Was I dreaming? If it was a dream, I couldn’t have felt so awkward, embarrassed, shy, and had the urge to dig a hole to bury myself in.
From the moment I recognised Nezar, not a single fingernail of mine remained due to me biting them all.
I was a nervous wreck.
I was anxious about how stupid I would look in front of him.
“Seeing how your expression is shifting strangely even when you are standing still, you definitely are Katrina Ezelot.”
It was out of the blue, but at the same time shocking.
I hurriedly unfolded the fan that I was holding, relieved that Nezar had started talking first.
Subsequently, I asked back, covering my mouth.
“I had no idea.
Do I make such a we-weird face,… Your Highness?”
He must have found my restless appearance hilarious as he chuckled.
That expression just now, was the expression he used to make often in the past.
Was it due to his finely curved lips? It felt like the nape of my neck, which had been stiff from tension, gradually relaxed.
“You always do.
And there is no need to use honorifics, that does not suit you.
I don’t care about it anyway, so just talk to me like how you used to, Kate.”
Oh thank god, I’m saved.
As expected, people shouldn’t do things they haven’t done before.
“Haah…now what should I do about this?”
He shifted his gaze to the top of my head.
Unable to grasp the intention behind those words, I raised the fan up to the tip of my nose and looked intently at Nezar.
Before, he was a young boy with fair skin and full of dignity, but now he was very different from back then.
As for where and what part was different, I couldn’t even mention them one by one because there were countless from head to toe.
As soon as I recognised the differences, the tension that had been relieved was revived once more.
The nineteen-year-old Nezar was there to protect and take care of me even when I was always bothering him like a habit.
Despite his harsh way of speaking, he was a being from which I felt the peaceful warmth of spring whenever I met his gaze.
What about now?
After slowly dragging his hand down his face, his arm hung down leisurely as he made eye contact with me.
A sharpness that I had never seen before shimmered under his red eyes.
It was as though his eyes were piercing straight through me.
Thinking that I might be eaten alive, I lowered my eyes.
At those words, I raised my head again.
I wondered what he was talking about, but his calm eyes were directed toward the top of my head.
I raised my arm and groped around the hair bun that was neatly twisted with dozens of pins.
A thin hair tie could be felt between them.
I could tell without the need to see it, it was the hair tie embroidered with daffodils – a gift from Nezar.
“Ah, this? The colour faded a lot right? I mended it about five or six times, but because I’m bad at embroidery… It’s just ruined.”
It’s bad? My skills were terrible.
The longer I spoke, the more interesting the floor became, so I quietly closed my mouth and retracted my hand.
Eventually, Nezar sighed and said in a firm tone.
First of all, lower that goddamn fan, Kate.
I can’t see your face.”
I still didn’t have the confidence to face Nezar with my bare face.
“Do-, do you really need to see my face?”
“You know the question you just asked was very strange, right? Or did the Empire’s humour change while I was wielding my sword in the Northern region?”
With Caron as my only friend, I couldn’t tell what the empire’s humour was like these days either.
Nezar looked down at me silently with his arms crossed, as if he had no intention of taking back his words.
I also acted stubborn at first, but soon I had to slowly fold the fan and hold it in my hand.
I thought Nezar would just nod in satisfaction, but instead, he thoroughly scanned my cheeks, eyebrows, the tip of my nose, and my lips the moment the fan was removed, as if that was all he had waited for.
That said, I somehow felt naked under his piercing gaze.
Can you stop staring at my face?”
“Why, does it wear out?”
“No! I’m-, I’m embarrassed.”
I didn’t know what the two of us were doing facing each other in the middle of this crowded place.
Nezar was the only crown prince of the Caval Empire, he was a presence that attracted attention just by standing still, so it was obvious what would happen if the location was a crowded hall of a victory banquet.
His face contorted again.
It was a look very similar to the one he had on when he first realised I was Kate.
“… I don’t know how to express this feeling.”
Nezar then reached out to me.
The white, soft palms were gone, his skin was now full of small scars and calluses.
Does he want me to hold onto it?
“We’d better get out of the hall first.
It’s so chaotic here that I can’t concentrate…”
It was at the moment I was about to hold Nezar’s hand that something unexpected happened.
As soon as my fingertips touched him, he flinched and then withdrew his hand abruptly.
What was that all about?
When I gazed at him, puzzled, he looked even more perplexed than I was.
Just then a servant carrying champagne glasses passed by, and Nezar, who then took two of them, held one in his left hand and put the other in my free hand.
Promptly, he opened his mouth, acting as if nothing was out of the norm.
“Follow me, Kate.
Don’t get lost in the crowd.”
As Nezar turned away from me, an unprecedented sadness came through me like a wave.
He just rejected my hand, didn’t he?
My chest felt suffocating as I couldn’t figure out the reason.
Nezar walked ahead of me with wide strides, unaware of my feelings.
After a few steps, he turned around halfway to find me standing still in the distance and gestured lightly.
…What do people call this?
There were cases where one’s male cousin, who had been on good terms with them since childhood, suddenly became awkward as they got older.
Come to think of it, even in my previous life, the intensity of the awkwardness was particularly strong around mid-teens.
It’s believed that the relationship would usually smooth out around their mid-to-late 20s, but since I lost my life when I turned 17, everything ended without me being able to overcome the awkward relationship with my cousin.
No matter how much I thought about it, the atmosphere between Nezar and me now was very similar to the awkwardness with my cousin back then.
If I were the only one who thought so, I’d rather pretend to be cool with it, but even Nezar couldn’t hide his uncomfortable feeling.
So far, he had treated me well as if he was my own brother, but he shook off the hand that used to habitually hold onto him 5 years ago.
It’s like he was chasing bugs away!
The more I thought about it, the more hurtful and angry I was.
I felt so stupid for spending days worrying about my dress and skin.
I especially found it ridiculous at the very thought of wanting to complain about it, as if I had waited for this day in earnest or something.
I even took his care for granted, thinking that it would naturally remain the same even when the engagement’s annulled later on.
“Your Highness Nezar!”
Of course, there was one more reason for my rage and sadness.
“Haha! Congrats on the victory.
I knew that the Northern Expedition, led by Your Highness, would surely accomplish great achievements.”
“You flattered me, Count Collanto.”
“Flatter?! Your Highness’ achievements are inscribed on the wall of this huge Cassandra Hall together with the empire’s great ones and should be known for generations to come!”
How many times has it been? Three? Four?
The drink, which was once half filled with champagne, had already disappeared.
I handed the empty glass to the servant and took a new one.
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