༺ Starting Over (2) ༻
Senior had changed the way she addressed Oppa. It was a subtle shift since she just started calling him by his name, but it was quite noticeable coming from her, who usually used formal titles like ‘Sir’ or ‘Lady’ for everyone.
Originally, no one else addressed oppa by his first name, except perhaps his mother the Countess.
It also seemed that Senior’s gaze towards Oppa had become warmer ever since they reached that level of familiarity.
‘Ah, she’s always looked at him that way.’
It was only then that I realized that she had always looked at him with warmth. I was just confused.
Fortunately, it seems Oppa has resolved his issues.
‘So it was Senior all along.’
The one oppa pushed away and the one he wanted to confide in. It had to be her. No one else could have brought about such a change.
Yes, it made sense. Senior always showed special care and affection for Oppa; he must have felt the same about her.
It was only natural. That’s right.
‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’
Unlike me, who met Oppa at the Academy, Senior knew him long before that. She showed him kindness actively, unlike me who only depended on him.
And unlike me, a baron’s daughter, Senior was from a ducal family. So, Oppa would naturally find her more trustworthy.
It was clear that he would confide in her more than me. I wasn’t naive enough to not understand that.
Why does it hurt?
It was a good thing, wasn’t it? Oppa resolved his worries, and he grew closer to Senior. I also managed to repay a little of the debt I owed to Oppa.
I tried to ignore the ache. It was a happy occasion, after all. There was no reason for me to feel this way.
But when I bumped into him in the hallway, the ache only grew stronger.
Why is this happening? It shouldn’t be like this.
“I’m glad things seem to be going well for you.”
I managed a smile. I couldn’t let my worries darken his bright expression.
I wondered if my smile looked forced, but that didn’t seem to be the case since he nodded lightly. I’m glad I didn’t give him any new worries when he’d just solved his problem.
Even on second glance, Oppa’s expression was brighter than usual. He typically had a somber look, but now he appeared peaceful.
The dark circles under his eyes remained, though. Sadly, it seemed like it came from overwork.
“It was all thanks to you. I appreciate it.”
As I looked at him, he spoke. My contribution, however small, had helped him.
His words brought a smile to my face. I was glad to have been of help to him.
However, the joy came with a twinge of regret. If I could be of help to him, then I wish he had confided in me, too.
I had shown my feelings only to Oppa, but I was the only one who did it.
‘I wasn’t the only one for him, after all.’
The pain intensified.
“You’re the one who did everything, oppa. You’re amazing.”
It was an ugly and embarrassing emotion. What I had confided in Oppa was just my one-sided whims. It was foolish of me to expect him to reciprocate those feelings.
So, I didn’t voice my selfish thoughts. I simply congratulated him with a smile.
“I’m really grateful.”
I nearly burst into tears when he patted my shoulder.
It’s so weird. I keep getting these weird feelings about things that should be purely happy moments.
“Mar would be grateful, too. I didn’t explain why I rejected her proposal before, and it’s embarrassing that I only told her now.”
I nodded at oppa’s embarrassed admission.
I hadn’t known about the proposal between him and Senior, but it wasn’t surprising given her evident affection for him.
It was impressive that Senior continued to show him unchanged affection even after being rejected, and it was also regretful that Oppa had his reasons for rejecting her.
A sudden thought struck me. If Oppa had a reason for rejecting the marriage proposal and had confided that reason to Senior…
And if Senior had undergone such a drastic change as to start calling Oppa by his name after hearing that reason…
“Um, sorry for the personal question, but… about you and Senior…”
It was too private a question. I knew I had no right to ask such a thing, but I couldn’t help myself. It was like my instincts demanded an immediate answer.
My rational mind stopped me, so I couldn’t finish the sentence. However, Oppa understood and stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“I don’t know when, but maybe there will be a new proposal.”
I nodded hastily at his response.
“Isn’t it too early for that?”
Seeing Oppa chuckle, I couldn’t help but laugh along. I had to laugh, or else a different expression might have appeared.
After a few more words, Oppa left while thanking me several times.
I gently touched my chest, which had been aching since earlier.
‘Oppa and Senior will be getting married.’
The pain in my heart intensified.
Ah, so that was it. That’s why.
‘It wasn’t just out of gratitude.’
I realized it too late. It wasn’t until I saw Oppa with someone else that I realized how I felt.
It wasn’t just a desire to repay him. I wanted to be noticed by him and to receive his attention.
‘I like him.’
A hollow laugh escaped me. Why did I only realize this now?
Was I blinded by the past, or did I simply not listen to my own heart?
What did it matter? The result was the same either way.
‘I’ve been such a fool.’
I should have realized it when I talked about my past with Oppa. It wasn’t just a whim.
I spoke because I trusted him and because I wanted him to see me and accept me.
My head may have denied it, but my heart knew all along. That was my last chance.
‘I’m a fool and a coward.’
I confided in Oppa because I saw him differently and because I hoped he would see me in the same way and share his past.
Yes, that must be it. Otherwise, why would I feel disappointed and regretful?
This was embarrassing. I unwittingly confessed my feelings without even realizing it and then felt sad about being rejected.
‘I deserve this.’
But who could I blame? It was all my fault. I was the one who closed my eyes and ears to unpleasant things.
And I was the one who pushed people away because of my personal past. Erich, Ainter, Rutis, Lather, and Tannian… I pushed them all away.
Having ignored the feelings of others, I deserved to have my own ignored, too. Yes, I deserved this.
‘If only I had realized it sooner.’
If I was destined to realize it, it would have been better to do so earlier. Then at least I could have tried something before it was too late.
If it was impossible, then I wish I had never known. Then, I wouldn’t have to feel this pain.
‘If only back then…’
When Oppa consulted me…
I slapped my cheeks with my palms as I had a thought I shouldn’t have.
Wake up, Louise. How much more cowardly can you be?
Senior was brave and persistent in her affection for Oppa, unlike me. I had no right to interfere.
Something trickled down my cheeks. Did I slap myself too hard? It hurt so much that I’m crying.
Yes, it had to be the pain.
Walking aimlessly, I ended up somewhere I hadn’t intended to go.
Although to be honest, did it even matter where I went? I feel like I’d be sad even if I ended up in heaven.
Either way, I found myself near a familiar place. Of all the places to go to, the place where I came to was Irina’s room.
Did I come seeking comfort? It was my own foolishness and cowardice that caused this. Did I also dare and want to be comforted?
I stared blankly at the door, then turned around. I should just go back to my room after a while—
I heard Irina’s voice as the door opened.
Is today just not my day?
I saw Louise just as I stepped out for a walk in the garden. It was perfect timing; I didn’t want to be alone.
But I quickly abandoned that thought. Louise looked so downcast that dragging her along was impossible.
In the end, I practically forced her into my room despite her protests.
The urge to tell her to cut the nonsense rose to the tip of my tongue when I saw her forced smile.
There was no way nothing was wrong when she, who usually looked so cheerful, now looked so gloomy.
Although I tried to coax her into opening up, Louise remained silent. Why was she being so stubborn?
“Now that Lady Marghetta seems happy, you’ve become strange instead.”
I sighed in frustration. Since we returned from Count Tailglehen’s territory, the Duke’s daughter had been brooding. But she’d been noticeably happier recently, even calling Oppa by his first name.
“Oppa seems happier too.”
“Yeah, probably. Something good must be happening.”
I nodded at Louise’s lackluster response. It was obvious to any noble what was going on between Oppa and Lady Marghetta. If one couldn’t see that, then how could they survive in high society?
It was all good, though. As expected, it seems Lady Marghetta will indeed become Oppa’s first wife.
“Oppa won’t have any restrictions then.”
I muttered, relieved. If the first wife was Lady Marghetta, then he wouldn’t have to worry about status when he took another wife. Even I, from a count’s family, could…
No, what am I saying? Oppa and I were just acquaintances. We’re not at a level to discuss that kind of future.
…Not yet, anyway.
Embarrassed, I clammed up at Louise’s puzzled voice.
“It’s exactly as I said. If Oppa marries Lady Marghetta, then he won’t have to worry.”
But Louise still looked confused, as if she didn’t understand.
What’s wrong? Why doesn’t she get it?
Louise was from a baron’s family. Then, it was understandable that she might not know how higher-ranking nobles often had multiple wives.
“When taking additional wives, a man can’t marry someone of higher status than his first wife.”
Marrying someone of higher status than the first wife could make her a figurehead. That was why there was an unspoken rule to protect the first wife’s authority. It didn’t matter for the second or third wives as the rule was for the first wife’s sake.
This held especially true since there was no eligible princess in the current Imperial family. If the first wife was a lady of a duchy, then every lady in the empire was a candidate.
“So Oppa doesn’t have to worry about… huh, Louise?”
Louise’s spirits seemed to have lifted a bit.
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