The fresh breeze of air in the middle of the summer was pleasant. Sixteen year old Li Shang enjoyed the weather in the gardens of this house. He liked to be alone, where he could think and he could escape from his problems.

His mother, Jing, had passed away three years ago now. She caught an incurable disease. She had been a good mother to Shang, always worrying about him the way a mother should; she even spoiled him every once in a while.

A year ago, his father got married again, to a girl who was young enough to be his older sister, the woman was only four years older than he was. That was what displeased him, besides the fact he seemed be quite oblivious his mother ever existed. The last time he had mentioned her was only a month after she died, three years ago.

The General seemed quite happy with his new wife, given the fact that he didn't argue as much as he used to do with Jing. Everything was a reason for a quarrel and they were always angry at each other. It had been an arranged marriage after all. Shang had suffered a lot when he was younger; he had to put up with his parents arguing all the time when his father was at home. But when they assisted to banquets they pretended they were a happy family. Since he was a boy he always stayed in the garden, where he couldn't hear their screams and if they reached him he would shut his eyes and cover his ears until he there was silence again. The fights were gone once his mother died. Now, with his father's new wife, Shang felt as if he were invisible. His father spent too much time with his stepmother, Chan Juan. Naturally, Shang hated the woman with whom his father replaced his mother.

Shang heard a soft voice calling his name. He turned around and saw a plump woman approaching. Another thing that bothered him was that Chan Juan was pregnant. It was illogic to him, he was already sixteen and he was about to have a sibling.

"Your father is waiting for you to join us," the young woman said. "I'll be there in a moment," Shang replied with the usual cold voice he had always addressed her. She nodded and walked away into the house. She had always tried to approach him and be friends, but he would always push her away. She had been very nice indeed, yet he refused to be more open with her. Shang thought that if he felt the tiniest amount of affection towards this woman, it would insult his mother's memory. The young man got to his feet and slowly made his way towards the kitchen. Something inside told him that his father wouldn't be pleased. When he entered into the dining room, the General was stammering his fingers, frowning with impatience. "Why didn't you come here as soon as Chuan told you?" the General demanded, "We are a family and families eat together."

Shang clenched his fists in anger under the table. When his mother was alive his father wouldn't join them in every meal; he was always too busy training or he would be eating in the other high rank officials' houses.

This were rather different now, the General spent way too much time at home and dismissed his duties often. All of this time, despite of everything, Shang had kept his mouth shut and didn't dare to complain. But his silence was making him angrier more and more each day until he exploded "We were a family when my mother was alive also, and you were never here."

The General shot a warning look at his son. So, Shang swallowed his anger and continued eating. He finished his dinner as fast as he could and excused himself saying he was tired.

Shang headed to his bedroom. He lied on his bed and closed his eyes. The image of his mother's sweet face came to his mind, and then the memory of her death appeared clearly, as if it happened only the day before..

She was lying on her bed, pale and weak from head to toes.

Shang was kneeling next to her holding her hand.

"Son," she spoke weakly, "I don't have much time in this world."

Tears flowed from Shang's eyes uncontrollably like a river as he said, "No mother, you will feel better soon." His words were of no comfort to him, for he could see her mother defeated and hopeless.

Jiang grinned and reached for her son's cheek to caress it.

"You have always been a good son to me," She made a pause to take a deep breath, "and your father also."

Shang choked his tears and managed to say, "Mother?"

"I love you more than anyone and anything here on Earth, but I must leave this world," tears rolled down her face as she saw her son shaking his head and clutching her hands, the picture was heartbreaking. Thirteen years had gone by so fast, his baby was turning into a man; and she was certain he would become a fair, honorable and great General someday, even better than his own father. She stroked his tidy black hair and said, "Son, I want you to be happy, and when you get older I beg you to be the one to choose your wife. Promise me that you will love her and respect her. You were always very fair, so please don't let her live the nightmare your father and I lived." She gasped for breath again to continue, "But it's not like our father is a bad man. The thing is we were never born for each other and our parents forced us to get married. Remember love is never to be forced." Jiang closed her eyes and her hand stopped stroking Shang's head. The hand Shang was holding was as cold as ice.

"Mother," Shang cried shaking her, "Mother!"

He let go her hand, she was not breathing. He realized she was now dead. Gone to the heavens she was never coming back to him. Her body was still on her bed, but where was her soul? The soul that gave life to her body. Shang sat down, his back leaning on the bed. Seconds later, he sank his head to his knees and cried for there was nothing he could do to bring her back to life. The truth was too harsh for him to accept.

Shang opened his eyes and noticed a crystal tear rolled across his cheek. He wiped it right away, because he was taught men do not cry at all.