When I opened my eyes, I saw the familiar canopy above me. Still groggy from the alcohol, I tried to understand the current situation, but my head felt fuzzy and didn’t work properly.
“. . .Ester, are you awake?”
As I tried to turn my gaze towards the whispering voice, I was surprised to find Theodore much closer than I thought. Apparently, I had been sleeping.
“. . .Morning?”
“It’s still night. The party is probably ending soon. While you were asleep, the maids took care of changing and bathing for you, so it’s alright to continue sleeping.”
I see, it hasn’t been that long. That explains why I still felt dizzy. My chest felt a little sick, so I took a deep breath.
“Would you like some water?”
“. . .Yes, please.”
As I answered, Theodore took a glass from the bedside table and drank it himself. Why? Was he being sarcastic?
Before I could think further, Theodore’s lips sealed mine. I instinctively drank the water that flowed into my mouth. I’m not sure what happened, but the water tasted good.
“. . .Ester, you’re cute.”
A sparkling face was smiling at me from such a close distance. He was so handsome that even the angel statue would be surprised. But I feel like my lipstick has smudged onto his thin lips. I took another deep breath.
“. . .Is this a dream?”
“It’s not a dream.”
“But…if it’s not a dream, why are you here?”
“Shouldn’t I be here?”
My head was being stroked. The touch was gentle and felt good. We were alone in my room, and there were no maids around, so there was no need to do this. Besides, while premarital sex was not strictly forbidden in Acardi, at least the engagement could not be broken off. So being alone together in my private room at night as an engaged couple might lead to unnecessary rumors.
“No, we can’t. . .because we have to get married. . .”
As I said that, I heard Theodore gasp. I was sleepy. But I couldn’t let the maids see my face, so I had to remove my makeup and wash it myself before going to bed.
I got up and headed to the washroom. My vision and legs were swaying, and I couldn’t walk properly. I pushed away Theodore’s hand as he tried to support me. He followed me, but when I reached for the veil string, he gave up and sat down.
Water. . .I don’t feel like bothering with hot water, so I’ll use cold water. I removed my makeup, but I didn’t put much on the parts that people couldn’t see, so I focused on the area around my mouth. I felt like the soft sensation from earlier had been washed away, but that was probably just a convenient hallucination from being drunk.
My head felt heavy. Leaning against the wall, I wiped my face with a towel. I wanted to just lie down on the floor. No, as a princess, I couldn’t allow myself to sleep on the floor. I closed my eyes while still standing. It felt like I could sleep standing up.
Maybe I actually slept for a while.
“Ester… Are you okay?”
Theodore’s voice came from behind, as if he had come to check on me. He’s still here. He could go home already. Why does he stick around even though he dislikes me and keeps pushing me away? I put on the face veil without any decorative elements meant for sleeping, and I tried to pass by Theodore, relying on the wall to make my way back to the bed. But then he hugged me.
“. . .?”
“. . .So you’re planning to break off the engagement after all.”
I couldn’t find the right words due to the feeling of being caught, and my silence was probably taken as affirmation. His arms around me tightened even more.
“Please, I’m begging you, at least… why?”
“Why. . .because. . .”
Does he really want to become the king’s consort that badly? Even if it means marrying someone he hates. As I thought about it.
“Because I love you.”
“. . .What?”
“Ester, I love you. . .I really do.”
I was speechless at his almost tearful voice. That’s impossible. After all, his collar always says the opposite.
But as he hugged me, I could hear his heart beating very fast against my ear. Does he really love me? When I looked up at Theodore with that thought, his Paraiba tourmaline eyes, which were so beautiful that they made me shudder, were staring at me intensely.
“Just seeing you talking so friendly with Verde’s crown prince made me so jealous that I almost lost it. . .”
“Theodore. . .”
“I don’t want to give you to anyone else. Just the thought of you marrying someone other than me makes me feel like I’m going crazy. . .”
His voice was sweet and slightly hoarse. His words were filled with possessiveness, to the point where it didn’t seem like the kind and gentle Theodore that he usually was to everyone except for me. My face felt hot. I was starting to sober up from my embarrassment, but I wished I could stay drunk so that I wouldn’t have to think clearly.
“How can I make you believe in my feelings for you?”
The reason why I couldn’t believe Theodore was because I could see his kol’s hatred towards me. And I believed that it was absolute. Today, I heard from the kol’s voice that the diplomat was mixing alcohol, and when I tried it, it was true. If Theodore really loved me, then there must be something wrong with his kol. Is that even possible?
“. . .Theodore, please give me your conviction.”
But he had come this far to say these things… I thought of one thing and pushed Theodore’s body away, returning to the bed and sitting down. Theodore knelt in front of me.
I took out a pair of emerald earrings from the side table drawer and showed them to him.
“Please take one of these earrings. I’ll guess which one. If you can deceive me even once in five rounds, I’ll believe you.”
“Is that okay?”
“. . .Probably.”
Theodore chuckled as if relieved by my ambiguous response and sat next to me. Then he put on a serious expression, held the earrings in his hands, and offered them to me. After gripping both hands that held the earrings, he extended them towards me. Of course, the movement was too fast to see, and I had no idea which hand held the earring. But…
‘’For now, let’s start with… the right one.’’
“. . .This one.”
As I pointed to where kol had murmured with a prayer-like feeling, the earring was there.
…I had thought that maybe everything his kol did was the opposite for some reason, but it seemed that wasn’t the case. I see. If everything was the opposite, then his kol, who was kind and gentle to everyone except me, would also be the opposite, and everyone else would be distant from him.
‘’I wonder how she knows. What if I try not putting it in either hand?”
“. . .It’s not in either hand.”
And in the end, I never chose wrong in all five rounds.
To my surprise, Coll turned out to be normal. In other words, Theodore does indeed dislike me. I feel embarrassed for taking his words seriously and allowing myself to have even the slightest hope.
“. . .I lost, didn’t I?”
I fell back onto the bed as if collapsing. I felt like crying, but I didn’t want him to notice.
Please go home. It would be better for you. I was about to say that… but I stopped. The voice calling my name sounded more like a plea than tears.
“T-Theodore? Are you crying…?”
Crystal-like tears fell from his jewel-like eyes with every blink. His platinum lashes were wet, and I thought even his crying figure was beautiful.
“. . .I had a chance to make Ester believe me, but. . .”
He looked truly regretful. His kol still wanted to go home as soon as possible.
Maybe he’s just weird. Even if he’s acting, he would need to think of something sad to cry. But if he can cry like this while thinking about wanting to go home quickly, then it’s strange if his kol doesn’t cry.
It’s still hard to believe. His kol has lived the past five years as the truth, and it was a fact. However, it might be better to act as if his own voice is true, even if I don’t believe it. Even if it’s a lie, I’m the only one who will be hurt. Even if he hates me and finds me troublesome, I don’t want to make him cry like this.
“Theodore. . .”
But since I won the bet, I felt it was wrong to tell him that I believe him just because he’s crying.
I sat up and stroked his tear-stained cheek.
“I’ll give you a consolation prize and tell you.”
I had been acting as if I hated Theodore. I thought it was best for him to stay away from me since he disliked me, but couldn’t show it due to our difference in status.
But if, by any chance, he truly liked me… then I should also convey my feelings.
“Since the day we first met, I’ve liked you, Theodore.”
As I said that with a smile, Theodore opened his eyes wide in surprise, then smiled and placed his hand on top of mine.
“. . .Then it’s not a consolation prize, it’s a reward. Because I like you, Ester.”
“Well, that’s not entirely-“
“Do you think of me as a frivolous man who kisses someone he doesn’t even like him?”
When he asked me that, I had to hold back my laughter. It seems that the kiss we shared earlier, or rather the exchange of breath, wasn’t a dream after all.
“. . .Isn’t it frivolous to do it without permission?”
I said sarcastically, looking down in embarrassment. Then, Theodore chuckled and lifted my chin with his finger.
“Then, may I have permission for a kiss?”
I was starting to sober up, but I was still a little drunk, which was a good thing. I couldn’t imagine nodding to this while sober. My favorite person’s face was so close, and now it was going to be zero distance from now on…
I didn’t pay any attention to Theodore’s kol voice that I heard afterward. I was too nervous.