“Oh my universe,” she said, gasping.
“That bad,” I asked. She kept pointing at my face with a surprised expression.
“No,” she whispered. “You just look so different. Why would you change yourself when you look like this?”
I stared into my mirror at the natural face I’ve had for 20 years. She is beautiful, gorgeous, even. But she doesn’t fit the name I now hold. I know that I am beautiful. But I’ve forced myself to cover it for the 6 years I’ve been in public school.
“Why would you use makeup to make yourself ugly? I don’t understand. How long have you been doing this? I have so many questions.”
“I’ve made myself ugly for 6 years,” I explained to Chen Xia, my best friend. We met our first year of University as loners, always away from the big groups. We kept bumping into each other in the gardens of the science building, and one day we just stuck.
“Weren’t you homeschooled as a kid?”
“Until high school, yes. That’s when I started wearing makeup.” I can’t tell her the real reason. I can’t tell anybody.
“Xinxin,” Xia demanded, “why do you make yourself ugly every day?”
I stared at her in the mirror for a long time. I picked up my foundation brush and started my process.
“I can’t tell you,” I started. “At least not here. We need to be somewhere nobody can find or disturb us.”
“Is it that serious a reason?”
I turned and looked her dead in the eyes. “It is as serious as a life or death situation. You know I’m not one to joke around.”
“Okay. I can wait until you find someplace safe.”
“Thank you for understanding.”
I wasn’t joking. If they find me, I’ll be picking out the cement for my shoes. “They” being the Zhang family. They’ve been at odds with my family, Lin, for years. I’ve never been told why. I guess the reason was lost in history. I reminisce of the day I was told my fate as I apply my contour incorrectly. My mother told me that the protection of a sacred gem was to be in my care once I turned 16. I’ve kept the gem hidden, embedded into the left side of my waist and covered in protective plastic layers. It was one expensive surgery. The Zhang family is after me to figure out where it is hidden, and I’m sure that I’ll die in that process. But I don’t feel like dying just yet, so I keep my identity a secret. Even my name. My family changed it from Lin Xiao to Yun Xin when I entered high school. I thought of the day I lost my original identity as I placed the finishing touches on my nose. That day I vowed to discover the reason behind the family rivalry, and the purpose of the rock stuck inside my body.
“Let’s go, we’ll be late for class,” Xia yelled from the couch of our two-person dorm.
“I’m coming, don’t rush me.” She rushed me anyway.
We walked down the stairs to the large common area, separating at the bottom to attend our respective courses. As I walked to my English class I kept my head down. I didn’t see the tall figure coming towards me. His face was buried in a book.
“Ouch,” I yelped as he ran into me, our books and bodies falling to the floor, our papers fluttering without wind.
“I’m so sorry, are you alright?” A voice whose only parallel is honey called out to me.
“I’m fine, I-” My words were cut off by his appearance. This man was beautiful and strong looking. His rippling muscles held a hand out to me. He paused. I kept staring.
“Has anyone ever told you that you seem oddly pretty?”
Oh no. Did I not apply my makeup correctly today? I looked to the side at the window. My reflection showed a half-way made up face. I was rushed out the door looking prettier than usual. Damn.
“Hey, are you alright?” There was that honey again. I turned to face hazel eyes- rare in Asia.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said as I took hold of his hand. We began to gather our things off the floor, exchanging a book and a page or two.
“May I know your name,” he asked.
“Why would you want to know my name?”
“I want to see if it is as pretty as your face.” His smile killed me.
“It’s Yun Xin.”
“Well hello there, Yun Xin. I’m Zhang Yilang.”
I felt my heart stop when I heard his family name. Have they found me after all this time?
“You have a good day, beautiful Yun Xin.” I didn’t have time to think about his smile, I was late for class. I rushed to the room and sat down as the professor called my name for attendance, pointing out my tardiness. I couldn’t seem to take my mind off Zhang Yilang. That name can be common, I’m sure. Maybe he’s not related.
My focus stayed on his name all day. I couldn’t shake the feeling it sent up my spine. Now it didn’t matter how I looked. I now had to tell Xia how my life was in danger, and possibly now hers. I explained first my meeting with Zhang Yilang. After she asked why his name was so important, I broke down and slowly explained through tears that I don’t know why but there’s a family rivalry that boils down to bloodshed. I left out the change in my name to be safe.
“What are we going to do,” Xia asked.
“We’ve got to hide you or something! Or maybe I can check that guy out. You know, rough him up a bit?” She started jumping and holding her fists up like an American boxer.
“Okay, calm down,” I said, “the guy looked a lot stronger than that, you twig.” She put her fists down, disappointed. An idea popped into my head.
“I don’t think he knows who I am, and he definitely doesn’t know who you are,” I started, “maybe there’s something we can do.”
“You mean you’ll check him out yourself? That’s insane. You’ll get yourself killed that way.”
“But what if it’s a false alarm and I don’t?”
“Your optimism is going to get you killed one day.”
“Your pessimism will kill me first.” We spent the rest of the night coming up with our plot to not only find out if he was part of my family’s rivals, but to trick him into telling me the reason behind hiding and protecting the gem.
Xia and I set off for class that next Monday after pointlessly planning the entire weekend. At this point, we felt it was unnecessary for me to wear makeup and force an ugly look. If he knew who I was already, surely he would have taken me that weekend, or worse. We walked down the hallway out of the common area. I walked into my mathematics classroom and froze. Right next to the seat I usually sit in was my friend Lan Nanxi, talking to my potential enemy. I walk over slowly and sit down in my seat. Nanxi turned to look at me.
“I’m sorry, but that seat-” Nanxi cut his sentence short. “Wait. Is that you, Yun Xin?”
“It is,” I responded with confidence. I looked up at Zhang Yilang. He was smiling at me. Damn that smile.
“If it isn’t my first friend in this school,” Yilang said. “Yun Xin, you look even more gorgeous than yesterday.”
“I’ll say,” Nanxi exclaimed, “you look a hundred times more beautiful than usual!”
“Thank you both, but I would like to have some peace during class, if you don’t mind.”
“Not a problem,” Yilang said as he perched himself right next to me. That honey made me nervous.
I felt people’s stares all day long. Everywhere I went, there were people staring. Some even called me “goddess.” All of this, and I couldn’t get Yilang to leave me alone. He sat with me and my friends during lunch, he “just so happened” to have the same three classes that day with me. Then again, so did three of my other classmates, including Nanxi. Didn’t matter to me. Throughout the day I felt something odd every time I looked at Yilang. The emotion was so intense I could hardly concentrate on anything else but that stupid smile of his. Is this what hate feels like? At the end of the day, that smile was asking me for a phone number.
“Why would you want it?” That came out harsher than I intended.
“Seeing as we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, I believe that it will be in our best interests and conveniences to have a means of contacting one another.” Yilang held out his phone at me with a new contact page open. I found myself mindlessly typing my real number in the box, with my name, Yun Xin, attached to it. What was it about his voice that compelled me to do that?
“Thank you,” I heard the honey whisper, “I’ll text you later, so you have my number too. I leave first. Goodbye, Yun Xin.” With that, he turned and left the common area towards the men’s dormitory building. Nearly giddy, I half ran to my own dorm and filled Xia in on my entire day with him.
“Okay, he either wants to date you or kill you,” she said.
“Xia!” I jumped from my seat on the couch. “How dare you say that?”
“Think about it. He spent the entire day with you, he made jokes to make you laugh, he even asked for your number. If he’s not in that family, the man wants to date you, and I say go for it.”
“We don’t know who he really is yet. We can’t act on assumptions alone; we need evidence to know for sure.”
“And how do you propose we get said evidence?”
For the next two weeks I used every opportunity I could to get Zhang Yilang talking about his family. Not once did I succeed. I grew tired of trying. It was late and raining. We had gone to the beach and taken shelter in a nearby lighthouse. Somehow, we had lost Nanxi, Xia and a few of our other friends. It was just the two of us.
“That storm is coming in pretty hard,” Yilang said, looking out the rounded door to the sea.
“Yeah, it is,” I said, “but you don’t really want to talk about the weather with me? It’s so boring.” Yilang laughed.
“You’re right, it is boring. What do you want to talk about, then?” He closed the door and walked down the small set of stairs toward me.
“Umm…I…” The honey was making me nervous again. “We could talk about anything, really.”
“Such as?” His gaze never left my eyes.
“I don’t know. Friends, pets, childhood, family?”
“Well, we have the same friends, I’ve never owned any pets, my childhood was more spoiled that the average kid’s, and my family is pretty wealthy.” He spoke a little slower than usual. “There’s not much more interesting stuff about them. They’re just like any rich parents that spoil their children.” When he finished talking, he was inches from me.
“I’m the same. My parents just kind of gave me whatever I wanted.”
“Weird,” he said, “you don’t seem as spoiled as all the other rich girls I’ve met.”
“I never asked for much. I don’t like burdening people. Did you have any siblings?”
“Three brothers. I’m second oldest.” That’s odd, I thought. The Zhangs have four children, but one is a girl. Also, wouldn’t the oldest come after me if this was his family?
“Sounds like hell,” I whispered. He was much taller, but only inches away from my face. My spine tingled and made me shiver.
“Here,” Yilang whispered as he placed a gentle hand on my waist and pulled me into him. “I’ll keep you warm.” This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening.
We stood, barley moving for an hour or three, the rain outside never letting up. Finally, Yilang broke the silence.
“My family has been looking for you and that stupid gem for so long.”
“I knew it,” I quietly gasped. I remembered the pocketknife I always carried, how my father taught me to be skilled with it.
“Now that I’ve been around you, I don’t want the gem if it means your life.” His arms were around me completely now, but his grip was light and careful. He leaned his face closer to mine, but I turned my head away.
“Let go and I won’t kill you,” I warned him.
“Listen to me. If these two weeks meant nothing to you except figuring out my identity then fine, I’ll let you go. But all I wanted was for you to trust me and know that I mean you no harm.”
“Why should I believe you?” I looked at his hazel eyes. They looked surprisingly hurt and sincere.
“I haven’t killed you yet, have I? Any other member of my family would have.” He leaned his head back slightly. “I know exactly where the gem is, and I haven’t cut it out of you yet. I’m the only one in my family that knows where it is.”
“I will never trust you.”
“You want to know what the gem is for, don’t you? I know it was kept secret from you in fear of you simply handing it over.”
“What is it for, then?”
“It’s a symbol of power. Whichever family holds the gem owns the other.”
“That’s a lie. It can’t be just that,” I said in complete disbelief, but I knew his eyes weren’t lying. I’ve seen that same look before.
“It’s the truth”
“Why haven’t you killed me, then? What use am I to you?”
“I need you to help me stop the rivalry.”
“If you’re telling the truth, then you must have gone insane. The two of us can’t stop two entire families.”
“We can with this,” he said as he pointed to where the gem was. So he does know.
“How.” It was a demand more than a question.
“It symbolizes power.”
“That’s not enough.”
He paused. After what seemed like forever, he sighed. “You want the whole truth?” I nodded slowly to his question. “That gem,” he said slowly, “is the reason you, I, and every member of our families is alive.” I looked at him, confused. “As long as it stays inside your body, neither of our families will bear a child. They put it in your ‘care’ to ensure that the two families die out.” Everything overwhelmed me until I felt dizzy.
“I need to lie down.” Suddenly I felt strong arms catch me as everything faded to black.