Late into the night, Rose finally got the chance to return to the capital city with Jasper.
As the night grew darker and colder, she had worried, but fortunately, the royal guard had provided them with a luxurious carriage.
Once Rose and Jasper were alone in the carriage, Rose let out a long sigh.
Jasper asked with a concerned tone.
“Are you okay?”
Rose awkwardly smiled and replied.
“Oh, yeah. I’m just a little tired.”
Even in the darkness, she could see that the redness in Jasper’s eyes hadn’t faded yet.
She hadn’t expected to see Jasper crying today at all. It had been a completely different day from what she had anticipated when she woke up in the morning.
‘My appearance must be a mess.’
Her hair would be dusty, her body would be dotted with small bruises, and her face would be deeply colored with fatigue.
Rose’s voice sounded a little weak.
“When we arrive in the capital, the ball must be over by then.”
Of course, even if they arrived early, Rose couldn’t attend the ball in her current state.
Jasper gazed at Rose intently and asked softly.
Rose paused for a moment and then nodded.
“You bought me that dress…”
“You don’t need to worry about that. You can wear the dress next time. There will always be another opportunity.”
Jasper held Rose’s hand and continued quickly.
“What do you say we wear it at the engagement ceremony? Should we have the engagement ceremony right after we graduate? I think it’s a great idea.”
Rose chuckled softly at Jasper’s cheeky and cheerful attitude.
She was grateful to Jasper for playfully teasing her and lifting her spirits. It was later that Rose realized Jasper’s words were filled with nothing but sincerity.
Thanks to Jasper, Rose’s heart had softened, and she suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion washing over her.
Jasper noticed Rose’s eyelids getting heavy.
“If you’re tired, go to sleep. I’ll wake you up when we arrive.”
“No, I want to talk more with you…”
Jasper gently cradled Rose’s face with his rough but comforting hand. His voice, steady and affectionate, resonated in the carriage’s interior.
“You’ve been through a lot. Most people would have passed out by now.”
Rose, with Jasper’s warmth seeping into her cheek, surrendered to the overwhelming fatigue that had been building up. Her head naturally tilted toward Jasper’s hand, seeking the support it offered.
Finally, she felt like she could let her guard down completely and give in to sleep. It was easier to relax because Jasper was right beside her.
She tried to focus her gaze and resist the drowsiness, but with the rhythmic sound of hooves and Jasper’s breathing as background music, she drifted into slumber.
* * *
Rose woke from her slumber with a gentle hand on her shoulder.
As she groggily regained her senses and looked around, she noticed that her body was leaning towards the window.
A constant, reassuring sensation at her side persisted, and it turned out to be Jasper’s palm supporting her head, making sure it didn’t hit the window.
Rose managed to move her heavy eyelids, weighed down by exhaustion, and gazed at Jasper.
Soon, Jasper’s low voice reached her ears.
“Rose, we’ve arrived.”
“Already in the capital?”
It felt like only about five minutes had passed since they left. That’s how quickly she had fallen into a deep sleep.
Rose slightly swayed as she lifted her upper body upright. When she turned her head, a familiar sight appeared beyond the window: the main gate of Berkley Academy.
‘The streetlights are still on.’
Usually, after curfew, about half of the campus lights were turned off, but right now, the academy was bathed in bright light. The curfew was lifted on the day of the ball, so the academy remained bustling into the late hours.
Everyone was probably still caught up in the excitement of the ball.
Rose suddenly felt a rush of regret, wanting to quickly return to the dormitory to dispel that feeling.
Was it the urgency she felt unknowingly?
As Rose stepped out of the carriage under Jasper’s escort, her foot got caught for a moment. Jasper immediately steadied her unsteady body, but the problem lay ahead.
Jasper continued to carry Rose while walking step by step. Rose looked at Jasper in bewilderment.
“Please, let me down now.”
Rose protested, but Jasper spoke with a serious expression as if making a declaration.
“Rose Bell, you’re injured.”
“I’m perfectly fine.”
“That’s nonsense. You’re hurt. It’s almost impossible for you to walk, and I was a bit short-fused.”
“What? Oh, no…”
Rose was momentarily at a loss for words.
Even though they were openly a couple, moving around with Jasper carrying her in the middle of the campus was something that could be seen as awkward by the school staff.
Jasper, however, didn’t care about such appearances. He wouldn’t be bothered by what others might think. What mattered to Jasper was Rose’s physical condition.
Despite her feelings of gratitude, Rose couldn’t help but think.
‘Thank you, but…’
Rose’s face flushed, and she flipped the hood of her cloak back over her head. Then, she muttered timidly as a form of complaint.
“I can walk on my own.”
“Why walk alone when I’m here, a perfectly fine mode of transportation?”
“Mode of transportation, you say…”
There might not be anyone else in the world who could talk Jasper Conway into that role. However, Jasper took it in stride.
“It’s because you have a strong partner. You can use it as much as you want.”
“It’s almost time for the ball to end, and if anyone sees us…”
“Let them see. Today, that was our purpose, after all. To declare our relationship to everyone.”
Jasper’s words flowed smoothly without a hint of hesitation, making Rose almost convinced.
Being a partner at the ball and displaying themselves in front of others, the difference in methods aside, both had the same purpose.
After hesitating for a moment, Rose finally spoke.
“But it’s embarrassing.”
“Where’s the boldness that used to set off stun grenades?”
“That’s different from this.”
“Are you saying I’m worse than a stun grenade?”
“Why does your logic jump like that?”
As they exchanged words playfully, they had unknowingly arrived near the ball venue. They had thought the ball was over, but faint waltz music could still be heard from inside.
Rose instinctively turned her head towards the ball venue. She tilted the hood that had been pulled down over her eyes and listened to the music filling the air.
Jasper, who had been walking steadily, had also come to a stop.
Rose, still in Jasper’s arms, softly mumbled.
“Ah, that song…”
It was a familiar melody, the “Love Waltz.” The same song that had played on the lamp music box when Rose had first met Jasper as a child.
For a moment, she felt a tinge of regret that they couldn’t dance to this waltz together.
In a swift motion, Jasper released his arms from around Rose’s waist and gently lifted her, placing her on his foot.
Rose was taken aback by the sudden change in her perspective and looked up at Jasper. She twitched to get off his foot, but Jasper firmly held both of her hands.
With a smile on his face, Jasper whispered.
“The ball has gone on for quite a while. Let’s dance, too.”
“Now? Right here?”
Jasper nodded briefly and one of Rose’s hands rested on his back, naturally adopting the starting position for a close dance. Their bodies were close, and they were ready to dance.
“Since you’re injured, just stay still. I’ll do the moving.”
“But I haven’t even put on my dress.”
“My hair is all dirty.”
“You look beautiful.”
Jasper cut off every protest Rose tried to voice. Then, with Rose perched on his foot, they began to dance to the faint strains of the waltz melody that drifted in from afar.
Their bodies moved in harmony with the music, and Rose held Jasper tightly to make sure she didn’t fall. The dance was a bit more rustic and slower than their usual moves, but it was still a charming dance.
As the night wind picked up, the hood that had partially covered Rose’s head was completely blown off.
Rose couldn’t even imagine the state of her hair, but gradually, she stopped caring. Jasper, looking down at her with a faint smile, was too beautiful for her to focus on anything else.
Jasper’s appearance was a bit disheveled, having run around all day. His hair was far from perfectly groomed, and his eyes were red, while his lips were slightly chewed.
Despite all that, to Rose, Jasper appeared more perfect than ever before.
Her heart swelled. The glamorous dress, the sparkling jewels, the elegant ballroom, none of it mattered.
The music played faintly, and the streetlights shone on the pavement, with a hint of the chandelier’s grandeur. It didn’t matter that their clothes were dirty and dusty; dancing with Jasper made this the perfect ball.
With Jasper, she didn’t feel diminished by her appearance, no matter how disheveled she might look. There was a time when even hearing Jasper Conway’s name used to make her feel small, but that was no longer the case.
Suddenly, Rose’s eyes welled up with tears. She had realized why she had fallen so deeply in love with Jasper.
He had never once ignored her and he valued her more than anyone else, despite being someone everyone else held in high regard.
The faint waltz music in the background started to slow down. Before the music came to a complete stop, Rose lifted her head and gazed at Jasper.
Jasper leaned in closer as if he wanted to hear her better. Rose had intended to express her gratitude from the bottom of her heart, but when she came face to face with him, she impulsively moved her body.
With a small lift of her chin, Rose raised her heels and barely managed to kiss Jasper on the lips.
At that moment, the music ended, and for a few seconds, there was nothing but silence.
Jasper exhaled the breath he had been holding, and without warning, he swiftly lifted Rose’s body. In an instant, Rose’s feet were no longer on the ground.
Before Rose had time to be taken aback, their lips met once again. Jasper’s arms wrapped firmly around Rose’s lower back.