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“Should I prepare some dessert for you?”
“Yes, please! And pour me a glass of wine.”
“Miss! It’s still daytime.”
“So what? I can’t go out anyway. And day drinking is the best. Are you going to be strict with me today, Jane?”
“Sigh. Just one glass, okay?”
* * *
“Ugh, Jane, I’ve seriously lived a diligent life. If anyone has lived more diligently in this world than me, let them come forward!”
“You promised just one glass, Miss.”
“How can you say that with a bottle right in front of us? Jane, we drink to get drunk. Drink up, Jane!”
One glass became two, three, and before she knew it, she had finished off the entire bottle of wine by herself.
“Why is life so hard for me? Is it because I’m too beautiful?”
“Miss, please go to sleep.”
“No! I’m going to be stuck in the house for a week anyway. Why should I go to bed early?”
“Even at home, there are things that must be done. It’s good to keep a routine of going to bed early and…”
“Ugh. Jane, I said I need comfort, not nagging.”
Iva leaned her head on Jane’s lap, acting rather childishly.
Seeing a vulnerable side of the ever-brash Iva, Jane stopped her lectures and began to soothe her.
She took out a comb, which she always carried in her pocket, and began brushing Iva’s hair.
It was a moment both of them found comforting.
“It seems you’ve been quite stressed lately.”
“You have no idea. When I was summoned to see the Emperor, I really wanted to run away.”
“Hehe, I had a feeling you’d think that.”
“Really? Even though you knew, you still dressed me up so enthusiastically?”
“It was a request from the masters. Plus, I believe our young lady should be the most beautiful wherever she goes. I couldn’t resist making you up.”
Jane’s hands, as she combed, were filled with tender care. Iva turned her head and stared deeply into Jane’s eyes.
“Have you ever thought about doing something else?”
“Living your life for yourself, not just taking care of someone else.”
Iva wondered if Jane felt bound to her merely because of her role as a servant. If Jane distanced herself, would she be safer? Her mind was a whirlwind of concerns.
“Hmm… Taking care of you, Miss, is both the purpose and joy of my life.”
“Absolutely. If not for this role, I might never have met you. My life would’ve been dull.”
“Do other servants feel the same?”
“Of course. Everyone in the Blanche mansion serves with the same heart. They all appreciate the master, the madam, and you because you’re all wonderful people. I consider myself lucky to work here.”
It’s you all who are the wonderful ones, Iva thought but didn’t voice it.
Get a grip, Iva Blanche. The lives of everyone depend on your decisions.
Feeling the weight of responsibility pressing down on her, Iva closed her eyes, finding it hard to even look at Jane.
“Are you sleepy? You should lie down properly.”
“Just a little longer like this.”
Lying still, she felt Jane’s gentle touch, combing from her scalp to the tips, making her drowsy.
Sleepiness clung to Iva’s voice. Jane, recognizing it, whispered her reply.
“Was there any letter for me?”
“There’s a deluge of tea party invitations daily.”
“…A letter from Castello house.”
It wasn’t like Ray to lie about sending a letter he hadn’t written. But she was genuinely concerned since she hadn’t received any such correspondence either.
“Do you mean a letter from the Duke of Castello?”
“The influx of mail means the servants inspect them regularly. We’re careful not to misplace any. But there was no letter from the Duke.”
That figures. Why would there be a letter when none was sent?
Why the lie? Iva couldn’t make sense of it, but she didn’t want to think anymore, maybe because of the wine.
“I can check again tomorrow.”
“No, it’s okay. Forget what I just said.”
With that, Iva slipped effortlessly into sleep, the weight of fatigue luring her into a deep, restful slumber.
Jane carefully adjusted Iva’s position on the bed for comfort, then slipped quietly out of the room.
The soft, rhythmic sound of breathing filled Iva’s bedroom.
There was a sound, like something tapping against the window.
Iva stirred and turned over in her bed, disturbed by the noise.
The tapping grew louder.
“Ugh, what now?”
The intensity, almost as if it would shatter the window, prompted Iva to half-open one eye and glance towards the window.
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