Chapter 70 – The Same, But Different (3)
Ian took Louise to the empty student council room. Of course he did. Just like in his palace, there was always a pile of work to be done. What kind of labor would he have her do? Organize survey questions? Prepare for the closing semester ceremony? As she was speculating, however, they passed by the table with papers piled on top.
Ian opened the door to the inner lounge. It was a kind of break room, but its uses were more multi-purpose. Dean would take long naps here. Claire used this place to change into her gym clothes, saying it was inconvenient to go all the way to the dormitory. Ian used this place as storage for items used by the student council. Louise herself, however, did not use this space very much.
“Is there anything we need to organize?”
“A lot. Sit down.”
Ian offered a seat on the old sofa.
“I’m sitting down.”
“How do you like it?”
Ian pulled a small stool near the sofa and sat opposite of Louise.
“It’s…it’s comfortable. I thought it would be hard because it was old.”
“Really? How about you lie down?”
He spoke casually and held out a blanket.
“Yes. You know what it means to lie down, don’t you?”
“…Are you doing some kind of experiment?”
“Something like that.”
He smiled mischievously, just like in childhood. Although Louise found the request a little strange, she quietly lay down on the couch. A thin blanket was pulled over her body.
“How do you like it?”
“It’s comfortable. I feel warm.”
He nodded his head slowly as if he reached some great conclusion. Was it really an experiment? Maybe he was testing the bounce and elasticity of the old sofa.
Louise pulled down the blanket.
“I thought you were going to make me do something.”
“I’m making you do it now.”
Louise gazed at Ian with a puzzled expression.
“If you got up in the morning and looked in the mirror, you would know that what I am telling you to do is perfectly reasonable.”
“Yes, that haggard face.”
He stabbed her! So this was what he wanted her to do?
“But my faithful servant doesn’t realize her condition and keeps her nose in the busy affairs of the whole town.”
He moved his hand over to shade her eyes. Without the sunshine irritating it, Louise sank more comfortably into the couch than ever.
“You don’t even eat properly.”
She could hear him murmur beyond her shielded eyes.
“I was going to pretend.”
Louise argued softly. She was so worried about the day’s exam results that she pushed herself so hard and didn’t eat.
“…You can set your burden down a little.”
He spoke a little cautiously. Maybe he didn’t want to sound dismissive of Louise’s hard-earned efforts.
“You didn’t ease your burden either.”
“I’m the one who has to bear it.”
“Then I’ll answer that I should too.”
His hand, which was at a close distance, completely clapped over Louise’s eyes.
“Worrying about you is the privilege that Mrs. Sweeney has only granted me and Simon.”
“I’ll pass it on to my mother. You two play the roles of my brothers very well.”
Louise told the story of Ian’s dormitory neighbor.
“I didn’t expect him to have such a good memory. He still remembers that.”
He muttered in dissatisfaction, and Louise cracked a smile.
“Don’t smile. I’m not good-natured enough to play the part of brother to my ex-fiancée.”
The conversation ceased. Louise wanted to see his face when he said the word “ex-fiancée.” She didn’t know why.
Louise carefully drew his hand away with both of her hands, and the sun poured brightly again over Louise’s vision. She squinted for a moment before Ian’s face swam into view. He looked a little cross.
The moment their eyes met, Louise said something familiar very softly. Perhaps it was because she was embarrassed.
“It wasn’t even a real engagement anyway.”
It was what Louise had said when they talked about their engagement on the roof. Unlike the last time, however, Ian didn’t answer immediately.
Instead, he took Louise by the hand. He tilted his head downwards, placing the back of her hand and his lips within a close distance.
But they never touched.
He would respect the boundaries that Louise set for the two of them.
He murmured the same answer from that day against the back of her hand.
“…It wasn’t fake, was it?”
But it was different.
Louise slept for five hours. After slumbering in comfort she felt like her usual self again. To a relative degree.
After waking up, she went to dinner with Ian. For some reason he placed two slices of tomatoes on her plate, saying “Because you like tomatoes.” Louise shot Ian a suspicious look.
He was kidding her. Was he trying to butter her up with two slices of tomatoes? The problem was that he was likely to succeed. With that face, he could do it with half a slice. It was an enviable face.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Do you hate tomatoes now?”
“I’m nervous because you’re being so nice”
“You always give me both sweet and bitter things! And you want to use my time and muscles, right?”
“Of course I noticed! So tell me quickly, what is it?”
He thought for a moment and put another tomato slice in front of Louise. As the number of tomato slices increased, so did Louise’s anxiety.
“Actually, I have some unpleasant news for you.”