The air around them quietened once Tsubaki's exclamation being drifted away by the wind. Her gaze toward Mrs. Souma was full of incredulity. The older lady was still looking straight to the fountain opposite them, her delicate brows furrowed and her lips were pursed into a straight line. Her hands were fisted on her lap, showing how heavy whatever she wanted to tell Tsubaki was.
"President Souma thought the babies in my mother's womb were his?" Tsubaki narrowed her eyes, her hands were still forming a protective barrier over her baby bump. A chill ran down her spine the moment she heard such a cruel story from Mrs. Souma. "How could he be so certain?"
Did the older man force himself on her mother before? In order to restrain herself from leaving him?
"Masami never slept with him," Mrs. Souma said with certainty. "One night, the Soumas held a banquet and your mother was there. Shinjiro was drunk and... he did have an idea of that kind of thing but Masami managed to run away and..." She paused, looking ashamed of herself before she reluctantly added, "...I was the one who slept with him that night."
No wonder she could say with confidence that my mother was carrying my father's children. She knew the truth.
But, she still had her doubts.
"Why you didn't secure the position of Mrs. Souma after spending a night with him? You could force him to take responsibility."
"I regretted my decision the moment we did it," Mrs. Souma's voice became slower and slower as the painful memory lingered in her mind. "I forgot how his mania could flare up if he knew how I schemed against him. I didn't wait, I ran away before the morning came and I... left an article of your mother inside his room. It was her bracelet, the one she wore during the banquet. That was the reason why Shinjiro thought it was really your mother."
"When did you tell him about my mother and father's relationship?" Tsubaki wasn't too unfazed with the revelation. She had heard enough of shocking stories from the moment she decided to investigate her background.
My life was really like the dog blood drama on the TV, Tsubaki sighed inwardly.
"I told him a few days after the banquet. Shinjiro checked with Mr. Saeki and he admitted to it. Mr. Saeki was immediately sent to the army and... Masami's engagement with Shinjiro was finalized despite her didn't agree to it. Everything went well until... Shinjiro knew of your mother's pregnancy. For the first time, I went to meet Masami. She ran away once the night arrived."
Both of them went into silence. Tsubaki had known where the story would be directed next. Mrs. Souma warned her mother thus she could escape successfully. Since then, her mother had lived in hiding, away from both of her daughters and her lover who had died.
But, a few of her questions hadn't been answered.
"Then, how did you get to know about my sister's existence?" Tsubaki repeated her inquiry from earlier.
Mrs. Souma sighed, the heavy burden that had been chaining her for years was slowly easing away. She glanced at Tsubaki once, the young lady appeared composed, a far cry from what she had expected since the moment she decided to come clean.
"Maybe it's because of my guilt, I started searching for Masami yet no clues appeared," Mrs. Souma looked down, she played with the tips of her fingers in an attempt to calm her beating heart. Her memories of Hinata came into her mind one by one.
"I was being discreet since I didn't want Shinjiro to know. After months of searching, I came across your sister's photo. It was a photo of her orphanage joining a charity event for orphans. Even by seeing her photo, I could see her resemblance to your mother. Since then, I investigated her and came to know that she was an orphan left behind since she was a baby. I was certain Masami lived in difficulties after she ran away. Deep inside, I was being prideful. I founded the charity group to ease some of my guilt away."
"I'm not the one to judge your intention since because of the charity group, my sister could live better," Tsubaki remembered what Director Ayanokouji had told her.
The orphanage was on the verge of closing down due to the lack of funds but, the help from the charity group came timely and helped them stayed afloat without having the need to transfer the children to other places. The quality of their meal also improved over time, so did their facilities. No one was left hungry and cold.
"But, I still failed Masami and you," Mrs. Souma's gaze turned heavier as each minute passed. "I was still indirectly involved in her misfortune. Even to this day, I am still bounded by my guilt. Especially when I got to know that Masami actually had twin daughters. Since you lived far from the city, I didn't know about you until the day we met during the party the other day. I would always think what if Masami and Mr. Saeki could get together? What if you guys could live happily?"
"There's no what if," Tsubaki replied sullenly. "Things have happened. My mother is nowhere to be found and I don't know whether she is still alive or not. My father has long dead. And, my sister... I only got to know her existence recently. Even so, I have decided to no longer shedding tears, regretting my life. I want to focus on what would lie ahead of me, my life with my husband and this baby that would be born. I just investigated my past to properly put a closure in my heart. I don't want to be haunted by them."
When Tsubaki was reminded of the warm-looking cottage that would be their new home, her tension gradually faded. Her past was important but it didn't mean she wanted to continue grieving the misfortunes laid with it. She had learned a lot from the people she met while investigating her past.
No one's past could determine their future.
"You might feel guilty but," Tsubaki slowly turned her head around, her eyes settled on the side profile of Mrs. Souma. Sensing her gaze, the older lady too looked at her. Their eyes met. Tsubaki smiled softly before she added, "I still thank you for seeking me out first. Your intention to no longer keep this matter a secret is a brave decision of yours, at least to me. It's hard for one to admit their mistake. I understood that you've been trying to correct the wrongs you've done. Please stop blaming yourself. My sister lived a better life thanks to you, she has even gotten married to her loved one. It's a pity her life was short but, it's the truth that you have helped her by founding the charity group."
"Regarding my mother and father, President Souma is still at fault. But, this is a matter of the previous generations. I won't settle my parents' score with him but I do hope one day he would openly admit to his wrongdoings. Just because you fell in love with someone, you do not have the right to force that someone to love you back. Because of his doings, he ruined a small family."
"Tsubaki..." Mrs. Souma was rendered speechless. She was baffled and amazed by how the young lady carried herself in this situation. She didn't see hatred in her clear eyes. Each of her words was spoken with calm. This was not the image she had planted in her mind when she made a resolve to meet Tsubaki today and tell her everything. "I... I don't know what to say..."
In the end, Mrs. Souma broke their eye contact. Her shoulders slumped as she looked at the grass under her feet. Her eyes felt stinging, hot tears were threatening to fall down on her cheeks. Over the years she had lived in the high society with a mask of composure over her face, this was the first time she was having difficulty to suppress her feelings.
Tsubaki let the lady had her moment of silence to calm herself. She didn't say anything to comfort her either. Her eyes went to her bump, her fingers softly caressing the life that was budding inside her. A new resolve came to her in that instance.
She swore to herself, besides raising their child with love and care, she would teach them how to attack and defend himself from injustices.
"I have learned a lot and I'm grateful for that. From the moment we first time, I was truly comfortable with you. You treated me well. Whether it's because of your guilt or not, I won't say anything. I just hope to end this matter and continue living my life. Once again, I thank you."
By this time, drops of tears had trickled down Mrs. Souma's face. She kept her silence as she was weeping. Tsubaki smiled softly. She stretched out both of her hands, she gently wrapped her arms around the older lady's body. Mrs. Souma stiffened, didn't expect to receive such a warm gesture from Tsubaki.
"I hope you can free yourself from your guilt. You've given me advice, to not attempt to be someone else you're not. I believe it's from your own experience. I will keep on living as myself. I won't hide from anyone. So, I hope you'd consider my words too."
Mrs. Souma nodded slowly. She returned the hug. A smile spread on her face. For the first time over these two decades, she felt at peace.
She was really thankful for this young lady's compassion.
Both of them continued to talk under the tree until the sun hovered over the horizon, basking beautiful brilliant red and orange colors on the sky. Realizing that she had taken the expecting mother's time for too much, Mrs. Souma slowly bidding her goodbye. Tsubaki walked her out to the front yard. Her personal chauffer had been waiting beside the black car.
"Please come to my bakery whenever you could," Tsubaki sincerely giving Mrs. Souma an invitation. "I'd love to let you try my desserts."
"Of course I would," Mrs. Souma readily agreed. Her complexion was much brighter than earlier. "Kanako has always boasted about your sweets to me whenever I visit her mother. I'll surely come."
They exchanged a few more words before Mrs. Souma started getting into the car. Right before the chauffeur closed the door, Tsubaki was suddenly reminded of something. She supported her bump lightly before she bent down to meet Mrs. Souma's eye-level.
"Aunt Shiori, I forgot to ask you," Tsubaki looked earnestly at the older lady. "Did you use my mother's name to try attracting her attention? She did visit the orphanage before the first time you went there."
"Yes, I wanted her to notice me," Mrs. Souma admitted swiftly, her lips pursed into a tight line. Her gaze turned downcast. "Well, maybe because I hope she remembered that I have once helped her to escape so she would come to me if she's having problems. It's just my wishful thinking. I heard of her appearing at that time but, unfortunately, I couldn't find any more clues about her."
Tsubaki nodded, her gaze turned thoughtful.
Without delaying any longer, she bid goodbye to Mrs. Souma. While her eyes were trained to the disappearing black car, her mind was invaded with a new question.
If she asked Mrs. Souma about what happened to her five years ago, would she know anything? After all, she knew that person.
"Madam, it's getting cold outside," Old Yuuzo's words next to her snapped Tsubaki back to reality. "Please come inside. Master would be upset if he knows you're standing in the cold."
Tsubaki giggled, her voice sound light and airy. "Alright, Old Yuuzo. Let's head back inside."
Ren arrived home a quarter to 7 with Takuma tailing behind him. The younger guy greeted her with enthusiasm, making Tsubaki laughed. Both of them had dinner with Grandma. Aunt Kasumi wasn't there. She had work to do at her new studio in the city.
All of them retreated quite early to their respective bedrooms. Since tomorrow was the weekend, Takuma took the liberty to spend the night at the old house, much to Ren's dismay.
"Anything special happened today, sweetheart?" Ren curled up her lips, he started peppering his little wife's face with small kisses, both of his wide palms secured the sides of her face. He had missed her so much. He needed to quench his longing to her.
"En... Aunt Shiori came here," Tsubaki said in the midst of her giggling. Her husband had been extra clinging with her today.
"Aunt Shiori?" Ren rose one of his brows, his mind didn't register the unfamiliar name.
"Mrs. Souma," Tsubaki smiled softly. "She came to see Grandma today."
Ren frowned, he stopped kissing her albeit with reluctance. "Did she say something to you?"
His wife was still contemplating whether to see the older lady or not yet she came here by her own free will?
"Yes, she admitted to almost everything."
Tsubaki began to recount what they had shared this evening. Both of them leaned against the headboard before Ren pulled her to his chest. Tsubaki happily accepted his intimate gesture. Ren listened to her carefully, afraid of missing any details. But, the more he heard, the more relieved he felt.
His wife appeared as if half of her burdens had been lifted off of her shoulders.
"So, you're feeling alright now?" A smile tugged on his handsome face as his gaze softened. Ren ran his fingers through her silky long hair. "I'm happy to see you like this, sweetheart. I was worried if you'd be too hard on yourself."
"I'm alright, darling," Tsubaki raised her chin up and planted a soft kiss on his thin lips. "You're with me."
Ren's smile widened. Her words would always be laced with honey, making him pleased.
"But..." Tsubaki paused for a moment, she looked disturbed by something.
Her words attracted his attention. He straightened his back, his dark eyes were focusing entirely on her face. A light fear tinged his heart. "But, what?"
"En..." Tsubaki looked up to her husband, she blinked once before she innocently said, "I feel like eating hot pot now. Could we have some?"
"Ha?" Ren was caught off guard with what she had said. His lips parted as he stared dumbly at his wife.
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