"Shouko? Where are you?"
Her shoulders flinched instinctively once the loud voice thundered outside the kitchen. She hurriedly washed her hands, her actions caught sympathy from the chefs working in front of the stove. Her feet made their way to the hallway. Her eyes landed on a woman dressed in a red cocktail dress.
"Yes, Mother?" Shouko calmed her tensed nerves, she curved up the corners of her lips to show a serene expression to the woman.
"Who's your mother?" The woman barked at her direction. "Where's the shawl that I bought the other day? Did you steal it?"
Shouko freeze on the spot. Her face turned pale at such an accusation. "No! I didn't handle your shawl. It should be washed by the maids."
"I can't find it in my wardrobe! Go and look for it!" The woman huffed before she turned around and left angrily. Her high-heels were clacking on the smooth surface of the expensive tiles.
Shouko bit her lips. She suppressed the urge to sigh. While she was standing still in the hallway, she felt her shoulders being wrapped by a long arm. Her head tilted to her right sight. A familiar face leaned close to her.
"I really couldn't comprehend her energy to make a fuss so early in the morning," A young lady around the same age as her squinted her eyes at the disappearing red figure. Her lips twitched slightly. "What a shame to have a mother like her."
"Don't say that. It's your mother," Shouko smiled wearily. "You're so dressed up today. Where are you going?"
"Oh. A match-making event," The girl answered in a boring voice.
"Eh? The one Father mentioned before?" Shouko was startled. She remembered that during their dinner the other day, their father brought up the topic of match-making to her sister.
"Yeah, I'd just go and scare my opponent away," The girl laughed mischievously. "I want to see if he dared to make me as his wife."
"But, Ono, isn't this match-making for saving the company?" Shouko asked worriedly.
Ono swept her gaze toward Shouko. She eyed her for a bit too long before she spoke again. "I think you're the perfect candidate, Shouko. If you get married into the Kashino family, that woman wouldn't dare to bully you again."
"That's impossible!" Shouko tried to laugh it off. She nudged Ono to quickly go to her way. "Enough with your nonsense. Behave well. Don't scare him off."
Ono shrugged lazily. She made her way toward the front doors. "I'll recommend you to him! Don't worry!"
"Don't you dare!" Shouko yelled back. She smiled in helplessness watching her sister heading outside. That girl was as flamboyant as ever.
Once Ono left, Shouko quickly went to look for the shawl mentioned by the woman. She knew that woman deliberately making things hard for her but she didn't have the power to retaliate. It had been this way since the day she was brought into this house.
Shouko went to the laundry room. The smell of detergent filled the entire room. Two rows of fluffy blankets were placed on one of the tables. She began her search in the area where most of the woman's clothes would be kept before being brought into her built-in wardrobe.
"Shouko? What are you doing there?"
Shouko turned around, she smiled brightly seeing her favorite aunt.
"I'm just looking for something," She said in a light tone. "Are you heading outside too, Aunt Masako? Ono has just left."
"Did that woman ask you to do a maid's job again?" Aunt Masako began to flare up when thinking of the evil woman. "I heard she was fussing over some cloth. Even at this time she still had the mind to buy expensive things?"
"Aunt, don't be angry," Shouko tried to placate the older lady. "You must be stressed over the company's matter too so don't think about her again. It'd just make you angrier."
Hearing about the company, Aunt Masako sighed heavily. "It's all your father's fault, making a bad investment. Luckily the old master of the Kashino family wants to lend us a hand. But, the price is too high even though it'd benefit Yuasa Group. We shouldn't sacrifice Ono's future because of it."
Shouko went into silence. Her mind wandered to the arguments she heard between her father and Ono last night.
Old Master Kashino promised to revive their company in exchange for marriage between this family and his eldest grandson. Ono refused since she didn't want to be tied down so early.
The First Young Master Kashino had just returned from abroad and was slowly leading Kashino Corporation. He was a mystery in high society. Not many people had seen him due to his low-key nature. There were rumors that he was more ruthless than his old grandfather when dealing with rivals in business.
"Forget about that woman, Shouko."
Aunt Masako's words snapped her out of her trance. She stared blankly at her.
"Your graduation is coming soon. You should focus on that. It's in a week, right?" Aunt Masako curled up her lips, she was smiling so kindly to the young lady. "I will go to the ceremony after I'm done with my affair in the morning. After that, I'll bring you out to celebrate."
Shouko was stunned. For a moment, she didn't know how to react.
"Thank you, Aunt," In the end, she smiled with red color tinged her cheeks.
Seeing her niece smiling with her eyes twinkled happily, Masako couldn't help but feel sorry for her. She patted her head once, her own eyes was lit with tenderness.
"I'm going to the company. Call me if that woman bullies you, alright?"
Shouko smiled. "Be careful on your way, Aunt."
Masako waved her hand as she walked out of the laundry room. She cast a last glance toward the young lady dressed in comfy home clothes. She couldn't help but sigh inwardly.
Once Aunt Masako disappeared from her sight, Shouko resumed her searching. It would do her no good if she made that woman angrier. Her body flinched at the thought.
But, no matter how much time she tried her hard searching for the shawl, she didn't find anything even in the wardrobe upstairs.
With a distressed look, Shouko gave up her search. As she was listlessly walking toward the living room, she caught sight of the woman talking on the phone loudly with her friends. Her steps froze at the moment.
Around that woman's neck, there was the shawl she tried searching for. Seeing the woman's clear disgust in her eyes when she turned around and caught sight of her, Shouko could only smile helplessly.
She was indeed a fool.
Shouko returned to her room. She swept her gaze around the small room that could only fit a bed and an old wardrobe. Despite its small size, this room was always in a clean state. She walked slowly toward the bedside table. Her hands were reaching out for a book filled with her handwriting. The frustration from earlier gradually faded away.
Shouko threw herself on the bed. She was grinning like a child as she read what she had written in the book. This book was her creation. She had written her piece inside it. This could be her step to freedom.
This three-story mansion didn't make her feel any sense of belonging. She was not the biological daughter of that woman, Madam Yuasa. Her father, President Yuasa had a brief fling with a woman resulting in her birth. After her mother passed away due to illness, her father reluctantly brought her inside this household.
That was the beginning of her nightmare.
Her stepmother loathed her presence. Her father denied her existence. She was treated like a beggar. If not for her half-sister and aunt's genuine care toward her, she didn't know how she could survive all these years.
As much as she loved Ono and Aunt Masako, she was eager to find a place where she belonged.
Living in this mansion made her felt like she was constantly on the verge of drowning.
That night, Ono came to her room with a triumphant look.
"What? Don't tell me you've really scared him away?" Shouko giggled when she remembered what Ono had said before she left for the match-making event.
"That great and almighty First Young Master Kashino didn't come," Ono plopped herself on the bed, she grabbed one of the pillows and brought it to her chest. "Instead, the old master was there."
"What? The old master came?" Shouko was shocked. She didn't expect that the old master would come for the blind date. It seemed like he was really serious about taking Ono as his granddaughter-in-law.
"Yes. But, he looked so disappointed when he saw me," One laughed as she thought back of the meeting. The old man in his late 70s was clearly displeased with her appearance. He didn't even have the decency to hide it.
"Eh? Why?" Shouko was totally confused. What with this weird development?
"He has been waiting for you!" Ono said with a delighted face. "He actually wants you to be his granddaughter-in-law!"
Ono's enthusiasm was met with a skeptical look from Shouko. She really doubted this half-sister of hers. How could an old man who had never met her desired her to be the wife for his esteemed grandson? Moreover, she was the illegitimate child. Who was in their right mind would choose her?
"Can't you make a more believable lie?" Shouko threw a pillow to Ono. Ono dodged it with a laugh still coming out from her mouth.
"I spoke the truth!" Ono was still being persistent. She looked at Shouko with a wide smile plastered on her face. "It's your loss if you didn't want to believe me."
Shouko pouted. There was no way for her to believe Ono.
Contrary to what the outsiders' had expected, these two sisters had a great bond despite Shouko wasn't welcomed by the Yuasa couple. Ono was the one who had always defended her against Madam Yuasa's attacks since the day she joined this household.
One day, Shouko asked why did Ono want to befriend her. Her answer made Shouko teared up.
"The one at fault is Father! He made a mess outside. Why should you bear the blame?"
And then, when Aunt Masako came to live with them, the older lady had the same sentiment. The cause of all this was her elder brother. So why should she hate an innocent child that had been implicated due to his affairs?
Because of these two ladies, her life became bearable.
"Would you really leave after graduation?" Shouko carefully worded her question. Her feelings were in turmoil when she was reminded of Ono's plan to continue her study abroad. Both of them would graduate soon, opening their path to society.
"I've secured a scholarship," Ono grinned. Even though her family was going through a financial crisis, this scholarship would help her fund her studies. "Then, how about you? You said you'd meet the editor before the graduation day?"
"Oh, that..." Shouko smiled happily, she glanced at the book placed on the bedside table. "It sounded positive. I'd meet her the day after tomorrow. If nothing happens, she said the publishing would begin soon."
"Aaa! I'm happy for you!" Ono pounced on Shouko with a clear excitement exuding from her face. Shouko yelped as both of them fell on the bed. She quickly pushed Ono away from her.
"Why did you're the one who's so excited right now?" Shouko shook her head, sometimes she couldn't understand how Ono's mind worked. "It's nothing compared to your dream to become a diplomat. I'm just being a childbook writer."
"Don't belittle yourself!" Ono quickly sat up. Both of her hands went to her hips as she reprimanded her sister. "It's your dream! No one could belittle you, much less yourself! Raise your head high and strive for your dream! I'd always support you!"
Seeing Ono's funny expression, Shouko couldn't help but laugh out loud. She doubled over, both of her hands pressed on her tummy as she tried to control her laughter. Ono was dumbfounded.
"Hey! How could you laugh at my utmost sincere support to you?" Ono leaned over, both of her hands reaching out to tickle Shouko. As a result, Shouko's laughter couldn't be contained anymore. She tried to dodge Ono's attack but her effort was futile.
As the two sisters were in a merry mood, suddenly the door being pushed open from the outside. A tall figure appeared in front of the door frame. Shouko's laughter subsided as Ono too stopped her tickling. Both of them stared at the man with a grim face that was looking at them with disdain in his eyes.
"You, come out."
Shouko felt a chill went down her spine. She wordlessly looked at the man, her father.
She had a bad feeling about this.