Yun Li was once my name, although it wasn't anymore. Now, I was Sarah, daughter of the rich Mr and Mrs Anderson. I had been given everything I could have ever needed or hoped for, and yet it still wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted to see the world, seek my fortune, I never thought about my real family, because in all reality, the Andersons were precisely that- my real family. I couldn't remember a time in my life which didn't include them.
Lucy Anderson had always been my mother, for as long as I could remember. Although my real parents had been Chinese, Lucy was a good woman, and had adopted me when my parents hadn't wanted me. And Jacob Anderson, my father, was a decent enough man. He adored me more than anything, although sometimes his expectations were a little too high and he had quite a temper on him.
"You had better not let me down, Sarah," he told me, again and again, and I always promised him that I wouldn't. Deep inside, I still realise that I was more than a little scared of my father, but I loved him dearly, even after the day when the entire family fell apart.
I was too young to remember the day when the Andersons took me from my family in China, and brought me to live with them in England. I was almost two years old at the time. My family, poor and overworked, couldn't afford to keep me. Mr and Mrs Anderson were missionaries working with their church, and had been sent to China to bring aid after a minor earthquake in a village near to where I lived for the first few months of my life. Lucy Anderson could not have children of her own. Wealthy people adopting foreign children in such circumstances is not unheard of, and in some places it's extremely common. Often, I thought about how lucky I was to have found some people who wanted me, despite the fact that they were not my own flesh and blood. And as for my family in China, during my younger years they rarely crossed my mind. I knew where I came from. People wouldn't let me forget it. The people in the church I attended with my parents constantly told me how lucky I was to have been 'saved' by the Andersons.
School was no different. When people found out I had been adopted, they asked me question after question. I was the first person the geography teacher turned to when we were learning about China, despite the fact that I didn't remember it at all. I was different, and I knew it. I didn't want to be, but I was.
I loved to sing, and I was always involved in the school plays. I was never a leading part in acting though.
"Cinderella wasn't Chinese, Sarah," I was told once by the music teacher. Fuming, I went home and told Momma, who comforted me as she always did. We were kindred spirits, my momma and I.
"Singing won't get you anywhere," was all that my father would say. "You need to get a good education Sarah, instead of wasting all your time on such a ridiculous pipe dream." Father's harsh words hurt me deeply, yet I tried to do what he said. If I didn't, he would send me on a guilt trip, reminding me how much he had done for me. I knew he only wanted what was best for me though, even if he and I wanted different things for my life.
In spite of all of this, I knew I was dearly loved by my English parents. You only had to walk through our front door to see it. There were pictures of me, starting in the hallway when I was very young, and getting older as you followed the pictures up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, you came to a huge landing, and on the far wall was an enormous picture of me, Momma and Father when I was eight years old. It was in a very expensive frame Momma told me, and she also said that the carved flowers on it were made from gold. I often ran my fingers over the flowers when nobody was watching.
Momma had designed all the rooms in our home herself, although she had hired people to do the actual painting and decorating. To look at, Momma was much like a porcelain doll. Beautiful, elegant, and never a hair out of place. Sometimes she wanted me to be the same, and when I was younger she had delighted in dressing me up for the fancy dinner parties she always threw for Father's business friends and rivals. Up until I was thirteen, I had not been included in these parties except to be introduced to all the people there. But to my joy, as soon as I became a teenager, my mother started to treat me as an adult, her equal, and although to Father I was still his little girl, he and Momma finally let me dine with them and their important guests.
I enjoyed these occasions very much, because people asked me questions about how I was getting on at school, what I wanted for myself in the future, and not one thing was ever mentioned about me being adopted. I was truly looked upon as the daughter of Jacob and Lucy Anderson, and this made my childish heart sing with happiness. Deep down, I suppose I loved to be the centre of attention, and always had.
I had so many wonderful memories to cherish. I was lucky in the fact that I had been pretty as a young girl, and as I grew older, I was becoming more attractive. Father frequently told me that he wanted to approve any boyfriend I had, to make sure they were good enough for me. A part of me still thinks I was given a bit too much though. I had my own ensuite bathroom leading off from my bedroom, and my bedroom itself was large, airy, and decorated to my own taste. In the huge dining room downstairs, a grand piano sat in the corner. Momma and Father couldn't play, but I could, and sometimes Father asked me if I would play a quick number or two to entertain his guests. I didn't know what it was to be shy, and that's what Momma said first drew me to her and my father.
They had been walking through a market place in China when they had seen me, sitting on an old box beside my mother, begging for food. I had run up to them, danced around them as they walked, and sang a song to them in Chinese.
"It was just adorable," Momma told me "especially since you were so tiny, and you could only just walk and talk. Your mother didn't speak and English, but she called your father from a market stall a few yards away, and he came over. His English was broken, but he spoke to us and asked us if he would help take care of you. I didn't know what he meant at first, but we both realised that they couldn't afford you. So we thought about it for a couple of hours as we walked around the market place, and then we decided that we would take you home with us."
"It was really that simple?" I asked, time and time again.
"Yes," Momma replied beaming. "They didn't want you, so we had you." This story was supposed to make me feel wanted and loved, and whilst it showed that the Anderson's loved me, it meant my biological parents didn't. How could I live, knowing that the woman who gave birth to me didn't even want me?
Sarah meant 'princess' and I knew that this is what I was to the Anderson's. I was their princess, their only child, and the only one they were likely to have. Unlike the story of how they had found me, the reason why Lucy was unable to have children was only told to me once.
"I was pregnant shortly after you father and I married," she told me, "but there were complications. I lost the baby, and the doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to have another one. I was heartbroken, as was your father. We decided that one day we would adopt, but from that point on we dedicated as much time as we could to the church, helping out other people. That's why we were sent to China and how we met you."
"And what about my name?" I asked. "Why did you change my name?"
"I suppose part of it was wanting to make you fit in, make you feel as though you really belonged to us by giving you a name that we'd chosen ourselves. And you really are our princess, Sarah." Momma leaned forward, and brushed my dark hair back off my forehead.
"I love you Momma," I said, almost automatically.
"I love you too Sarah," she replied. "Now, about tomorrow night. What are you going to wear?" It was the day before my sixteenth birthday, and Momma had told me I could have some friends over. To Father, me turning sixteen was almost as important to him as it was to me. At that moment he knocked on the door, and came into the bedroom where I sat with Momma.
"I'm not going to be here tomorrow night," he said, apologetically. "I've got another late business meeting. I'm really sorry Princess."
"But Daddy," I began, moaning like a little girl, "I'm going to be sixteen. You promised that you'd be here, that you wouldn't let work get in the way again!"
"I know I did, but I'll make it up to you, I promise. You and I, we'll do something special together this weekend. Just the two of us."
"OK," I said, satisfied. I knew how important Father's job was, and although I hated how busy he always was, I was grateful to him for working hard enough to provide a really good life for myself and for Momma.
"I suppose this meeting is at yet another fancy restaurant?" Momma said, and I could sense the bitterness in her voice. I knew that Father could too, though he didn't react.
"Yes," he sighed. "It's at the Regal this time. At least it's only down the road anyway, so I can just walk there."
"The Regal is very expensive, Jacob," Momma said suspiciously.
"Well, Martin always was a bit extravagant," Father replied, referring to the old business rival who was taking him to dinner, hoping to make a business deal with him. Momma murmured something which may or may not have been a word, and I tried to turn the conversation back towards my party, not wanting my parents to argue. Lately there seemed to have been a lot of tension in the household, and I hadn't liked it. I want to talk to Momma and Father about it, ask them what it was all about. I was too scared though, and feared I might just bring up more arguments for them and make everything worse.
So my father left the following evening just as my friends were arriving, but not before kissing my cheek and wishing me a happy birthday.
"Here," he whispered, and slid a little box into my hand. "Happy birthday, Princess."
"Thank you, Daddy," I said with a smile.
"You look beautiful." He stroked my hair, and I smiled once again.
"You look very handsome too," I told him, and he really did. The dark blue suit he wore did his lighter blue eyes justice. I told him so, and he gave me a final birthday hug before he left. I wasn't aware that this was the last hug I would give him still believing that he was the perfect father.
When he left, I opened the little package he had given to me. The label simply read Princess. I carefully opened the silver paper, thinking I might save it as I often saved silly little things as mementoes of events which had occurred in my short years. In the box was a silver necklace, on a delicate chain. The pendant itself was crown-shaped, and it had a little row of Emeralds across it. A crown. Yet another reference to Princess. How like Father to think of such a lovely thing.
"Sarah!" Trisha, one of my closest friends rushed into the house bearing gifts.
"Hello," I greeted her and took the three gift wrapped packages from her, placing them on the table with all the rest. I put the sadder thought of my father not being there out of my mind, and decided to concentrate on enjoying myself. After all, I would only turn sixteen once. I had to make the most of it.
Momma had decorated our large party room especially. It was where we had dances at Christmas, and where we held other events if we had too many guests to fit into the larger of the two dining rooms. I'd put on some of my favourite dance music, and my friends were all spinning around the dance floor. Laughter and chatter filled the room. There were at least twenty people there already, and more still to come. It was originally going to be a few of my closest friends, but the more Momma and I planned for it, the bigger it got. Father was only too happy to pull out his cheque book and make sure that we had only the best food and beverages- non-alcoholic, of course. After all, I was only sixteen.
After coming back from the bathroom, I stopped on the way to glance at my reflection in one of our many mirrors. I didn't look any older but I felt like a real adult, ready to take on the world and succeed in everything I did. I pulled out my hair-tie and shook my head, making my long dark hair tumble about my shoulders. It curled very slightly at the bottom. It was so dark that sometimes it almost looked black. I was wearing a black skirt which fanned out when I twirled around, and a new red top with sleeves that ended at the elbows. Red was my favourite colour, my lucky colour. I ran a hand through my hair and then skipped off downstairs, back to my birthday party.
"Happy birthday!" Jenna and Lisa came in through the front door, twins from my year at school. "You look so lovely!" Jenna told me.
"Thank you," I said. "You both look amazing too." They had dressed in dresses of identical cut, the difference between them being the colour- one dress was green and the other blue.
"It's incredible," Lisa breathed as she stepped in to where everyone danced.
"Dance with me, Sarah!" Lee grabbed me by the hand and pulled me to the middle of the room. Lee and I had been good friends ever since I could remember, and deep down I knew that he liked me. We were young though, and he was probably too embarrassed to admit his feelings. When the song finished, he refused to let go of my hand, and as a slower one began, he pulled me closer. Blushing a deep scarlet, I slid my arms around his neck. I didn't want him to get the wrong idea though, but I was enjoying the moment.
"You look pretty," he whispered to me. After the song had finished, I nervously asked Lee if he wanted to come outside with me and see the gardens. He agreed, as I knew he would, and we slipped past everyone and out through the kitchen door into the chilly night air. I switched on the outdoor light, which lit up the wooden decking.
"You'll love the way the light makes the garden look in the darkness," I told him.
"Wow!" Lee murmured, looking around. "You're so lucky. I would kill to have all this." I nodded and smiled, knowing how fortunate I was. The water fountain sparkled in the moonlight, as the droplets cascaded back down into the main pool below.
"So are you enjoying the party?" I asked eventually, wondering why Lee wasn't saying anything.
"Yes," he said. And then he looked straight into my eyes, and said, "Sarah, I really like you."
"I like you too," I smiled in a way I hoped made me seem mysterious and desirable. I did like him- but only as a friend. I didn't expect the next part to happen. He leaned closer towards me and brushed his lips across my cheek. Then, when he saw that I wasn't going to run from him, he kissed my lips and I responded, enjoying the first kiss I had ever had with a boy- even though I didn't feel for Lee in the same way he felt for me. It was my birthday though, and I wanted it to be as special as possible.
A couple of hours later as everyone was going home, Father still wasn't back. His business meeting was going on for a long time, I thought, as I waved my guests goodbye.
"I'll see you at school on Monday, Sarah," Lee said, as he waved goodbye and blew me a kiss.
"Well, well, well," Momma said, smiling at me. "It looks as though the evening was even better than you'd hoped. Am I correct?"
"Yes," I told her. it had truly been a birthday worth remembering forever.
"Lee has always been one of your closest friends, hasn't he? And he's a nice boy. You could do a lot worse." Momma started to clear up some of the mess from the party, and I started to help her.
"It's not like that Momma," I told her. "Lee is just a friend."
"Does he know he's just a friend?" Momma asked, and I ignored this comment, trying to change the subject.
"Daddy's late," I said casually. Momma face took on a look I couldn't quite describe, and then she turned to me.
"I'll tell you what," she said, "why don't you take a cab down to the restaurant and get him?" She went to her purse and pulled out some money, which she thrust into my hand. "Well, go on then," she urged me, and wondering what had come over my momma, I turned and left the house, slipping my arms into my new coat on the way. It was a birthday gift from my Aunt Helen, and I loved it. I loved the beautiful feel of the soft material across my bare arms underneath. And the colour was a deep red, which I though suited my pale complexion as well as the fact that it was red again, the colour I adored. I ran around the corner to the busy main road, where I hailed a taxi and jumped in.
"The Regal, please," I said, as confidently as though I took taxis wherever I went.
"Bit young to be out on yer own this late, ain'tcha?" the taxi driver said, not taking his eyes off the road.
"It's my birthday," I said proudly, as though I had accomplished something great. "I'm going to the restaurant to see my father." The journey was short, less than five minutes. Truthfully, it would have been easier just to walk, but Momma would never have allowed that at such a late hour. The driver pulled up outside. "Wait a moment, please," I said, thinking that Daddy and I would ride back in the cab together.
I peered through the restaurant window, searching the candlelit tables, and saw my father. Seated opposite him, I expected to see Martin Lloyd, his business rival, but there was a woman. A young, blonde woman, who's eyes were fixated on my father, as his were on her.
"She must be Martin's wife," I murmured to myself aloud, knowing already it wasn't true. "Perhaps Martin went to pay for the meal." But as I watched, I saw my father take both of the woman's hands into his own, and kiss them. I felt frozen to the spot for a moment whilst I surveyed the scene, and then I managed to drag myself away, holding back the tears as I jumped back into the cab.
"My father's not there," I half-yelled at the taxi driver in a crazy voice. "Take me home again, please." Without a word, the driver delivered me back to my doorstep, where I threw the wad of notes Momma had given me at him, and rushed into the house. I slammed the front door behind me, and leaned back against it, trying to catch my breath.
"Sarah?" Momma came out into the wide, spacious hallway to see what was happening. "Why did you slam the door like that?" I said nothing. "Sarah, what are you staring at? What's the matter?"
"Daddy wasn't there," I told her, saying the first words which rolled off my tongue. "I guess he must be on his way home or something. I'm tired anyway. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Momma, and thanks for the lovely party." Up the stairs I hurried, and away from my mother's baffled face staring after me.