rush of air marking his retreat.
I took my time garnering enough strength to get up from my position. As I regained my bearings, I saw Jin at a corner holding a tray with a cup of tea on it in her hands. It must have been for Ho Cong, but she had not been able to offer it due to us quarrelling. She must have been too scared to approach us.
Placing on a faint smile, I gestured to her to beckon her nearer.
When she went over, I took the tea from the tray and gulped it down. It had long gone cold, but it had soothed me nonetheless. I thanked Jin and gave her the cup back, nodding in acknowledgement as she bowed in deference before scurrying off to the kitchen.
Everything was back to square one. Ho Cong would not tell me what happened, nor would Mr. Dong.
But I always had other resources.
And now that I was unemployed, I had plenty of time to kill.
I went back to my room and locked the door, just in case the owner of the house suddenly chose to come back to take advantage of my unconscious form at night.
I certainly would not want the nightmare to happen again.