Chapter 31 - A Man’s Privilege
“No, it’s great. It’s fantastic, Your Highness.” She couldn’t help but repeat herself, using different synonyms for “good” over and over again. Agares laughed, and his furrowed brows relaxed as his eyes focused on her.
“Then I shall drop you off at your house.”
“N-no. It’s fine, Your Highness.”
“Ahh, true. Nothing good will come out of us being the center of gossip. I’ll lend you a carriage, so have a safe trip back.”
“Thank you for your kindness, Your Highness.”
The carriage he arranged for her was quite luxurious, but the coach did not boast any obviously discerning traits. Agares sent Isabel off like a gentleman.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She could scarcely believe he had said that to her. ‘See you tomorrow.’ She felt like she was dreaming.
Maybe it was a dream.
While debating to herself whether this was all just a lucid reverie, Isabel slowly nodded her head. She wanted to hold his hand, to ask whether this was a dream, and reach her hand to his beautiful face and feel it.
Right then, Agares reached out his hand. Before Isabel could be surprised, his breath touched her lips. With a quick peck, the kiss ended as quickly as it began. As Agares stepped back, the carriage departed slowly.
* * *
Isabel was elated with the dress and jewelry he had gifted her, but she was nervous about being caught with them. If someone in the household were to discover them, questions would definitely arise as to where this finery came from. She snuck in through the back door and fortunately did not encounter anyone as she entered her room. Once there, she was able to hide the dress and necklace.
Isabel hid the gifts between her own everyday wear. The maids did her laundry and folded her clothes, but they would only bring them as far as the front of her door. No one would discover her hiding spot since she alone was the one responsible for cleaning her room.
She felt differently about their encounter this time. Instead of thinking that she was in a dream, it was as if she had just come back from a short trip to an alternate world. Everything around her felt unfamiliar. Was this moment right now actually real, or was the period between yesterday and today reality? This strange feeling plagued her repeatedly since she always had her eyes on him. Nevertheless, she was happy she could experience this feeling that she had never felt ever in her life.
Isabel pondered for a moment then pulled out a box she had hidden under her bed. The box was modest and undecorated. It was a plain, wooden box that was slightly better than an out-of-place, low-quality item from a roadside merchant, but “ordinary” did not suffice to describe it. This old and worn-out box contained Isabel’s treasures.
Inside were strands of fallen hair, handkerchieves, and gloves that Isabel had picked up while chasing Agares. His shiny, blond hair was collected and placed in a glass jar, and his handkerchief and gloves were neatly folded beside it. The silk handkerchief embroidered with gold thread was the one she had picked up that day. As she stared at her collection, she could not help but feel that everything was surreal.
‘Can I really see him?’
Isabel was surprised at the sound of footsteps outside her door and closed the box before pushing it back deep under the bed. She lay in bed and waited for tomorrow to come. ‘How nice would it be if I close my eyes, and it’ll be tomorrow when I open them?’
She could scarcely believe that they had agreed to meet again tomorrow, too. Nothing about this felt real. Time seemed to pass several times slower than usual as she rushed through her meals and waited for the new day to arrive.
Finally, the “tomorrow” she was waiting for became “today.”
She headed for the banquet hall, wondering the entire time whether he was really coming or whether she would be able to meet him again. Her mind was anxious and uneasy, thinking she had dreamed it all up.
* * *
Isabel was hiding behind a pillar again today. The first time she had waited in this position until the end of her first banquet had embarrassed and saddened her. She was devastated that she had failed to receive any invitation to dance and retreated to the walls. Over time, hiding behind pillars became a habit for her.
Her remorse, however, changed the moment she met him. Just from being able to see him, Isabel was happy. By now, she was used to hiding herself from view as if it was only natural for her to do so.