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CHAPTER 1

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Asa sat quietly drawing the pencil across the page, his tiny pink tongue poking between his teeth. The sounds of the garden were soothing making this his favorite place to sit and draw, especially since his favorite subject was seated across the way reading.

Lian sat with the book in his lap pretending to read. He stole glances at his compatriot, five years his junior, and cuter than should be allowed. A smile crinkling his eyes, he looked up to find the smaller boys eyes on him. Winking, he looked back down at his book. When he heard his little friend giggle, he chuckled to himself and continued reading.

Tin-Sie stood in the shadows of a cherry tree watching the exchange. The youngsters did not see him, for which he was glad. Pensively worrying his lip. he turned and strode into the large mansion at his back. He had come here today to speak with his friend and secret lover of an important matter of business, but this suddenly took precedence. Slipping his shoes off, he hurried to the study. Knocking politely, he let himself into the room. "Li-Feng, we must speak!"

The still attractive patriarch of the Li family looked up, startled. "Tin-Sie, what is it? You look as if someone has walked over your grave."

"You know that I love you, right?"

"This does not bode well." He started to rise from the leather chair only to have the other man gesture him back into it. "What it is?"

"Have you made a match for Li-Tiang Lian yet?"

"No, but..."

Tin-Sie took his hand. "Come here." Pulling him over to the window, he pulled back the drapes and pointed to the boys in the garden. "Watch them. Asa is drawing a picture of Lian. Whether he knows it or not, Lian is flirting with Asa. I think there is a mutual feeling there, even though neither boy truly understands it."

The influential man watched his grandson and the grandson of his lover, best friend, and business partner. "Hmm... This poses potential problems, but we could solve them with one simple contract."

"Are you thinking..."

"Why not? The world will not always frown on couples such as ours."

"Feng, do you want to subject the boys to ridicule?"

Turning the man next to him, he smiled. "As I said, Sie. The world is constantly changing. Things will not always be so unforgiving. I propose that we talk to the boys. They seem to be aware that something exists between them. They are both smart. Besides, we can engineer a clause that should they decide at a much later date that they do not in fact love each other they can terminate the agreement. What can it hurt?"

"You believe this strongly?"

Turning the man in his arms back to the window, he pointed. "Look at them. They remind me of us."

Tin-Sie sighed. "I agree. Draft up the contract. My daughter is not going to like this, but I am still the patriarch of this family. She will do as I say."

"You are sure?"

Tin-Sie turned and cupped the face of the man he loved. "I am certain."

Brushing his lips over the shorter mans, Li-Feng smiled. "Then go retrieve the boys. I would like to perform the handfasting today and sign the contract. The sooner the better."

Tin-Sie smiled a secret smile. His grandsons future was assured. "Of course, beloved."

"You think that you have gotten your way dont you?"

"I want only what is best for our heirs."

"Crafty devil."

"Not at all." He tangled his fingers in the short black hair. "If I was crafty, I would have simply seduced you and gained the promise of Li-Tiang Lian's hand for my Chen-Tin-Shi Asashiku. Not the promise of a protracted betrothal that can be broken."

"You know it will not be broken."

"We must wait until Asa is twenty."

"Agreed." He chuckled. "Now go and get the children."

"Yes dear." He chuckled as he caught the you'll pay for that look on the other mans face. Moving out of the room with lighter feet than he felt, he made his way back into the garden. "Asa... Lian would you come into the study, please?"

"Grandfather?" Lian's head came up, concern coloring his voice. "Is all well?"

Tin-Sie smiled. "There is nothing to fear, my child. Please, come into the study, both of you. Grandfather Feng and I would like to speak with you both."

Asa snapped his book closed and stowed his pencil. "Of course, Grandfather Tin-Sie. Will mother be present as well?"

The old man frowned. "I had not requested her presence yet, no."

The boy stiffened. "Of course, sir." Looking down, he bit his lip.

Tin-Sie looked down at the five-year-old in concern. "Would you prefer that your mother be there, Asa?"

He shrugged but refused to meet the elders eyes.

"Asa, you are a big boy, right?"

"Yes sir." He smiled a little.

"Then, do you not think that you can conduct a meeting with men without your mother?"

"I do, grandfather, but she does not like it." He put his hand over his mouth and looked around in fear. "Forgive me, Grandfather!"

Kneeling before the child, he shook his head. "You are not wrong, my boy. She does not like anything she does not control. This is a conversation that is just for you, me, Lian, and Grandfather Feng. For now, let me worry about your mother, okay?"

"Yes sir."

Taking the boys' hands, he smiled. "Good." Guiding them into the house, he ushered them into the study.

"Asa!"

The boy cringed and froze in the doorway to the study. "Yes mother?"

"Do not bother Grandfather Li-Feng. He is a busy man."

"But he asked for me to come."

"Why would he want to see a disruptive little boy like you?"

"Perhaps for the same reason he wished to see my son, Mrs. Chen."

The woman turned to face the attractive man who stepped into the hall. "Why would that be Li-Tiang?"

"To discuss betrothal documents between our children."

"Betrothal? Preposterous! They are boys! They cannot be betrothed! The world does not accept men together! That is so so disgusting!"

"Auntie, are you saying that Grandfather's Li-Feng and Tin-Sie are disgusting? They love each other."

She made a face. "I do not like their relationship! I simply do not have a choice."

"Mother, I love Grandfather Tin-Sie and Grandfather Li-Feng! I love Li-Tiang Lian, too! Why can't I be betrothed to him? He is my best friend and I... I..." The small boy found himself on the floor, blood trickling from his now split lip.

Chen Mai towered over the now cowering child.

Lian stepped in between them. "Enough! You will not strike him again! Punishing a person for whom they love is not only cruel, it is wrong." He glared at the woman. "Father?"

"You are correct, my son. Come, Chen Mai. Let us go and speak about this calmly. Forgive us father, Tin-Sie. My children. We will rejoin you once, Chen Mai has calmed."

Lian knelt before the now sobbing boy. Lifting him into his arms, he carried his friend into the study without a word. When a servant brought him a bowl of water and a cloth, he thanked her and tended to the bleeding lip. "Shh... it will be all right, little one. I am right here."

"Why is it so wrong to love someone, Lian? I do not understand!"

Brushing his hand through the boy's short black hair, he shook his head. "I do not understand her prejudices either, little one, but I promise you that I do not share them. I love you too. I will never let anything happen to you, I promise."

"Promise?" He launched himself at the older boy. "Oh, Lian!" Wrapping his arms around his neck, he pressed his lips to the supple cheek. "I'll never let you down!"

Lian pulled the smaller boy back and looked into his chocolate eyes. "You cannot promise that, Asa. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect, but I know that, and I will always forgive you. Just promise me that you will always talk to me, okay? Never feel like you have to hide anything from me?"

"I promise. I want you to promise me the same thing. We'll always be here for each other forever or never!"

"Forever or never." Pressing a light kiss to the little lips, Lian smiled. "Do you think you are up for talking with Grandfather Tin-Sie and Li-Feng now?"

"Yep!" Turning, he bowed his head. "Grandfather Li-Feng, I am sorry for my mother. She..."

"No. You do not apologize for her actions. She is an adult and must do so. You are responsible for your own actions little one, and have done nothing wrong." The elder man sat down on the sofa across the coffee table, next to the boy's grandfather. Lian... Asa... do you know what it means to be betrothed?"

Asa pursed his lips. "It means that you promise to be together."

Tin-Sie smiled. "It means a little more than that."

Lian nodded. "It means that you promise to one day marry each other, to love each other, and to be together always."

Asa jumped away. "Like mother and father? I will never promise to hit you, Lian! I swear I will never hurt you!" Tears filled his eyes as his chest started to heave. "I will run away first!"

Lian wrapped his arms around the sobbing boy. "No... no...no..., little one. We will not hurt each other. We will love each other, like Grandfather Tin-Sie and Grandfather Li-Feng."

Asa sobbed against his chest, his arms around the taller boy.

Tin-Sie and Li-Feng exchanged glances. "Do you want to be married one day, boys?"

Lian smiled. "I will always love this little one. I want to marry, my best friend my Asa."

Asa sniffed and looked up. "You do really?"

"Of course, I do." Wiping away the tears that continued to flow down the plump little cheeks, he smiled. "I want to be with you always."

Turning to look at the two elders, Asa nodded. "Me, too. I want to stay with Lian always." He linked their fingers together. "Forever..."

"...or never," the other boy finished in his ear.

Asa smiled and leaned back against his friends chest.

"Sit on the floor by the table boys."

The door to the study opened admitting Lians father. "Mrs. Chen is lying down. Please let us proceed."

"You are just in time, Tiang. Please officiate."

Bowing, the man knelt beside the table. "Grandfathers Tin-Sie and Li-Feng please lay your hands over the bowl. Li-Tiang Lian take the cup and dip it in the water, pour it first over Grandfather Li-Fengs hands, then one over Grandfather Tin-Sies. Repeat after me. I pledge to honor and protect Chen-Tin-Shi Asashiku. From today forward into the hereafter. I promise love and cherish him above all others."

Lian smiled. "I pledge to honor and protect Chen-Tin-Shi Asashiku. From today into the hereafter. I promise to love and cherish him above all others."

Asa blushed and looked at the floor to hide his smile.

"Chen-Shi Asa, pour water first over Grandfather Tin-Sies and then Grandfather Li-Fengs hands. Then repeat after me. I pledge to honor and protect Li-Tiang Lian. From today forward into the hereafter. I promise love and cherish him above all others."

Asa straightened himself to his full height and poured the water over the mens hands repeating the sacred words. "I pledge to honor and protect Li-Tiang Lian. From today into the hereafter. I promise to love and cherish him above all others."

Tin-Sie smiled at his grandson. "You are very wise, my young heir. I believe that you are ready to sign this contract." He handed the boy a pen and pointed to a line. "Put your name here."

"Yes Grandfather. May I read this first? I must know what it is that I sign."

Li-Feng chuckled. "Of course, little one. I would not sign anything I have not read."

Asa nodded. "You taught me that, honorable Grandfather." Reading the document, he frowned. "What does it mean that I will be given an allowance and settled into an apartment until the time that we are to marry? I do not understand?"

"That is once you are finished with primary schooling and enter University."

"Is it not better for me to earn my own way in the world? I am strong and smart. I should not have to rely on other to ensure that I have a roof over my head."

Tin-Sie looked at his partner in alarm.

Li-Feng laughed. "Young man, you are quite right. One should be able to make their own way in the world, and you should never lose sight of this. Consider this my gift to you, as my future grandson. I would have you live a life of security, not one of hand to mouth. I trust that you are strong and smart and wise. I would provide for your future as my grandsons spouse."

"I think I understand." He continued to read. Signing the document, he held the pen out to Lian.

Lian let his fingers brush the smaller ones as he took the pen. Signing his name with a flourish, he smiled. "Now what happens?"

"Now, we give you these," Li-Feng tied braided red thread around each boys wrist, "and we celebrate."

Dinner that night was a grand affair. After which Asa slept very deeply. He was so tired that he wasn't even aware when his mother bundled him into the back of the taxi and onto a plane. He woke when they were landing. "Mother?"

"Be quiet Asa."

The anger in her voice made him keep his peace. When they arrived at their destination, he was surprised. It was a large ivy-covered edifice. "Mother, what are we doing here?"

"You will be going to school here."

"School?" he looked at her in confusion. "What about my school in Taiwan? What about Grandfather Tin-Sie? What about Grandfather Li-Feng Lian I do not understand."

"You will not speak about them any longer," she turned on him, shaking his little body, "do you understand me? You are never to mention them again! The headmaster here has strict instructions to keep you from contacting them, so dont even try! I will not allow you to be corrupted by them!"

"But mother, I signed a contract! I made a pledge! I will honor my bond, would you have me be an honorless man? Would you have me be like father?"

She slapped him hard enough to knock him down.

Asa picked himself up off the fine grade gravel and spat out the blood. "I hate you." His voice was quiet. "I will never speak to you again." Turning his back on her, he felt a lance of ice in his heart.

"I don't care, as long as you never speak to that heathen boy ever again!"

Shutting down, Asa found himself propelled through the next several days by force of will. He moved automatically. He rose when he was told. He followed instructions.

17 Janvier 2023 08:29 0 Rapport Incorporer Suivre l’histoire
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