Chapter Five: A Secret Confession
The carriage ran against the setting sun. I glanced at the profile of my husband sitting next to me. He looked rather writhe. Anytime he was lost in thought, his face turned sloppy, and his years became more apparent.
I had asked the knights who came up to me questions about my husband, and they all had cute things to say. I was delighted to hear the weird secrets about him that I didn’t know before, such as the fact that he was unexpectedly weak with alcohol and bean soup. I wondered if he was planning to kill me with his adorable quirks because he was just too cute.
I imagined what it would be like to drink with him. I envisioned myself taking care of him after he was drunk, and I wasn’t talking about nursing him.
My husband’s lips formed into a strained smile. I couldn’t control my facial expression, and he immediately asked me what was going on. I couldn’t help myself. I was too busy imagining my future with him.
“Did something good happen?” he asked.
“What?” I replied, feigning shock. “No. Well, it was kind of fun.”
My face suddenly burst into a wide grin as I imagined what my husband would do to me if he were drunk.
“Is there anyone you are curious about?” he asked.
“What?” I responded in the same casual tone he had used to ask the question. However, he took a minute to respond. That was enough time for me to consider the meaning of his question. Did I hear him wrong? I pondered as I considered the meaning of his words. Who did he expect me to be curious about? I had only met Lynn, the King of sexual harassment, and the knights.
I wondered what was going on and was about to ask when my husband spoke with a calm smile on his face.
“How about black-haired Hendricks who went to greet you first? He is closer to you in terms of age. The two of you looked good standing side by side. His majesty thought so too.”
I took a minute to process his words as confusion consumed me. Which Knight? What did he mean by “closer in terms of age”? Why was he talking about someone looking good beside me? I tried to create a solid question, but too many questions kept rushing through my mind and escaping before I could put them in words.
In the end, my lips simply remained sealed, and I couldn’t make a single sound. I couldn’t understand what he was talking about, so I stared at him and waited for him to clarify his statement. His profile was wrinkled with rings of age. He bore an expression that remained calm and provided no answer.
“Why?” That was the only question that settled in my mind as the joyful feeling that I was enjoying only a few seconds ago disappeared without a trace.
“There are many promising men among the knights. I am sure you would like them too,” my husband uttered. “It’s alright,” he added reluctantly.
He was so close, and yet it felt as though he was millions of miles away. My voice and mind were blocked by something I couldn’t see. I always thought my husband and I were going to get married. Why then was he doing this?
“The most prominent, Clarke, is also a very attractive man,” he continued. “Despite his appearance, he has a gentle personality. I am sure he would take good care of you.” He paused for a second and opened his mouth to continue his speech, but he decided against it and kept quiet.
There were a lot of knights at the training ground. It finally hit me. It was all a plot from the very beginning. Lynn was around, and yet the knights stopped their training to engage in mindless chatter with me instead of her. It was unnatural. It became clear to me that my husband had invited me to the palace to make me meet the knights who seemed to “fit me well.” That was the phrase. “Fit me well.” It was their own twisted version of matchmaking.
In truth, he was trying to arrange a marriage for me.
It seemed that I wasn’t a fitting wife for the Earl after all. The back of my throat hurt, and I bit my lips tightly. I lowered my head and held my skirt. Staring at its blue fabric that was the same color as his eyes, I concentrated on it. It was all I could do to stop myself from crying disgracefully.
“What about red-haired Rick, who spent a few minutes sitting next to you?” my husband offered. “His rank is low. However, he is with the Baron’s family and also shows a bit of promise.”
“My husband,” I called out to him so he would stop talking. I didn’t want him to say anything else. My voice trembled, and my speech came out husky as I spoke, “If I’m in the way, just say so.”
He didn’t have to pass me off to anyone in such a roundabout manner. I would have preferred if he just straight up said he didn’t want me anymore. I was a fool. I was so excited when he invited me to the palace. I didn’t even suspect for one minute that something was wrong. The tears that I had struggled to keep at bay suddenly started trickling down and falling to my skirt, forming deep stains.
“Miss Nako. Please, don’t cry. I have never thought you were in the way.”
“That’s a lie,” I shot back. “If I’m not in the way, then why are you doing this?”
He shook his head as he stared at the ground. His broad right hand covered my tightly-clenched fist. I always loved it when his hand touched me. Yet this time around, the warmth from his hand hurt me rather than fill me with joy. I wanted to intertwine my hands with his as we always did, but I couldn’t. I wanted to connect with him, even if it was just for a little moment, but the pain was too much.
“You have come to hate me,” I declared, trying my best to control my emotions.
“No way,” he replied. “This is important for you. I want you to be happy, Miss Nako. You are young, healthy, and beautiful. You deserve better than an old man like me. If I become just your guardian, you would have no problem marrying into any family.”
He paused, then called my name again. “Miss Nako.” His voice was thick with pain. I could sense it. However, he carried on and kept talking.
“Even if we get married, the time you can spend with me is short. Even if we stick to a white marriage, people would still talk behind our backs. If you live a long life, then you would surely fall in love again after I am gone. Marrying me now would be a shackle to you. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to make your life difficult. Please, try to understand what I am trying to do here.”
He spoke lowly, taking one word at a time as if he were talking to a young child — inextricable age difference. The best I could hope for was twenty years with my husband. It didn’t matter. Irrespective of how short my time with him was, I was willing to enjoy every minute of it.
“The time I spend with you is enough. Every second of my life with you is nothing short of pure happiness,” I replied.
My husband took a deep breath and let it out. He stared at me as if I were a little child, and in a lot of ways, I actually was acting like a kid. I was like a child throwing a tantrum and trying to force my one-sided feelings on him. My past self might have laughed at me for the cringe and disgraceful sensation in my heart.
I couldn’t care less.
I raised my head and looked into my husband’s eyes. My vision was blurry with moisture, but I could still see my husband blink with surprise as he saw the tears that had stained my cheeks.
“I like you. You are all I need. If being your wife isn’t convenient, then please place me by your side. Even if I can only serve you as a mistress or a mere servant. As long as I can remain by your side, I am happy.”
I wanted to stay with him even if he was annoyed by it. I knew I was acting rather hopeless and idiotic. I clearly understood his logic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t back down gracefully. He was the only one for me. He was my only one.
Painful silence fell upon both of us as the carriage suddenly came to a halt. Apparently, our conversation was too loud, and the coachman seemed to have picked up on our words. I had once again embarrassed my husband. I didn’t want to lose him. I needed to apologize as quickly as possible.
“Miss Nako,” my husband said, just as I was about to open my mouth.
I looked up nervously. His cobalt-blue eyes were no longer filled with concern. Instead, they exuded a new kind of emotion. His face morphed into a deep calm smile.
“My husband?” I replied uncertainly as my lips trembled with worry.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad, neither did I mean to look down on our love.”
“I am the one who should apologize. You don’t have to be sorry…”
“Now listen,” he started. “I got anxious as I watched you grow into a beautiful woman. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to let go of your lovely smile even if you asked me to.”
I couldn’t believe that he was worried about my growth and the possibility of me leaving him. If only he knew that I didn’t want him to ever let me go.
“It’s pathetic for a man to let his woman be the first to confess her love.” His eyes locked on mine. “I love you, Miss Nako. I want you to stay by my side forever.”
My heart trembled. I could see the surprised look on my face through the reflection in his cobalt-blue irises. It all felt like a dream. My husband always showered me with praises. However, this was the first time he was saying the words “I love you.”
“Oh, my husband. This is absolute. You can’t take it back.” I hugged him with all my heart. My husband had accepted me wholly and given me a sense of security. His big chest and the gentle smell were pure bliss. I liked him. No, more than that. I loved him. I was so happy that I couldn’t even decide what to do next. Tears threatened to flow out of my eyes yet again, and I concentrated on holding them back.
After I regained my composure, I gently scolded him for trying to set me up. I kept our bodies apart to show my dissatisfaction. However, I still stayed next to him. I couldn’t resist the intoxicating smell that filled the atmosphere around him. I wanted him forever. I was willing and ready to go a hundred miles with him by my side. As long as we were together, we were unstoppable.
I felt closer to him at that moment than ever before.
His words had returned joy into my heart. If he hadn’t told me that he loved me, I would have been upset and assumed that my love was unwanted. It still felt like a hallucination. He had said the best three words in the world, “I love you.” He was a lovely husband. I repeated the words in my head over and over again, smiling every time, until I became convinced that I wasn’t dreaming.
“May I ask you a question?”
“What?” he asked.
“What is a white marriage?” I inquired with feigned innocence as I tilted my head to stare at my husband’s face. He furrowed his eyebrows, deeply troubled as he considered my question.
“That’s…” he started but couldn’t continue. After a few seconds of struggling to answer, he finally found a way to avoid it. “I will tell you when we get back to the mansion.”
He was clearly trying to dodge the question, and I found this quite amusing. I suppressed my desire to laugh and smiled as elegantly as I could.
I knew what white marriage was. It was an arrangement between two couples in which they do not engage in physical intimacies. The prime minister had explained the term to me a while ago after he described my relationship with the Earl as a white marriage since our ages were too far apart.
“I was lying,” I confessed. “I know what it is. I am not as young as you think I am. So, moving forward, kindly tell me more about our future.”
He stared at me in disbelief as I took his hand in mine and entangled our fingers. He let out a deep groan as he stroked his beard with his free hand.
“My husband,” I called.
“Don’t make fun of old people.” His voice was firm, but his ears were red, and it wasn’t because of the setting sun. He was so cute that I had completely no idea of what to do with him. Since that day, our relationship grew and blossomed so much that Lynn later declared that we had officially become fiancées, both in name and reality. She felt that we were so incredibly close that she wanted to spit out sugar whenever we were all in the same room.