” … “
” … “
Facing each other in the carriage, I – Zeke Smola – break out in a cold sweat. The reason?
My ‘mother’ sitting across from me … I’m receiving the scolding eyes of a woman who looks as cute as my sister.
“That … Mother Ekaterina?”
” … Zeke. Don’t be rude to a girl.”
“Yeah, um, that,”
… Well, I’m aware that I wasn’t cool about it. Alice Sulbert was the one who came to me suddenly and called me ‘fiancée.’ Even if this is the case … Well, I couldn’t help it.
” … Alice Sulbert.”
The Alice Sulbert I knew was selfish and arrogant, like most girls of a great family. But the Alice of the past three days. The Alice I know.
” … “
… Wait, what? I don’t think much has changed. I got dropkicked out of nowhere, and then I was kidnapped … Huh? That’s still ‘selfish’ and ‘arrogant,’ don’t you think?
” … “
But I didn’t hate it. The past selfishness was, how should I put it… It was spoiled, flirtatious selfishness, but this time, her selfishness was different.
” … ‘If your stepmother is mistreating you, I can’t allow that to happen,’ huh?”
It’s been a few years since my mother died. Inside the royal palace, they treated me like a blister, and no one was on my side, or so I thought.
” … “
A person could be beheaded for speaking to Mother Ekaterina, the queen, like that. And yet, Alice said that and raised her voice for me.
That – I was unbearably happy about that. With these emotions, I could see Mother Ekaterina in front of me, bowing her head as I laughed by myself.
” … I’m sorry, Zeke. I’m an inadequate stepmother.”
I couldn’t help but feel flustered by the pained expression on Mother Ekaterina’s face. Sheesh! I misspoke!
“What, Mother Ekaterina! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way!”
” … But it’s true. I was certainly an inadequate mother. I couldn’t understand what Zeke wanted and what he was thinking.”
After speaking that much, Mother Ekaterina shook her head from side to side.
” … No, maybe I wasn’t even trying to understand.’ Zeke ‘Your Highness’ is excellent. You don’t need to care about him; he’ll grow up to be okay.’ … I guess that’s what I thought.”
“… That’s unavoidable. I wasn’t … a good son.”
” … A child trying to be a good son is … It’s not right. That’s a parent’s responsibility.”
… Parental responsibility. Well, that would be a more common opinion.
“… I’m not a kid who hurt my stomach.”
” … I’m not a child with a stomach ache.”
Uncharacteristically, I shushed Mother Ekaterina, who had an impatient expression on her face, with a bitter smile.
” … So … I didn’t know about the distance. I didn’t know how far I should spoil you, how far I should miss you, and I didn’t know that.”
” … “
“If you wanted love, you should have said you wanted it. If you wanted praise, you should have said you wanted it. And yet … I was afraid of rejection, afraid of being spurned, and I didn’t even try to reach out to you.”
I wanted it. I wanted it. I wanted it… And I’m sure would have turned my back on it. And I’m sure Mother Ekaterina would have done the same.
” … It was Alice who made it possible for His Highness to get a handle on it.”
Mother Ekaterina narrows her eyes at that. But … I’m sorry, Mother Ekaterina. My perception of it is different.
” … No. That was more complicated than you can imagine.”
She placed a hand on my sulking back. ‘Turn around?’ She said kindly to me – which is not fitting for Alice. “What are you sulking about? Come on!” And then she kicked me in the back for sulking, and I turned around in anger. “You finally looked at me, huh? Idiot!” And then she smiled fearlessly. That’s more suited to Alice.
” … She’s interesting. I expected her to be just a normal young lady. I expected a spoiled, self-absorbed child.”
“There might not be another kid that interesting. Zeke, don’t ever let her go. I owe her a great deal of gratitude, and … Most of all, I like that girl.”
” … Yes, I agree. I think Lady Alice is very interesting.”
Really. I don’t know anyone that different, that interesting.
” … Did Zeke like her too? Would you like to make Alice your wife?”
” … “
That’s… I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t really understand what romantic feelings are at the moment. Well, I think she’s fun to be with …
” … okay, I’ll change the way I ask. How would you feel if Alice were to become the wife of someone else?”
Alice…the wife of “someone” other than me?
What? What is this?
If Alice smiled at anyone but me…Is that what you mean?
If Alice walks hand-in-hand with someone other than me…Is that what you mean?
If Alice found happiness with someone other than me… Is that what you mean?
” … “
” … Hmmm. Zeke, you look frustrated.”
” You seem unhappy,”
Well … To be honest, it isn’t very amusing.
” … It’s fine for now. But Zeke? Be gentle with Alice, though. You should take good care of Alice.”
“Well … I don’t want someone to steal you away when we’re so close to being mother and son. … Zeke should be my kid for a while longer. No reason to rush into a relationship with anyone.”
” … It was Mother Ekaterina who suggested it.”
“I was a little frustrated when I said it. Well, I’ve made mistakes. I have been … And I will continue to do so.”
” … “
“I’m sure Zeke will make a mistake. But if we can work it out together from now on … I’d be very, very happy.”
” … Yes. Me too.”
I smiled back at Mother Ekaterina, who smiled at me after saying that.
“… I really appreciate Alice.”
“Yes, that’s … definitely.”
I imagined the rumored weird young lady was probably sneezing, and that her sneeze was also very loud and uncharacteristic of a young lady. A subtle giggle replaced my smile.