It was almost midnight but Hina couldn't fall asleep. She laid there on the bed, staring into nothing and recalling the words Tanaka had said.
'Elder brother will be back very soon'
"Very soon?! That means he could be back as soon as tomorrow!" She freaked out over and over again, rolling and turning on the bed. Her thoughts were all jumbled up and she had no idea what to do about this new equation. The novel never mentioned anything about the old geezer's children! Although it was obvious he would have some since he had had other wives before Hina, but all this was too new for her! First was the hot-headed Tanaka, now it's an older brother?!
"Did the head maid mention him while explaining the basic family tree?.. " she asked underneath her breath. She sighed a heavy sigh and wished for sleep to come to her. She was having a headache and her feet were killing her from having to wear new shoes today. She was tired and slightly cold, despite wrapping her body with the thick duvet.
[I'll just wing it! What else can I do? It's not like he'll kill me or something]
She chuckled at her terrible humour and sleep slowly made her eyes heavy.
Hina's eyes flew open at the strange whispers in her ears. The room was dark and it was still midnight. She could barely make do of the shadow.
[What the heck? Is someone trying to kill me already?]
She pushed and kicked at the unknown figure on top of her, struggling to put on the bedside lamp. She finally turned on the lamp but the figure pulled her down, climbing on top of her and pinning her on the bed. She tried to scream but he blocked her mouth with his right palm and held her hands above her head with his other hand. Hina kept fighting against this huge build, kicking and panicking. Her eyes were slowly drowning in tears and she could barely see the face of her attacker.
[Is this how I die? The novel hasn't even officially started yet! Is he trying to take advantage of me?! Oh no please!]
She was unable to compose herself as a thousand and one things ran through her mind.
"Shhh. I'm not going to harm you" his voice was soothing as he wiped away her tear-filled eyes, still pinning her under him. With the lights on and her eyes clear, she could finally see his face. His silver hair, his grey eyes and perfectly chiselled jaw. He stared down at her with a blank expression.
"Who the heck are you?" She stared right back at him.
"Who do you think I am?" He asked her, tilting his head to the side.
"Do I look like I care?" she snapped at him.
"You're going to have to since you're my new stepmother." He smiled at her, still pinning her in place.
"You're being quite rude to your stepmother, don't you think?" Hina replied with a smirk on her face.
"Am I? It's not like there's anything much to see"
"Let me go before I scream" Hina kicked again and he finally released her. She adjusted her nightwear and her messy hair, cursing the bunch of a family. Her wrists ached from his grip and she tried to massage them.
"I knew my father was scum but I didn't think he would have such a peculiar taste. What's there to enjoy in a childlike body like yours?" his voice was thick with anger and resentment.
Hina sat there at the edge of the bed, wishing he would just go away so she could sleep. She didn't want to think about anything tonight and she had no energy to even argue with him. She was tired and bruised and sleepy.
"How can this child be my stepmother?" He whispered to himself but Hina heard him. [I don't want this either] She screamed in her head.
"But you...Hina, fourteen years old, grew up with her mother, married an old man for his wealth. Are you happy now? To have escaped your fated poverty to become my old mans' plaything. Does it feel good?" His every word pierced her as she bit her lips, trying to keep a cool-headed reaction.
"What? Did you do a background check on me?"
"Something like that. I need to know these little things about my new stepmother so that we can get along, don't you think?" He moved closer to her.
"You know nothing about me"
"I know what I need to know"
He dusted off non-existing dirt from his hair, his eyes still fixed on her as he said "what if I embrace you?"
Hina was lost for words, not knowing how to even reply to him as her mind went blank.
"It'll be better than with some old toad. That way he will lose his interest in you, right?"
Hina did not realise that she had slapped him nor that her eyes were teary again. His tongue was like fire and every word that came out burnt her. She couldn't see his reaction through her clouded eyes but she didn't care.
"Get out" her voice was so low she was unsure if he heard her. He stood there for a while, surprised by her reaction, before leaving through the balcony. Hina clenched onto her nightgown, filled with bitterness and disgust. She tried to stop the tears but they kept pouring. She realised that she was not simply crying because of the childish things he said but mainly because she had not truly cried since she woke up in this weird dream. She missed her old life, her old family, her school, all of it. She hated this new life! Her mother, her supposed husband and his problematic children that never existed in the novel! She just wanted everything to end.
[How dare he say all that nonsense to me? He doesn't even know what I'm going through]
"I hope he falls and twists his ankle"
The next few days were warm and quiet. Hina still had to have breakfast with Tanaka but it was surprisingly peaceful. She didn't talk out of turn, eat before Hina's arrival nor seat on the Lord's seat, but she clearly had some resentment towards Hina. Although Hina didn't care about any of that. She operated like a lost soul these past days as the reality sunk in that she may truly spend the rest of her life stuck in this world. She ate breakfast with Tanaka, strolled around the gardens where she had brunch, then spent the rest of her time either in her room or at the library. She had not seen the young lord around and she liked it that way. She was angry at him but more so at herself for crying in his presence.
"Would you like to go into the city, my lady?" Suki asked her during brunch. The two took shade under a white pavilion in the white roses' gardens, as Hina struggled to finish her milk tea.
"Yes, my lady. You could maybe go shopping, or sightseeing or visit the new cafe. The lord will be pleased to hear that you're having fun even as he is away. It'll also put you in a good mood to be in a different environment!" Suki was filled with such bursting excitement that it made Hina smile.
"Do you think so?"
"Yes. My lady has not been smiling these days and everyone is worried about my lady's health..." Hina smiled at Suki who lightly held her hand. To think her mood had become so bad that the servants had noticed. Indeed, even the beautiful gardens could not please her these days. She needed to clear her head and plan for other things.
"Okay. Inform the head maid to make preparations for my outing. Let's go shopping"
"Yes, lady Hina!" Suki led Hina out of the gardens and back into the main estates to prepare.
Kai had been avoiding Hina for a few days. Shame and guilt made him unable to approach her. How could he have jumped to a conclusion so easily? He wanted to blame Tanaka for the misinformation but he knew better than to push the blame onto a twelve-year-old. He should have properly investigated to have his facts. He was filled with anger the night he first met her and he said all sorts of things he shouldn't have said. He thought back about how stupid he must have looked to her. She was barely fourteen but yet her demeanour was very mature for her age. Probably more mature than himself who was already eighteen. He assumed she must have had it rough while growing up. Children with a suffocating and traumatizing childhood often grow up faster than they ought to. Turned out he was right to assume so. He reread the information his spy had given him about her.
'Name- Hina Kudo, fourteen years old. The bastard child of *** Minister. Has a very weak constitution (cause still unknown). Sold off by her single mother in form of an arranged marriage. There were also rumours by a certain neighbour about how her mother hated the sight of her and was very abusive, but no concrete evidence.'
There was still some information he wanted to get but the overall data he acquired explained everything he needed to know. He also recently heard the rumours about how his father really "admired" his new wife after "consummating" their marriage. The gossip was discussed throughout the estates and the news made him feel like scum, just like his father.
Kai tore up the paper and laid back on the black sofa. He was angry at himself as he recalled their first encounter and the things he said to her.
Nothing much to see. Sold yourself to escape fated poverty. Old man's plaything. What if I embrace you?
Now he understood why she panicked so much at his touch and why she cried. He touched his left cheek that she had slapped. Her tiny hands were so soft and weak that he felt nothing, but he deserved to be hit. He had also heard of his little sister's breakfast drama and had sternly warned stupid little Tanaka to not cause any troubles or act out again if she didn't want to end up like her mother. A threat that truly humbled her.
"Damn it. I still need to properly introduce myself to her" He thought of a gift he could prepare for her as an apology. Something girls her age would like. His best option to go to for advice was Tanaka, since they were both in the same age group, but thought twice about that.
He smiled to himself, thinking that his days were about to get quite interesting.