There was a moment of silence, after which Dad said, “I’m sorry.”
My heart sank. I asked to grow closer—not for an apology. With trembling eyes, I gazed at him. Why was he saying those things? I thought everything was all right and that we would get to know each other from now on. In despair, I lowered my head.
“I’m sorry for making you say those things…” he continued in a soft voice. I raised my head to look at him, only to realize his usual wintry eyes had a warmth to them. They reminded me of a clear sky on a spring day.
“I regret being a terrible father to you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I always thought he was ashamed of me because I was lacking as his daughter, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I turned my gaze toward his hand wrapped around mine. He was holding me without shaking me away. Realizing he had never let go of me, I burst into tears.
Dad tightened his grip around my hand, and his other hand rose slightly as if to do something. However, he let it fall without any action, instead clenching it into a fist. Although his expression remained indifferent, the usual calmness in his eyes was absent. I finally realized that he was simply not skilled at expressing himself—he had cared for me in his own ways until now.
Once I stopped crying, Dad lowered his eyes. He then spoke in his usual stern tone, “Good night.”
Tightening my grip on his hand, I stopped him. “Dad.” He looked back in response. Meeting his eyes, I told him what had happened. “Max told me about the stories you’ve told him.”
Seeming embarrassed, he averted my gaze. “I see. I thought he would never mention them to you…”
“That was his original plan,” I nodded. “But he got caught.”
A rare expression characterized his face—he was startled. “You caught him? How?”
I knew I was slow-witted, but he didn’t need to look at me like that! In any case, I recalled today’s events. “Well, Max seemed tired earlier, so I let him sleep in my room. He started talking in his sleep and—”
“You let him do what?” Dad thundered, stopping me mid-sentence. Realizing he could be more frightening than I had imagined, I zipped my mouth shut. “That damn b*stard slept in your bed?”
I shuddered at his rather harsh choice of words and his bitter expression. Then I realized, ‘Well, I haven’t come of age yet. Telling him I let my boyfriend sleep in my bed probably wasn’t the best idea.’ Realizing what I had done deserved a scolding, I began my excuse, “Daddy, he told me he hadn’t slept for three days!”
However, his expression grew more frigid. “Not sleeping for three days shouldn’t bother him in the least.”
Desperate to avoid trouble, I insisted, “Anyway, nothing happened! Really!”
“Good,” he sighed. “If something did happen, I wouldn’t leave that scoundrel be,” he said softly.
I gulped, then I let out a laugh when I realized Dad was worrying about me. Holding his hand tightly, I changed the topic. “I was actually surprised to hear that I used to ride on your shoulders when I was young…”
A pained smile characterized his face. I didn’t know why. “Ah, yes. You were an energetic kid, indeed.” He didn’t sound too interested, but I could tell he was reminiscing about the past.
Plucking up my courage, I requested, “Dad, I want to hear the stories Max didn’t tell me. I feel like I don’t remember most of my childhood memories.”
He sighed deeply. Then with a faint smile, he asked, “It may take a long time. Is that okay with you?”
It didn’t matter if we had to stay up all night, or if we had to talk until the next day or the day after. I was ready to listen to anything and everything he had to say.
* * *
Thinking of how he had fallen asleep a while ago with Jubelian in his arms, Max felt a smile tug on his lips. If he could, he wanted to get married sooner so that he could see her every day. However, his situation rendered it impossible to hold a wedding—he was amid planning an uprising against the emperor. Max was tempted to welcome her as his companion in secret, but…
‘He would never allow it.’
The lady still liked him though, didn’t she? Thinking she would agree to his proposal no matter what, Max stepped into his room. He was greeted by Victor and Dennis.
“Your Highness! You’ve returned! We were worried sick about you!” Victor made a great fuss.
Seeing his subordinates uneasy, Max frowned slightly. “Did something happen in my absence?”
Nodding, Dennis handed over some documents. “Please take a look at these.”