“Uh… Yeah, Evan.”
After seven years, Evan had completely changed. You couldn’t recognize the timid Evan from the past in his relaxed demeanor when he greeted Riett.
Evan had grown up, gradually eliminating the watery eyes, hesitant voice, and cautious expression. His innate personality wouldn’t disappear, but Evan was putting in a lot of effort.
However, Riett always wondered,
Why did he put in so much effort?
“You speak slowly, and you stammer at the slightest thing, you can’t even look me in the eye!”
“…Then, would you like me if I won’t do that?”
As memories of their conversation from seven years ago came to mind, Riett quickly averted her gaze. She must be changing because she’s frustrated too. If she wants to follow the plot of the novel, it’s impossible with her current personality.
While Riett was lost in thought for a moment,
Evan suddenly leaned in, startling Riett, who instinctively pushed Evan’s chest away.
“You scared me!”
Despite being pushed quite hard, Evan didn’t flinch. Instead, he came even closer.
“Are you okay, Riett?”
In the past, when she pushed him like this, Evan would usually stumble to the ground.
That wasn’t the only thing.
By the age of fourteen, Evan had surpassed Riett’s height. Moreover, he grew rapidly each day, and now there was a difference of more than 10 cm between them.
As Riett glared at Evan standing in front of her, he smiled.
“I got worried because you just stood there. I thought something was wrong.”
“Why am I suddenly sick!”
“Is your foot okay?”
Evan lowered his gaze and looked at Riett’s foot. Seven years ago, she had injured her foot with a piece of glass, but luckily there was no damage to her muscles or bones. However, there was a slight scar of about 2cm.
Riett didn’t think much of it; her foot was fine anyway. But occasionally, Evan would ask about her condition with a serious expression.
“You used to say a few years ago, that it hurts when it rains.”
She had only said it once a few years ago, but Evan seemed to take pride in his good memory and asked about it every time. Although Riett would sometimes feel discomfort when it rained, she never wanted to pretend to be weak in front of Evan.
“Never mind, he’s waiting.”
Riett walked past Evan, and she could hear his footsteps following behind. As they walked along the familiar path, they arrived at the study.
During the past seven years, there hadn’t been a comfortable and relaxing place like this due to their frequent encounters.
“Riett, you’re here?”
The gentleman greeted her warmly with a smile, and there was no need for further words.
“You didn’t get caught in the rain too much, did you?”
“Oh, Mr., you worry too much. You even gave me a ride almost to my doorstep.”
The relationship between Riett and Duke Kreutz had become so close that anyone who saw them might mistake them for a married couple.
Duke Kreutz admired Riett for her intelligence and straightforwardness.
Whenever Riett met with Duke Kreutz, she would always tell him about her week, and listening to her stories brought joy to the Duke.
On the other hand, Evan had grown up to be mature and reserved.
When Duke Kreutz saw his son becoming more mature each day, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and loss.
And Riett filled that void of loss.
“Next year, both of you will be entering the Truto Public Noble School.”
“Yes, that’s why I’m so excited!”
As Riett spoke with an excited voice, the Duke gently stroked her head.
“Riett, your dream is still to become a noble, right?”
“Yes, it is.”
As Duke Kreutz said, next year Riett would be admitted to the Noble Academy, where the noble children from all over the country gathered. The annual enrollment was around 200 students, and those who ranked within the top three in their graduation scores received incredible privileges.
Yes, exactly. It meant that as the first successor of the family, they could receive recognition from the royal family, regardless of gender or birth order.
In other words, it was an incredible opportunity where even women could be recognized as the first successor. Therefore, if someone from a competitive family wanted to be in the top ranks, they would strive relentlessly.
However, women rarely entered the school, and even if they did, it was rare for them to rank high. As a result, they were ultimately used as a means for younger brothers to compete and win.
“Riett, you can make it happen.”
Encouraged by Duke Kreutz’s support, Riett was filled with enthusiasm. Then, she suddenly turned her head and noticed Evan watching their conversation with interest.
“Come to think of it, why are you going to the Noble Academy?”
Initially, Riett didn’t think Evan would be admitted to the Noble Academy. He didn’t have many siblings competing for the successor position, and even if he went outside the mansion, people would flock to him, so there was no need for him to build connections. They also had the best private tutors at home.
In fact, from Riett’s perspective, Evan’s admission wasn’t particularly pleasing. There was nothing good about a ridiculous genius like Evan joining. They had to be within the top three in the entire school, and starting with Evan already occupying one of those places was just as bad.
“Because you’re going, Riett.”
Evan’s calm words left Riett momentarily speechless.
Riett suppressed the boiling words inside her. She couldn’t utter such rough words in front of the gentleman. But she simply couldn’t understand his behavior.
Of course, when they were younger, no matter how much Riett scolded or yelled, he would follow her like a chick following its mother. But she never expected him to be like this until now.
‘Surely… he won’t act like this even as an adult.’
Just as Riett was feeling anxious,
“Oh, by the way, I’m sorry, but I think I need to finish the lesson early today.”
“Why? What’s the reason?”
Riett asked while taking out her writing utensils, and Duke Kreutz replied with a look of embarrassment.
“My younger brother informed me just now that he will be visiting the mansion today.”
“Right. Haart is my only younger brother, and instead of me, he manages the territory. But he had some urgent matter today, so he came to the capital,”
Duke Kreutz explained with a hint of regret.
It’s unfortunate, but nothing can be done.
Riett nodded her head, as if understanding, but then she paused as if something came to her mind. And she pondered the name Haart.
The name feels like it stretches out like a heart. But what’s more important is that it reminds her of a character she saw in a book. There was a part in the book that she didn’t read properly, which was the protagonist’s past recollection scene.
She didn’t particularly like the male protagonist, Evan, and it wasn’t interesting, so she skimmed through it. Nevertheless, the name Haart stood out as something peculiar, and she vaguely remembered it. Was he just a passing supporting character?
While Riett was recalling his name, the class ended earlier than usual, and Duke Kreutz quickly left his seat to meet his younger brother. Riett’s purpose disappeared, so she also stood up from her seat. But Evan grabbed her and stopped her.
“After dinner, Riett.”
“…Because you’re hungry, Riett.”
In the past, in a situation like this a few years ago, they would have exchanged words like, “Why me?” and “I’m hungry, Riett…” with a whiny tone. But now, even if Riett shouted angrily, Evan wouldn’t be discouraged or flustered. She knew that he no longer allowed himself to be manipulated.
“For dinner, we’re having tomato gratin.”
On the other hand, Evan had learned how to handle Riett. She was weak when it came to food.
Although Riett was also a daughter of a duke, her parents, who were always concerned about her health, tended to prepare bland and tasteless meals. In contrast, Duke Kreutz’s household had no such restrictions.
Whenever Riett came to study on weekends, he would always prepare delicious food to tempt her like this.
“I asked for plenty of cheese.”
“It’s the goat milk cheese we had last time.”
Riett replied, and as if he had expected that response, Evan smiled and raised his hand to his mouth.
Riett, trying to appear fierce to Evan, swiftly turned and left the study first. Even without Evan’s guidance, Riett headed towards the dining room. Her steps were so natural that she seemed like a resident of the mansion.
At this point, Riett knew the names of even the servants. Moreover, she was familiar with every nook and cranny of the mansion. Not only did she know where everything was located, but she also knew the purpose of each space.
‘Oh, except for one place.’
She still didn’t know the true identity of the room where she hid with Evan during their game of hide-and-seek seven years ago.
At that time, she thought it was just a storage room, but upon reflection, with the arrangement of glass decorations and furniture, it seemed like a room someone had used. While she was thinking about it, she decided to ask Evan.
Evan sat down on one of the chairs at the dining room table and looked at Riett.
“You know the room where I injured my foot.”
Evan didn’t particularly like bringing up that incident. Riett knew that he felt more sorry about it than necessary. So she usually didn’t bring it up, but today was an exception. Satisfying her curiosity took precedence over matching his mood.
“That room didn’t seem like a storage room. What kind of room was it?”
“It was my mother’s room.”
Riett paused her hand in mid-air, the one that was about to scoop the gratin. Why didn’t she think it could be Evan’s mother’s room? Perhaps she assumed it wouldn’t be because it had been so long since she passed away.
Riett offered an absent-minded apology. But Evan shook his head.
“It’s okay. Thanks to you, I was able to escape from my mother’s shadow. Now, it doesn’t bother me to talk about it.”
His kind words quickly relieved Riett of any guilt she felt.
“Of course not!”
And she resumed her movement. The stretching cheese broke off with a snap and disappeared into Riett’s mouth.
The combination of tangy tomato sauce and savory cheese filled her mouth with blissful sensations. As Riett closed her eyes and savored the taste, Evan spoke again.
“Riett, can I ask you something I’m curious about?”