It hadn't taken long for Li Yelan to call a press conference in the lawns in front of the Li mansion. She had described it as an attempt to 'clear all misunderstanding', but Sakura knew better.
The media was in frenzy since that fateful article had come out. Already comparisons were being made to Syaoran's high school days, when he had started dating a girl coming from a humble background whom Yelan had immediately disapproved of. 'It's like history repeating itself,' one magazine had stated. Another had called it, 'Reemergence of Li Syaoran's rebellious streak'.
Which was why Yelan had decided to take matters into her own hands. A press conference seemed to be the only solution.
Sakura silently watched the servants arrange the chairs on the lawn. Already reporters had started arriving. No compromises were being made on security though, guards stationed at the entrance scanned and verified the IDs of every person coming in.
"Hey miss, over here!"
Sakura was blinded by a sudden flash of light, accompanied with the sound of a camera going off. She stared in shock at the photographer who had just taken her photo.
"Miss Kinomoto, isn't it?" he grinned at her. "You mind if I take a few more?"
Sakura flushed, both from anger and embarrassment at being caught unaware. "Yes, I do mind."
She turned around and marched back into the house. Yuan was curiously looking outside and Lien was playing with her doll, disinterested in what was going on.
"Who are all those people, Sakura?" Yuan asked, eyes wide.
"It's the media. They are people who write in newspapers and say the news on TV," Sakura explained, disdain evident in her voice.
"Oh, those boring people. But why are they here?"
"Umm…they just want to ask your grandmother and father a few questions…"
"What kind of questions?"
"Well, I'm not so sure of that myself…"
Yuan frowned. He didn't seem to like that idea. "I want to go outside and see," he said.
"Yuan, you shouldn't—" Sakura started to say, but he had already run outside. She sighed and followed him.
"Ah, if it isn't the young Master Li Yuan. How precious!"
Sakura felt her stomach lurch at the sight of Ling. The article, the photograph, the interview; all the memories came flooding back to her and her face burned with humiliation.
Currently, Ling was beaming, kneeling in front of Yuan with his hand in hers. He was looking quizzically back at her.
"So cute! You're like a younger version of your father! Has anyone told you that?" Yuan shook his head, though his eyes seemed suspicious of this strange woman. She ruffled his hair even as he tried to move away. "So Yuan… I was wondering why—"
"Don't even think about it." Sakura rushed forward and wrapped one arm protectively around Yuan. She glared at Ling.
Ling raised an eyebrow at her, smirking. "Already trying to exercise your authority around the Li mansion? You aren't married to Li Syaoran yet, you know."
Sakura ignored the jab. "I doubt Mrs. Li will be very happy if she hears that the journalists are trying to get information from her grandson. You wouldn't want the press conference called off now, would you?"
Ling's smirk faltered a little. Her eyes flashed dangerously before she stalked off.
"Indeed. These rumors are absolutely false and have no basis whatsoever."
Sitting at the middle of a table and flanked by Meiling and Syaoran on either side, Yelan handled all the questions thrown at her with ease. Syaoran, however, didn't seem too happy about being there. Lauren Ross sat beside him, giving her best smile to all the photographers who were competing against each other to get her picture. And Meiling sat silently, seemingly having no clue why she was there.
Sakura watched the proceedings standing a slight distance away, trying to avoid the photographers from spotting her. Dan stood behind her, clucking his tongue at some of the very harsh questions being thrown at the Lis.
"Mr. Li, what about the picture that was taken of you and Miss Kinomoto at the restaurant?" one of the journalists questioned.
Syaoran scowled. "Photographs can be deceiving. They can be manipulated." He took a gulp of water from the glass placed in front of him.
"Are you implying that—"
"Next," Yelan interrupted.
"Mrs. Li," another reporter spoke up. "What if the rumors were true? Would you have accepted this relationship?"
Yelan's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to answer that question as I see no purpose or need for such a question," she said sharply. "Next."
"Miss Ross, are you and Mr. Li committed?"
Lauren smiled. "Of course; and very much in love." She moved closer to Syaoran and locked her arm with his, resting her head on his shoulder. He didn't show any resistance. Instead, he relaxed under her touch and smiled down at her.
Sakura felt her gut twist. She resisted the urge to walk across and pull Lauren off him.
"So can we hope to hear wedding bells in the future?"
Before Lauren could answer, Syaoran provided. "We haven't yet decided on a wedding date." He smiled again at Lauren and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips. Photographers clicked away wildly.
Sakura knew that she'd leave marks where her fingernails were digging into her palm. It was all she could do to prevent herself from yelling and prying the seemingly 'happy couple' off each other and create a scene in front of everyone.
She caught Dan's gaze. He was smirking at her knowingly. She frowned and looked away.
"Ah. Next question," Yelan announced, looking very pleased.
"Ma'am, could we talk to Miss Kinomoto? Just one question?" a reporter sitting in the first row asked. He pointed in Sakura's direction.
Sakura stiffened as all eyes turned to her. "Shit!" she swore under her breath.
"Whatever you wish to ask her, you can ask me," Yelan said authoritatively. "She's a bit shy."
Sakura let out a sigh of relief.
"We just wanted to ask her about these other rumors…"
"What other rumors?" Yelan asked, eyebrow raised.
The reporter shrugged. "That currently Miss Kinomoto is dating…" he checked his notepad, "…Mr. Li's driver… Daniel Blake. Is that true?"
Yelan smiled. "Yes, that is correct."
Sakura's jaw dropped.
"We don't generally allow our employees to pursue romances with each other, but Sakura is special to us," Yelan continued, still smiling, and Sakura had to keep her shock aside for a moment to admire her acting skills. "I must admit, they're quite a sweet couple."
Sakura closed her mouth and turned to Dan. He mirrored her stunned expression. There were whispers amongst the reporters; they all looked genuinely surprised as well.
"Really? We had no idea…" someone from the back row was heard as saying.
"Yes. It has been going on for quite some time now," Yelan said calmly, as though unaware of the stir she was creating. "Which was why we all found these rumors linking my son and Sakura quite ridiculous. In fact, the day the photograph was taken, both couples were on a double-date. The photographer made it seem that my son and Sakura were together."
There were more whispers. "Mrs. Li, is it a common practice for members of your family to take employees along on dates with their would-be spouse?" came a question. It drew chuckles from the audience. Sakura immediately recognized that voice… Ling's.
Yelan's eyes narrowed. "Like I said earlier, Sakura is special to us."
"So you're saying, Mrs. Li, that Sakura is in a serious relationship with Daniel Blake and there's no chance she would be a hindrance to Syaoran's and Lauren's relationship."
"Absolutely," Yelan nodded. "Why don't you directly ask the happy couple?"
Sakura stiffened again as all eyes turned to her and Dan.
"Miss Kinomoto? Is it true that you and Daniel Blake are in a serious relationship?"
Sakura took a deep breath and opened her mouth to say something along the lines of 'Yelan can go to hell! Dan and I are just friends', but she was cut off by an arm resting on her shoulder. She looked up at Dan in surprise. He was facing the reporters, a smirk on his face.
"Yeah, it's true." The arm around her squeezed her shoulder warningly. "We've been going steady for months."
Sakura swallowed and forced a smile. It dawned on her that Dan was playing along to keep Li Yelan happy. She nodded, hoping that her agreement was convincing.
"Can we take a shot?" someone asked. But the photographers weren't asking for permission. The furious clicking of cameras started immediately and Sakura felt extremely self-conscious.
Dan's arm slipped from her shoulder to wrap around her waist. Slowly, he turned her around to face him and tilted her face up with his free hand. Without warning, he kissed her.
She barely registered the gasps from the reporters and photographers, too shocked by what was happening. Dan was kissing her… and it wasn't a chaste kiss like the one Syaoran had given Lauren. He seemed to be really enjoying and making the most of it. Sakura allowed her eyes to fall shut but she didn't kiss back. Dan didn't look like he minded though.
Between the sounds of catcalls and cameras clicking, Sakura distinctly heard the sound of glass breaking. She pulled away from the kiss.
As if on cue, the journalists whooped and cheered. Dan looked around and grinned, one arm still around her waist. Sakura smiled nervously.
"Excuse me. I need to go inside."
Sakura's attention was drawn towards Syaoran, who was currently pushing past journalists in an effort to get back inside the mansion. She noticed a drop of blood oozing from a cut on the palm of his right hand. He wasn't looking at her directly but she could make out his expression. It was beyond fury; he looked ready to deck someone.
Sakura's gaze flicked to Syaoran's now empty seat. Shards of glass lay on the table in front of it
'So he was the source of the sound of glass breaking. But how did he break his glass? Did he grip it too hard…?'
No one else seemed to have noticed this though. Everyone was too absorbed with Sakura and Dan's display.
'No one else, except Lauren Ross…' Sakura realized, spotting Lauren's frown. '…and Li Yelan…' Sakura gulped at the dangerous expression on the older woman's face. Her eyes were narrowed and she was observing Syaoran's retreating form speculatively.
Sakura had never known jealousy before. It was not in her nature to be jealous. But now… she was fast making up for all the lost time. The scene replayed in her mind countless times—Syaoran smiling down at Lauren and kissing her softly. And each time Sakura felt ill remembering it. But it wasn't because of the kiss.
It was the smile.
She had never seen Syaoran give a smile like that to anyone… except Lien and Yuan. Now, she'd have to add Lauren to that small list. That thought did nothing to placate her.
The rational part of her brain tried to come up with a reason for her envy. Yes, she found Li Syaoran attractive. Yes, she had a crush on him.
But she'd had crushes on many guys before this. None of them had caused her to react like this. This was just not right. Especially after that night, she shouldn't have felt anything for Li Syaoran—she had no idea what he felt for her. She was still smarting over how he had tried to use her as a mean to forget his problems for a night. True, he had been stressed and drunk, but what had prompted him to come to her room? If it were someone else in her place, would a drunk and uninhibited Syaoran have done the same? She imagined Lauren in her place… one thing she knew for sure—Lauren wouldn't have resisted Syaoran like she had… Sakura quickly pushed that train of thought away.
However, a part of her couldn't help but feel flattered at the thought that Syaoran found her attractive enough to kiss her, even if he had to be drunk to do it. Then there had been his reaction this afternoon. She remembered Syaoran's furious expression after Dan had kissed her. Had he been jealous? Or was he just angry at having attention drawn away from him and Lauren? The latter explanation was a stretch. Syaoran didn't come across as the type to crave attention…
'Well if he was jealous, it serves him right. What was he thinking, snuggling with Lauren in public like that?' Sakura thought with satisfaction.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She looked at the clock in her room. It was 9:35 PM. She slowly got up and walked towards the door. "Who is it?"
"Hey, it's me," came Dan's voice.
Sakura frowned. She was still angry at Dan for that kiss. "Too bad. I've gone to sleep."
"Sakuraaaa, please. I want to talk to you…" Dan pleaded. "Listen, I'm really, really, really sorry, okay? I just… would you open the door and let me apologize properly?"
Sakura stayed unmoving for some time. Slowly, she opened the door. Dan stood with an apologetic grin on his face.
"Don't give me that look and expect me to forgive you."
He sighed. "Okay, I know what I did is… unforgivable, according to you…"
"According to me? What is that supposed to mean? Any girl in my position would have been offen—"
"All right, all right." Dan raised his hands up in defeat. "According to umm… general opinion… what I did is unforgivable. But…" he quickly added before she could interrupt him, "don't you see? I was just trying to save our butts!"
Sakura blinked. "What do you mean?"
"When Yelan made up the whole Sakura-and-Dan-are-a-couple story, she was obviously expecting us to play along. And we're really unconvincing as a couple. Those reporters are cunning—I had to make it look believable."
"That's it? That's your justification?"
"Isn't it enough? If anything in our behavior had made it seem that Yelan was lying, we would have been in major trouble, and I rather like my job here. I've no intention to get sacked."
"I know how you'd have handled it… out rightly deny it without thinking. Probably call Yelan a few names…" Dan chuckled. "I obviously couldn't let you open your mouth."
Sakura kept silent.
"Then when they were taking our shots, you were so tense. You looked like you'd rather be anywhere but with me—the vibe was all wrong. Like I said, kissing you was the only way I could make us look convincing as a couple." Dan paused to observe her reaction.
She didn't answer. She hated to admit it, but Dan was right.
"I'm not defending Yelan or anything. What she did wasn't right—she's put us in a tight spot now," he added. "But I'm an opportunist—I like to make the most of any situation. I've been wanting to kiss you for a long time…" He winked and chuckled at her offended look. "So yeah… that covers my reasons for kissing you."
Sakura sighed. "It's okay. I wasn't that angry with you, anyway. It was all directed at Yelan." She frowned. "She had no right to…"
Dan placed both hands on her shoulders. "I understand. But when you're working for the Lis, you have to put up with being pushed around." He gave her a half smile. They remained silent for awhile.
"You know, you owe me for not slapping you across the face in front of all those reporters when you kissed me."
He laughed. "You wouldn't have."
"I had a good mind to. I controlled myself only because you're my friend and I didn't want to embarrass you."
"Okay, then I suppose I owe you," he smiled. "I'll pay you back someday. Right now, you need to get some sleep." He turned around, proceeding to make his way down the hallway. "'night."
She closed the door and walked back to her bed. 'When you're working for the Lis, you have to put up with being pushed around,' Dan's words repeated in her mind. 'But I'm tired of being pushed around. I've had enough!' She sensed the rebel in her craving to show itself. She knew one of these days she was going to lose her patience, and completely go against Li Yelan. She was going to rebel. Even though it would only end up making things worse for her.
The last thoughts she had before drifting off to sleep were about Dan's financial troubles. She had forgotten to ask him about how things were going in that regard. Hopefully, they would pass quickly and not create much trouble…
It was a cacophony of sounds.
The kids were yelling something. A woman was shouting. Tires screeched as a car came to a halt, followed by yells of a man.
Then there was the gunshot.
Her vision cleared and she saw Syaoran, lying in a pool of his own blood. He was still breathing, but barely.
She jumped hearing the sound of a car engine starting.
'She's taking the kids away! I have to stop her!' "Yes, stop her before she whisks them off, never to be seen and heard from again," a cruel voice spoke in her head.
But she had to help Syaoran immediately. If she followed Fu, it could become too late for him. She shuddered at the thought.
"Choose, Sakura. Who would you choose? Whose life would you take a chance with? Syaoran's? Or the kids'?" The cruel voice was back. "You have five seconds."
Sakura awoke with a start. She had never felt so scared before in her life.