Just then, she heard a commotion down the hall. Estella turned her head reflexively. There was the familiar sound of running, followed by a furious pounding on the door.
Apparently, the children had gotten wind of the news. Estella sighed and moved to the entrance. As she opened the door, she saw another maid in the hallway, fending off the intruders with all her might. The maid spoke up.
“Young master, miss. You shouldn’t be here.”
Cecilia exclaimed, recognizing Estella through the crack in the door. The maid turned to Estella and asked her in confusion.
“Miss Estella, how do we…… send the young Master and Miss downstairs?”
“No, let them stay.”
Estella smiled softly. Taking advantage of the weakened disturbance, Cedric and Cecilia burst into the room. The maid in the room looked up at them, wide-eyed. Estella motioned for her to leave as well. After a moment of hesitation, the maid obeyed and left the room.
Cedric and Cecilia paced around the large room until they came to a halt in the center. Cedric shook his head first.
“I recognize this place.”
“Is it a different room?”
“The wallpaper is the same!”
Cecilia said, pointing to the only unchanged wall. There was no way the kids hadn’t been in their birth mother’s room before. Estella stepped in front of them.
“This used to be my mother’s room, yes, but the Duchess was moved elsewhere, so I ended up here.”
“So teacher is mom?”
Cecilia’s fatuous question made Estella pause. Estella replied with a wry smile.
“Of course not.”
With that, she led them to the couch. One of the nice things about the enlarged room was that it gave her extra space to entertain guests.
Cedric and Cecilia sat down and looked at Estella with a lot to say. Cedric asked in an uncharacteristically sullen tone.
“Is it true we’re changing teachers?”
A troubled look crossed Estella’s face, and she realized that she should have told the children first, but she had been too busy to tell them. She felt bad that she had said goodbye to them in a bad way, even though they must have gotten attached to her. Cecilia puffed up her cheeks, looking equally offended.
“I don’t want teacher to change.”
“You fool, the teacher has finally gotten the opportunity to enjoy life after being poor.”
Cedric scolded Cecilia, which was more like a pep talk, but it didn’t do much to cheer her up. Inwardly, Estella thought. Now that I’ve gained some power, shouldn’t I be able to discipline Cedric a little more authoritatively……?
“But do it!”
Cecilia shouted, crossing her short arms. The tip of Cecilia’s nose had already turned up. Cecilia couldn’t help it and took a small snort. Estella spoke, her voice filled with apology.
“I’m sorry, I meant to tell you myself, but you had to hear it through someone else.”
Cecilia teared up at the confirmation. Cecilia spoke as if throwing a tantrum.
“What’s wrong! You’re teacher, not Tiego?”
“Miss, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be here, just in a different role.”
Estella said, trying to soothe Cecilia. But her words couldn’t have been heard over the sobbing child. Cecilia sobbed and screamed.
“Do you like Tiego? Teacher’s teste is stwange!”
She couldn’t quite pronounce the word, but she must have meant taste. Estella moved to Cecilia’s seat. She took out her handkerchief and wiped Cecilia’s runny nose.
“Are you sad that your teacher isn’t teaching anymore?”
Cecilia clamped her mouth shut and said nothing. After a long moment of giggling, Cecilia shook her head.
“No, if teacher is happy.”
Estella’s eyes widened in surprise. She was prepared to accept her sorrow for a long time, but she didn’t expect such a mature answer. It was so sweet that she thought of her. She was overwhelmed with emotion as she realized that her care for the children was worth it. Estella couldn’t contain her excitement and kissed Cecilia briefly on the cheek.
“You’re so good, Cecilia, and you make me so happy.”
With that, Estella scooped Cecilia into her arms. Cecilia’s body was hot from crying, probably from the fever. Estella stroked Cecilia’s back slowly, as if to calm her down. Cedric, watching, blurted out,
“Are you happy?”
He asked as if he were an ex-lover who showed up at two in the morning. Estella flashed him a sheepish grin. Normally, she would have brushed it off, but after what he had done, she decided to give him a heartfelt answer. Estella hesitated, then answered.
“It’s just the way it is.”
“Why aren’t you happy even though you achieved rapid success?”
“It’s not something I made as a life goal.”
Her reasons for leaving an enviable position were along the same lines. Estella loved money and the things it could buy, but at the same time, she wasn’t interested in getting rich quick. She was a woman of the old-fashioned belief that money that comes easy goes easy. Her father alone had driven his entire family into penance in his blind pursuit of money.
“I want Estella to be happy.”
Cedric muttered, his voice tight. First Cecilia, then Cedric, and now this touching comment. She wondered what kind of day it was.
Estella could only stare at Cedric in disbelief. Cedric glanced up at her face and then fell silent. It was a sign that he had more to say. Estella spoke urgently.
“Please continue. I’m really moved by what you’re saying.”
“I’m not trying to say something that would move you.”
Cedric replied defiantly. Estella looked at him with a puzzled expression and asked,
“If that’s not it, then what is it?”
“I was thinking of giving advice for the future.”
“Well then, please do. I will engrave the advice given by my student deep in my bones.”
“……No, I’m not sure about it.”
Cedric finally looked away, avoiding Estella’s gaze. Estella wanted to study his expression closely, but she couldn’t afford to. An intermittent hiccup was leaking out of Cecilia, who was leaning her face against my chest. Estella muttered, concentrating on patting Cecilia’s back.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re so hung up on…….”
“Do you love brother, techer?”
The awkward questions continued unabated. Estella said in a nonchalant tone.
“It’s not like that.”
“You wouldn’t be disappointed if he did something to you?”
“That would depend on what he did, wouldn’t it?”
“Then I won’t tell you.”
Cedric scrambled to his feet. A belch escaped Cecilia’s lips just in time. Her eyes had turned watery, likely due to hunger. Cecilia looked up at Estella and said,
“Shall we go get something to eat then?”
It wasn’t time for a meal yet, but she could probably use a snack. Some sugar would make her feel better.
Estella stood up, still holding Cecilia. Cedric, meanwhile, had slipped into Estella’s new bed. He had the audacity to approach the unmade bed. Estella felt dumbfounded, but she patiently asked Cedric a question.
“I’m going out with Miss and we’re going to have a snack. Aren’t you coming?”
“Estella is an idiot. Silly teacher.”
Cedric responded with an irritable tone. Estella discreetly snickered and stepped out of the room. It would be a loss for herself to indulge in delicious food alone. Estella decided to ask the kitchen for a cake, something they wouldn’t normally offer, as a way to cheer up Cedric. It was the least she could do to get back at him for stealing her new bed.
As Estella stepped out with Cecilia in her arms, the maid bowed to her, and as she turned to go back into the room, Estella gave her a small note of caution.
“Since Cedric is inside, it would be better to clean up later.”
The maid glanced over at Cedric lying on the bed and said in a polite tone.
“Do you want me to send him down to his room when he falls asleep?”
“No, he’ll just make more of a fuss, so we’d better leave him alone.”
Estella replied with a wry smile. She had a rather ominous and realistic premonition that her room was going to be their lair.
* * *
When Cedric had just woken up, Estella was already back in the room. He didn’t open his eyes naturally as time passed. Long fingers tickled the top of his head, chasing away the uninvited guest of sleep. Cedric turned his head and looked up. Light leaked into his bloodshot eyes. A blurry-faced Estella asked.
“Are you awake?”
He hadn’t meant to lie down, but he had slipped into unconsciousness. Cedric blinked a few times, then ran his index finger over his eyelids. Cedric asked in a sleepy voice.
“……What time is it?”
“It’s the middle of the day, aren’t you hungry?”
Estella looked at Cedric with concern. Unlike Cecilia, who had eaten a full snack, Cedric had skipped lunch.
Cecilia, exhausted from the excitement, had dozed off shortly after devouring the cake. Estella had to sing a lullaby to Cecilia before she could finally return to her room. It was because Cecilia had held onto her sleeve and refused to let go. Cedric, who had been left alone for quite some time, also seemed to be in a daze. Estella had brought snacks for him, thinking he might need something to eat, but Cedric was completely lost in thought.
Estella pointed to the table.
“I brought a strawberry cake that the young master likes. I thought you might get upset if only we ate it.”
“Why would I get upset over something like that?”
Cedric whined, not moving. He didn’t seem to want to eat, so Estella didn’t offer him more.
When she said nothing, his interest returned. Cedric asked.
“But why do you keep treating me with respect?”
“Respect… Ah, I see. You’re right. I’m no longer an employee.”
Estella said in an enlightened voice. She hadn’t thought to change her tone since they first met. The reversal of the relationship was an unfamiliar change for both Estella and the children. There would be many more changes to come. And she wasn’t ready for it.
Cedric spoke warningly.
“You’re not dignified enough to be a duchess.”
“Yes, and I’m not sure I’m up to the task.”
Estella willingly acknowledged it. She didn’t originally obtain the position by harboring a bitter heart like Adriana did to win Diego’s side. As the leading lady in this story, it was natural for her to face insufficient preparation.
Estella remembered all the hardships that Adriana, who had become Diego’s fiancée, had endured. Dealing with the Countess, who played the role of a villainess, was a given, and there were various interferences from the surroundings as well. If she could strike first before all that happened, she couldn’t ask for more.
Estella spoke sincerely.
“I actually enjoy living while teaching children in a modest way.”
“But why get married? Why are you leaving me and Cecilia…….?”
It seems that Cedric believed Estella was lying. Until just a moment ago, Cedric had been behaving fairly dignified, but now his expression turned teary. Estella reached out her hand and tousled Cedric’s hair.
“Teacher is bound to leave the students at some point. A child can’t remain a child forever, you know. After teaching everything, they say, ‘Ah, it was a good learning experience,’ and move on to the next stage.”
“After teaching for just a few months, you think you can say such things?”
“I’m not leaving. The Duke said he wouldn’t mind if I taught a class once in a while.”
Cedric pouted his lips and then turned over, lying on his back. In a voice filled with frustration, Cedric spoke.
“I wanted to reveal my brother’s secret because I felt sorry for Teacher’s life, but forget it now.”
“What the hell is that? Is there something wrong with the Duke’s buttocks?”
Cedric seemed hesitant and reluctant to speak, which made it all the more puzzling. In response to Estella’s question, Cedric’s expression turned bewildered. The contemptuous gaze, as if looking down on him, followed shortly afterward. Estella shrugged casually. Cedric rested his cheek on the back of his hand and spoke again.
“You don’t have to know, there are some things you’re happy not to know.”
“After you called me an idiot?”
“I’m not telling you because I want you to be happy.”
Estella shook Cedric’s shoulder, trying to get an answer out of him, but stopped. She had a strange premonition. After a few moments of silence, Estella was about to speak.
A commotion echoed from outside. It was a completely different noise than when the children had come in earlier. The footsteps were sharper, the voices more urgent as they warded off the intruders.
“Ma’am, you can’t do this. Ma’am!”