As Rose gradually recalled the events of the day, she unintentionally thought about the warmth she had felt. The heat from the hand that had held her shoulders.
Briley’s eyes were filled with anticipation, hoping that Rose would share another story. Rose met Briley’s gaze but hesitated to speak. For some reason, she couldn’t easily bring up that particular topic.
Jasper pulled her away before the excited horse could cause some danger.
Briley released Rose’s cheeks and let out a disappointed sigh.
“Rose, are you seriously telling me that it was that uneventful? You two just went to the expo and came back…?”
“Then what else should I…?”
“Can I be honest?”
Rose nodded. What Briley said next was quite shocking.
“You mean to tell me there wasn’t a single moment of excitement or butterflies in your stomach while you two were on a date? I was hoping something would finally happen between you two today!”
“W-what are you talking about?”
Rose’s lips parted, and she looked bewildered. She slowly began to grasp the meaning behind Briley’s words and her face started to turn beet red.
“A d-d-date? With me and Jasper? Today wasn’t anything like that…”
Briley poked Rose’s right cheek with her finger.
“That’s what you think, Rose.”
“He gave you a ticket to the expo, and you think that’s meaningless?”
“That was because of an assignment…”
“Both you and Rebecca drive me crazy when it comes to romantic matters! Ugh.”
Briley let out an exaggerated sigh. Rose’s temperature was rising rapidly, and her forehead began to throb.
“Rose, listen carefully. Jasper Conway likes you. In a romantic way.”
Rose’s eyes widened, and she held her breath for a moment. Her mind seemed to freeze for a few seconds before snapping back. Her translucent skin turned rosy, and her face flushed red like the color of her hair.
With a face that looked like it would burst if poked, Rose replied.
“That’s impossible! No way, Briley!”
Rose unknowingly hugged the cushion tightly to her chest. She couldn’t explain why, but she felt extremely tense and anxious as if she needed to hold onto something.
The fact that Briley saw herself and Jasper in such a way was something Rose had never imagined, and it left her feeling bewildered. At the same time, she felt incredibly embarrassed.
“What… What are you talking about? I thought you were the one who wanted things to work out with Jasper….”
“I was curious because he’s the most popular guy in the academy. But after observing him closely… it seems like he likes you.”
Rose felt like her head was spinning, and she clutched the cushion even tighter, not knowing what to do. Briley ran her hand through Rose’s puffy hair.
“Rose! Your face is about to explode. Why are you so embarrassed?”
“Well… Br-Briley, you’re saying ridiculous things. It’s unbelievable…”
“Is it? My eyes are quite accurate.”
Rose knew that Briley was quick to catch onto things, which made her even more flustered by Briley’s words.
“Am… Are you teasing me?”
Rose’s large pupils flickered as she looked at Briley. Briley met her gaze head-on.
“Why would I tease you?”
Rose clenched her jaw and pressed her thick lips together.
“I told you because it seems like you have no clue when it comes to dating. You’re not interested in dating, are you?”
Rose nodded slowly. Briley clicked her tongue as if she’d known it was coming.
“Yeah, it seems like it.”
“With Jasper… it’s not like that…”
“Well, Rose, maybe that’s how you see it. But the question is, does Jasper see it the same way?”
Rose blinked her eyes rapidly. Memories of the time she had spent with Jasper flashed through her mind. It was true that they had grown closer, but she couldn’t readily accept Briley’s words. It didn’t make logical sense to her.
“Why would Jasper Conway like me?”
Rose blurted out, and the statement sounded even more peculiar when spoken aloud. Jasper Conway liking Rose Bell was truly a strange notion.
Briley widened her eyes and exclaimed.
“Ha! What’s it to you? Honestly, his personality is a total mess! He’s not worth your time!”
“Well, it’s not like that. Jasper may have a brusque manner, but once you get to know him, he’s quite gentle…”
Briley, who had been sitting on the couch, suddenly jumped up. Her pink hair billowed in the air.
“He’s probably only gentle with you!”
“…You think so?”
“It seems like he toned down his temper in front of you, huh? Ugh, I can’t stand it. Ugh, it’s annoying.”
Rose buried her face in the cushion. Thump, thump. The sound of her heart pounding echoed in her ears.
“Briley, could you be mistaken?”
“There’s a possibility I’m wrong. My chances of getting struck by lightning are probably about the same as my chances of being wrong. But let’s say I am. Did you hold hands with Jasper today?”
Rose lifted her head confidently from the cushion. She could answer this one without hesitation.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I had no reason to hold hands with Jasper…”
Rose’s voice, initially firm, gradually faded. She remembered the handshake in the carriage. Briley let out a sinister-sounding laugh.
“You did, didn’t you?”
“…No. It was just a handshake.”
“Just a handshake? You’re quite the performer. Aside from that, have your bodies touched again?”
“There was a close call when Jasper briefly grabbed my shoulder because of a dangerous situation…”
“Ha! Classic! Look at this guy. He’s got a heart.”
Briley exclaimed triumphantly, and Rose was left stunned.
“Jasper has never given me any such hints…”
“He hasn’t? He drops hints every day.”
“He just comes up with all sorts of excuses to be around you. When I tease you, he looks at me like he wants to devour me. It’s hilarious. And he even wants to join our club? He might as well put up an advertisement.”
Rose stood there, half-open-mouthed, frozen like a statue.
“Start being aware from now on if you haven’t noticed so far. You’ll feel it too.”
Does Jasper like her? As soon as she imagined it, Rose felt her whole body tensing up. She had always considered herself a supporting character, at least within the confines of Berkley Academy.
A friend of the new transfer student or a helper for a noble lady who had broken up with her lover—that was the level she was content with, and she didn’t aspire for anything more.
Briley stared blankly at the absent-minded Rose before asking.
“Let’s set Jasper Conway’s feelings aside for a moment. Rose, what about you?”
Rose mumbled in a daze.
“Do you have feelings for Jasper? Do you like him?”
“Jasper… he’s a nice guy.”
Rose replied with a trembling voice and fell into silence. After a moment, she added.
“As a friend.”
“Is that it?”
Rose nodded heavily. Briley reached out and gently touched her chin.
“Is there no possibility of it developing further? When I heard that the two of you were going to the expo together, I thought maybe you were starting to feel something. You even seemed a bit excited. I mean, I don’t like Jasper, but if you do, I wanted to support you.”
“Oh… I never thought you’d think that way.”
Briley puffed air into one cheek. Rose hesitated before saying softly.
“Even if I were to develop feelings for him in the future, how would I ever get together with Jasper?”
“You know, Briley. Jasper and I are different.”
Rose let go of the cushion she had been hugging and placed her hands neatly on her lap as she spoke in a hushed tone.
“I just want to find a good job in the capital. Live as a single woman or maybe meet a man… I hope he’s just an ordinary person.”
A hardworking man from the commoner class who had no connection to the aristocratic social scene. Someone safe and trustworthy.
“I like people who are similar to me.”
Rose had always felt that love and marriage were distant concepts. It was too unfamiliar to imagine concretely.
But she could vaguely envision her ideal type. One thing was for sure, it wasn’t Jasper Conway. He was nothing like it at all.
“But it’s not like you’re going to marry Jasper anytime soon. Can’t you still date him if you feel like it?”
“I, I can’t do that, Briley.”
“Just casually date?”
“Yeah. But if the person is Jasper, it’s even more out of the question.”
“…It would get too complicated.”
The Conways were at the heart of aristocratic society, and anyone who didn’t know the name Jasper Conway simply didn’t exist in the social circles. Being with him would inevitably come with a lot of responsibilities and attention.
It was undeniable that Jasper had charm, but that also meant increased risk.
“I just want to live quietly. Comfortably…”
Briley looked at Rose in contemplative silence.
“You’ve had your life become too complicated too many times before, haven’t you?”
Rose hadn’t gone into great detail about her family with Briley. Briley had shared her life story so openly, and Rose always felt a bit guilty for not reciprocating in kind.
Unexpectedly, Briley remained silent for quite some time before wordlessly pulling Rose into a tight embrace.
Rose rested her face on Briley’s shoulder. Briley had the sweet scent of shampoo, and her palm, as it stroked Rose’s shoulder, felt warm.
“I completely understand, Rose.”
“Do whatever you want, Rose. Okay? Always. Follow your heart.”
Briley tightened her grip, and Rose felt the tension in her shoulders melt away.
“If Jasper becomes too much of a burden, tell me. I’ll chase him away!”
“Oh, no, that’s not necessary. I consider Jasper a good friend.”
Rose already owed Jasper in various ways. Chasing him away was out of the question. She wanted to help him and repay her debts in any way possible, except when it came to a romantic relationship with him.
“Hah, that’s why Jasper has fallen for you! You’re too kind! Just being around you feels healing.”
Briley held Rose in her arms and gently swayed from side to side. Rose felt a bit suffocated but remained still. Inwardly, she hoped that Briley’s assumption was wrong.