Chapter Nine: His Papa is… His Highness!?
Ricardo was shouting something loudly from the sideline.
He seemed to be frantically trying to talk to me about something else, but as stunned as I was, of course, I wasn’t in my right mind to hear him out.
—The Count, Nolan… has a child with someone else.
What’s more, that child, left behind by his mother, Alex, was currently standing in front of me.
I recalled Nolan, who had come to pick me up at the Viscount Teddy mansion. In the carriage, I can still clearly remember how he firmly declared we would not be having a child for a while. And yet… What in tarnation does it mean for him to have a 5-year-old boy already…!?
“Are you listening to me, madam?”
Ricardo’s voice finally reached my ears. He was flailing his long limbs, frantically trying to explain, “Nolan-sama having a child is as impossible as the sun coming up from the West…! Even I don’t have one!”
The sight of him defending his master’s dignity was painful to watch.
I felt dizzy.
I blinked hard, repeatedly taking deep breaths, and was somehow able to suppress the turbulent emotions in my heart. I glanced at the boy once again; his face was crumpled with tears. The young boy, feeling the uselessness of waiting for his mother to come back, along with mine and Ricardo’s reaction, seemed to have scared him as large drops of tears started flowing from his eyes. He immediately began to wipe at them with the towel he took out from the bag hanging on his shoulder.
—First. I need to handle the current situation… So, I looked to Ricardo.
“Ricardo-san. It might be possible that you can find the kid’s mother in the surrounding area. Can you look around?”
Ricardo’s face turned stiff as he nodded grimly, quickly running off to fetch a horse. Along the way, He also dragged away Marco, who had just returned from the barn, as he seemingly talked about something while making frantic gestures like raging waves.
As we were the only ones left behind, I tried conversing with the boy in the hopes of stopping his unceasing stream of tears. “Say, I… What’s the name?”
The letter already mentioned his name, but I just wanted to ask again to confirm. The boy could not reply properly due to his intense sobbing; having to speak with pauses in between.
“Sniff! Pe… Sniff! Peter…”
“You know… Peter… Apparently, your mother might not be coming anytime soon to pick you up.”
“Sob! Sob… Why?”
Why, indeed. I’m the one who wants to know about this the most.
“It’s written on the letter… To let you stay with us for a while.”
The boy raised his face from the towel and looked at me. His ephemeral brown eyes made me feel suffocated. Unknowingly, I found myself looking for any resemblances between his and Nolan’s faces.
“Have you had lunch yet?”
The boy shook his tiny head.
“…Well, how about eating with us?”
“But… Sniff! I…”
“We have juice. We also have cookies, you know?”
The boy’s downcast face gleamed suddenly as he said, “I’ll eat!!!”
With my heart like cracked glass, I somehow forced myself to smile as I nervously took the boy’s hand, and headed to the mansion. While walking, I was a bit concerned if we actually had cookies or not.
I explained the situation to Olivia, who was in the kitchen as the boy took a seat in the living room. I asked her to arrange lunch for the boy. She was speechless, with her face looking pale. I expected it. It also seemed like she was going to collapse at any moment.
“I just hope Nolan can return soon.”
“I truly also hope so too,” She muttered absentmindedly, glancing towards the living room repeatedly.
Olivia, after staying silent for a while, finally came to me and said with a serious look on her face, “…I still can’t believe this. There must be more than what meets the eyes. The master I know has his limit.”
I want to believe that, too. However, whether it’s the present him or his past self, I know almost nothing.
With feeling as if someone had been pressing a stone against my chest, I rummaged through our food supply to check if we had the cookies I used as bait to lure the boy named Peter in. My mind was so hazy that I didn’t even think about asking Olivia about it. And Olivia herself, looked not in the right mentality, as she kept repeatedly taking out plates from the cupboard in a daze.
In the midst of everything, we suddenly heard footsteps coming from the corridor. Like someone walking with long strides, the incoming footsteps undoubtedly belonged to Nolan. Olivia and I glanced at each other simultaneously.
Nolan stopped before reaching the living room, and immediately turned to walk toward the kitchen. He entered and asked me with a look of ignorance, “Who’s that boy?”
That should be my line.
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t remember anyone with that name.”
What if you actually know deep down but just can’t recall?
To be certain, I tried to go along with him. “Does the name Alex ring a bell to you?”
“Alex? Which Alex?”
It didn’t seem like the name struck a chord with him. Maybe it’s because his former status as a prince gave way to having lots of acquaintances so he doesn’t remember her specifically? After all, the paths we’d threaded on were entirely different from what each other’s. I placed my hands on my waist, stuck out my chin, and said in a higher tone, “I’m talking about Alex Gason!”
“…Hmmm. I can’t remember!”
It… It can’t be… Was it a one-night stand!? He laid his hand on a woman then abandoned her after sex…!?
My image of Nolan suddenly subverted to that of an inconsistent and irresponsible man. Moreover that, altogether, it’s possible that Nolan was living an exorbitant life when he was still a prince. Laying his demonic hands here and there… And Peter was merely one of many tips of the iceberg, and there are actually a lot of children whose existences had yet to come to light. By not mentioning anything about hidden children… Nolan might actually already be beyond salvation if he himself didn’t remember them…
I wouldn’t be surprised if he had already been aware of one in the past, became disgusted, and that’s why he didn’t want any children with me now. That may be why he wasn’t laying his hands on me. Wild delusions inside my head took a snowball effect as my feelings transitioned from anger, to sympathy, and now, shock. It made my head feel strange.
Could it be possible?
Even though we had just gotten married and yet… I glared at Nolan in blatant disgust.
“Around six years ago, you had a lover, right?”
But, Nolan, with the same ignorant look as ever, crossed his arms and said, “Can you just stop beating around the bush and just explain the situation in a way I can understand?”
I took the paper from the envelope I was hiding in my hands, unraveled it, and showed it to him. It was an attempt to smash his arrogance.
“You! You had a child…!”
Nolan’s brow furrowed as he took the letter and read it. He looked up after, and opened his mouth, “What? So it was the child from that time? That Alex… So it’s my child…”
“…Or so you thought that was what I’d say? He’s not my child.”
My heart ached. Why did he have to put on such an ambiguous play…?
I gritted my teeth and stopped myself from hyperventilating, taking the letter back from Nolan’s hands. “Are you sure it’s not the case?”
Nolan didn’t reply directly; instead, he stroked his chin. After showing what seemed like a profoundly thoughtful expression, he said, “Of course. He’s not my child. I swear.”
Not your child… Then what was with that pause earlier? As if you were thinking about something important you had just remembered? No one needs to give off such a profound look prior to denying something. In another time and place, without that kid or Alex in the picture, would he have ever experienced such things where he couldn’t deny something almost immediately…?
It was hard to stop myself from suspecting him. I needlessly became more anxious even after Nolan’s denial. I wondered what kind of memory resuscitated his mind when he paused before replying to my question… I got more curious by each second that passed.
“What about the possibility of you making a mistake while being with a one-night stand…”
“I’m curious to know what you actually think of me.”
“Fine. I won’t ask anymore questions.”
I couldn’t do much if Nolan himself was vehemently denying it.
I suddenly recalled leaving Peter alone in the living room, so I turned on my heels to head to where he was. However, someone suddenly grabbed my hand from behind, making me look back in surprise.
Nolan had grabbed me and approached me dead close. He looked at me with his sharp aquamarine eyes, and said, “You aren’t going to believe me?”
“…Then whatever that boy’s mother had written on the letter’s a lie?”
Nolan just released my hand.
By the time I returned to the living room, the pitiful boy had emptied his bag of items on the floor and was playing with a toy. He was rolling a wooden car around. However, when he noticed me, he hurriedly placed it back into his bag. As he did so, I saw that there were even pebbles inside it; I guess he’s collecting them.
I knelt next to him.
“Does everyone eat together at Peter’s home?”
It was a rule of thumb in aristocratic families that a child should eat in a different room than their parents. It was almost impossible for them to eat at the same table unless there was an event like a birthday, a coming-of-age ceremony, or any other celebration along those lines. Though in my case, I always ate alone after my mother passed away.
Nolan also followed me to the living room and sat with everyone while observing the boy without any discretion. The boy, seemingly uncomfortable with his gaze, looked at me with pitiful eyes as he fiddled his fingers in a nervous manner.
Olivia brought bread and soup to the table, and refilled the juice cup placed in front of the child. His expression brightened after seeing that.
He ate pretty well. I’ve no idea if a kid this age naturally ate a lot or if he was just that hungry, but the take-away was that; he ate a lot. I also didn’t miss Nolan’s blatant, stunned look when the boy ate his his fourth bread since the meal began.
In the hope of finding any clue about the child’s origin, Nolan and I asked some questions as we ate. However, maybe it was because his memories were only limited to exposures that interested him, that all the information we got was useless.
Nolan and Marco joined Ricardo after quickly finishing their meals and headed out. It was to search for the boy’s parents.
And once again…
I had to deal with the boy by myself.