“Duke Kreutz’s birthday party is happening next weekend.”
She had completely forgotten.
‘How could I forget his birthday!’
Riett felt guilty in an instant.
It was because she received expensive gifts from Duke Kreutz every year.
Last year, he gave her a beautiful and slender horse as a friend. It was so fast that she even named it “Atom”…
“Have you prepared the gift?”
Riett trembled at Duchess Marren’s words.
On the other hand, Riett, who had just turned 14, gave Duke Kreutz useless gifts filled with heartfelt sincerity every year.
Nevertheless, Duke Kreutz was genuinely delighted.
‘I’m too late this time, and I don’t think I have time to make anything…’
For his birthday last year, she diligently carved wood to make his face.
But he still didn’t know it was his face…
“Thank you, Riett! It clearly looks like Evan!”
“Yes… that’s right.”
She couldn’t bring herself to say that she had sculpted him as a model because he was so delighted.
Seeing Riett’s dilemma, Duchess Marren dropped a hint.
“How about the painting you drew as a gift, Riett?”
“You got angry when you saw the portrait of your mother that I drew. Don’t you remember?”
Riett was intelligent and physically gifted, but on the other hand, her artistic sense was very poor.
She was a “clumsy” person.
“…How about making a cake?”
“Last time, when I made a cake, someone said it tasted like poison.”
Duchess Marren bowed her head deeply as if reflecting on herself. Then, as if something occurred to her, she raised her head suddenly.
“It’s the season when dahlias bloom.”
Dahlia…? It was a flower name she had never heard before.
“Dahlia is a type of chrysanthemum. Duchess Kreutz really likes it.”
Hmm… Let’s see.
“Would it be okay to give that?”
“Duke Kreutz loves whatever you give him, right?”
Although she wouldn’t be able to put as much effort into it this time, she should focus on preparing something that the duke would truly appreciate.
* * *
On a sunny afternoon, a girl with flowing red hair riding a white horse looked back once and smiled with a sense of triumph.
‘He must still be far behind.’
The Atrenta River downstream was the finish line. Riett urged the horse forward, her mind filled with the exhilaration of victory as she observed the quickly passing scenery.
Finally, she passed through the finish line marked by tall trees, and Riett wiped off her sweat and shouted.
“Phew! I won…”
At that moment, Evan emerged from behind the trees.
“What? I’m sure you were behind me.”
“I took a different path along the way.”
She thought he had fallen behind because he disappeared halfway, but that wasn’t the case!
“The path was narrow and I thought I was going to bump into you. So I turned around.”
Riett was surprised to learn that there was another path, and she was even more surprised that he caught up with her.
“Do you memorize maps as well?”
“You know I do, Riett. Once I see something, I remember it all.”
Evan’s tone was as composed as saying “A mountain is a mountain, and water is water.” If it were a boast or a pretense, she would have retorted, but she knew better than anyone that it was true.
Riett got off her horse with a chubby expression.
“Move aside! I need to give Atom some water.”
As she grew older, the gap between Riett and Evan became more noticeable. It was evident in their height, physique, stamina, and all aspects of physical abilities.
She knew she couldn’t help it, but every time she tried to ride Evan, she couldn’t shake off the strange sense of defeat.
With that thought, she suddenly felt the urge to look down at him after a long time.
Riett tied Atom and climbed up the nearby apple tree.
“Take it as gratitude, Evan. This person will pick apples for you!”
Since she enjoyed climbing trees from a young age, Riett skillfully climbed up the tree. Even when Evan was young and afraid, he used to follow her up the tree.
But now, with his massive build, he couldn’t do the same.
Perched high on the tree, Riett looked down at Evan as she went about picking apples.
Evan’s face was filled with worry.
“Riett, it looks dangerous.”
After seven years of tree climbing, Riett had never once fallen from a tree, rendering the saying “even monkeys fall from trees” meaningless.
Riett reached out her hand and plucked two red-stained apples. Then she roughly wiped another apple on her clothes.
“Here you go!”
She threw one apple toward Evan, while she took a big bite out of the other with a crunching sound.
Freshly sweat-covered, the juice tasted even sweeter.
“…Aren’t you coming down?”
However, Evan didn’t eat the apple and just stared at Riett.
Looking down at Evan’s face from above felt quite exhilarating.
‘Hmm… Has Evan’s nose always been that sharp?’
It seemed that he had grown not only in stature but also in his sharp nose and jawline. Evan had unexpectedly developed a strong presence.
Riett felt the passage of time and finished eating the last apple with its pale yellow flesh.
Evan still hadn’t eaten the apple and continued to gaze up at Riett.
‘Does he think I’m going to give him money or something?’
Perceiving Evan’s unwavering gaze, Riett found it strange and shifted her foot to descend from the tree.
“Please be careful!”
“Don’t worry, Evan. Even monkeys are no match for me when it comes to climbing trees…”
Riett, who was speaking confidently, abruptly stopped her voice.
She missed her footing and began to fall.
She expected to feel a thud and pain soon, but…
When she opened her eyes, Evan was right in front of her. No, not in front, but beneath her. Their faces were so close that their noses almost touched.
Realizing the situation, Riett screamed in terror and quickly detached herself from him.
She thought he was far away, so how did he get so close to the base of the tree…!
Evan called out to Riett in a low voice, and the change in the atmosphere made Riett tense for a moment. She swallowed nervously.
“I told you it was dangerous!”
Then he let out a roar.
In the past, Riett would have responded with an even louder voice, questioning him about where he got the audacity. But now that Evan was fourteen, he rarely expressed his emotions passionately. In other words, he was extremely angry right now.
As if to demonstrate that Riett’s guess was not off the mark, Evan walked briskly and mounted his horse, showing anger in every gesture. Despite her dislike for him, after seven years of being together, Riett could sense his emotions without him even saying a word.
And she knew what to do in moments like this.
Riett stood in front of Evan, who was on the horse. Evan’s black pupils were deep-set.
“I’ll be careful from now on.”
That was all it took.
With just those words, Evan softened his rigid expression.
“Don’t ever do that again.”
She wanted to reply with “I don’t want to,” but this time, she decided to keep her mouth shut since Evan had saved her from injury.
“My heart sank when I saw you falling.”
Sometimes he acted like an overprotective parent. Kids fall and get hurt to grow up!
Riett swallowed her complaints inwardly.
“Shall we go, Riett?”
Knowing Evan well, he also knew Riett well.
There was a certain limit to how much meddling was allowed, and if he said anything more, Riett would rebel.
Riett saw the hint of defiance in her eyes if he pushed it further.
As Riett and Evan set off, the sound of hoofbeats gradually faded away on the ground. They had run joyfully on the way here, so they intended to return at a leisurely pace.
As the cool autumn breeze brought a pleasant feeling, Evan suddenly stopped and stood still.
Following Evan’s gaze, Riett’s eyes moved to where he was looking. There, a beautiful red flower was blooming.
As Evan murmured, Riett’s eyes widened.
“You know Dahlia, Riett?”
Evan’s question puzzled Riett.
“You think I don’t know when you know?!”
She had only learned about it a few days ago, but she never intended to tell Evan.
“I thought it wasn’t a famous flower. I know because my mother liked it too.”
“I heard that too.”
Riett nodded at the familiar story. Then a sudden curiosity arose in her about Evan.
“What are you going to give to your father?”
“My father? Well…”
Evan’s face seemed to suggest that he hadn’t thought about it.
Riett expected this kind of reaction from Evan.
As Evan and Duke Kreutz’s relationship grew closer, there was a slight discordance. Once the misunderstanding of hating each other was cleared, the relationship between the wealthy man and Evan improved significantly. However, as Evan grew older, he naturally became curious about his mother.
But every time, Duke Kreutz remained silent, and Evan gradually became more suspicious of his father’s reaction.
One day, Evan said to Riett, revealing his deep concern.
“When I ask my father about my mother, he avoids answering.”
In response to Evan’s troubled words, Riett replied:
“Maybe he just doesn’t want to talk about it, who knows.”
In any case, it could still be a painful memory for Duke Kreutz.
Sometimes Riett would hear stories about his deceased wife, but it would be different if the other party was his son.
“I don’t know… Sometimes when I see my father, I wonder if he truly loved my mother.”
“What are you saying? Of course, he must have loved her. Otherwise, would he still keep her room like that after more than ten years?”
Evan usually let Riett’s opinions slide, but he was an exception when it came to this issue.
He persisted stubbornly on this matter and built a wall in his heart against Duke Kreutz, who didn’t provide answers.
‘This guy… Is he going through adolescence?’
Unless it was that, there was no way he would seriously entertain such unfounded conspiracy theories for years.
Riett looked up at the darkening sky. The clear sky had disappeared, and dark clouds were gathering.
“Let’s go quickly, Evan. It looks like it’s going to rain.”
Until then, Riett had no idea.
That this story would soon bring a tremendous storm.