Chapter 20 – You Can Cry (2)
Outside the room, Irene who was leaning against the door became silent when she heard that. Irene, who found it hard to cry and express herself, contrary to her younger sister Riel who used tears as her weapon, felt her eyes heat up. No one had ever understood her feelings; she also did not have any person whom she could freely talk to. The man who she had only met for the first time last night, had managed to understand how she had felt for over twenty years in this house. Not only that, he did something she had never had the courage to do – conveying that in her place.
Irene’s head fell down. The tears that she had endured for more than twenty years flooded her eyes. She could not stop them, and the salty water overflowed, trickling down her cheeks. Then, the door opened and a shadow fell over her head. Irene could not lift her head but she knew who it was.
Noel did not say any words to comfort Irene. Even if he had said something, Irene could not hear it because she was busy unsuccessfully holding back her endless tears. Irene habitually held back a sob.
It was a habit for Irene to hold back her emotions whenever she felt the need to cry. She used to share a room with Riel when she was young, so Irene would hold back crying even when she felt sad, because she worried that Riel would hear it. Eventually, one day Riel heard it and told their parents about that. Irene remembered what her parents had said to her when she was a child.
“Your sister is holding it back even though she’s sick, so why are you crying?”
That had stung her, and since then, she had forced herself to endure. Because she had convinced herself too, that Riel was holding back. She had to be strong.
“You can cry.” Noel carefully approached Irene and hugged her. Noel’s hand slowly lifted and patted her on the back.
“You’ve had a hard time alone, Irene.”
Noel’s warm voice melted Irene’s heart. It caressed her wound that no one could touch. Irene tightly closed her eyes and burst into tears again in the arms of the man she had just met last night.
Irene did not know how much time had passed. Her stream of tears did not stop, as if she was pouring out all the sorrow that had accumulated inside her for the past twenty years. Noel also kept patting her back without saying anything. His wordless comfort and gentle touch gave Irene a sense of security she had never felt before.
At the same time, their surroundings also quietened down. Irene could not even tell when her family had left because she was clinging to Noel’s sleeve the whole time. His strong arms that wrapped around her, was more comforting than anything she had ever experienced from another human. It was the first time in her life that she had cried so much.
As the tears slowly stopped, Irene awkwardly pondered the right timing to get out of Noel’s embrace. Noel’s embrace was so comfortable that Irene felt like she did not want to get away.
Should I say that I’m fine now?
However, it was difficult to casually talk to Noel after crying in his arms. Irene wondered about the state of her face now. Her eyes would be swollen and the tip of her nose would turn red. Irene did not want to show the state of her face now to the man she wanted to marry.
“Are you all right now?”
In the midst of internal conflict brewing inside Irene’s mind, Noel’s voice could be heard. Then Irene carefully stepped back from Noel’s embrace and timidly nodded.
“I..I’m sorry. Your clothes are all wet now because of me.”
Irene bowed her head with a flushed face. Noel’s wet clothes made her feel even more embarrassed.
Noel lowered his head to see his clothes. The white shirt he wore was wet with tears.
“The clothes are supposed to get wet.”
“It’s not like that…Shall we move? I’ll assist you to my room.”
Irene thought that it would be embarrassing if she kept on apologizing to Noel, so Irene tried to change the topic. Irene took Noel to her room because the garden was an open space and she was afraid someone would hear them. Noel followed Irene’s steps through the elaborate halls to her room.
They did not talk on the way to the room. Everytime the maid passed by them, their attention would be focused on Irene and Noel. The scene of a handsome man walking side by side with a lady who had no presence in the house was an unexpected combination. But Irene was so nervous that she could not focus on anything. The maids’ stares went ignored. Irene was too conscious of Noel’s presence beside her.
What Noel said to Irene’s parents was still ringing in her ears. She felt a strange emotion arising inside of her. Then Irene glanced at Noel and turned her head again when their eyes met. In his presence, she could not help but feel embarrassed.
Passing through the second floor, they went up to the third floor. The maids who were in charge of Irene and Riel’s rooms looked surprised seeing Irene and Noel. One of them ran into Riel’s room to let Riel know about it.
Irene thought that she should have prepared some refreshments in advance. Until this morning, she had been discouraged because she had thought that Noel had not believed her. So, it was strange to look at Noel in front of her, without something to eat to focus on and lessen the strange atmosphere that settled.
“I should have picked you up in advance. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Well, because of that, I’ve learned a little about your situation.”
Noel’s words made Irene’s face burn. Irene was embarrassed that her situation had been exposed to someone new to her. Moreover, to the man who could be her saviour.
When Irene silently bowed her head, Noel sighed and opened his mouth.
“Are you ashamed?”
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re more alike than you know.”