You know your status.’
‘I know better than anyone.
I don’t understand why someone would intervene in a matter where Father has given up.’
‘How old are you? Are you still playing at romance at your age?’
‘If we’re talking about experience, I don’t think the Duke is in any position to lecture me.’
She mocked his reputation as a playboy before his marriage.
She thought she had landed a good blow, but his resilient nature quickly countered.
‘But I am married, and you are not.’
He had entered into a strategic marriage arranged by the Duke at the age of twenty-one.
Taking that as her cue, Cordelia casually responded, using his marriage as leverage to demand cooperation from him.
‘I said I’ll do it someday, and it’s up to me to decide when.’
‘When is that “someday” exactly? I told you to act your age.
You’ve long passed the prime of your youth, how long do you think you’ll stay beautiful?’
The cap that had precariously rested on Cordelia’s head flew off at that moment.
Seeing the bright smile spread across her lips, the servants around them were individually taken aback.
They remembered that same smile from when she had chopped off all her hair with scissors at the age of ten.
Cordelia’s light retort was followed by her reaching inside to pull out a large bag made of silk.
She entered the room and swept the contents of the desk drawer into it without much care.
As Frederick watched her, a sense of unease seemed to creep over him.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Getting ready to leave this damn corner of the mansion as I please.
With just those words, Cordelia left the Duke’s study without any lingering regret.
She felt sorry for the servants who were struggling to keep her in check, but she couldn’t help it.
She went outside and caught a carriage without revealing her destination.
“Thanks to him, I had a good excuse to leave.
But thinking about it again, it’s ridiculous.
Why should I have to get married just because he did? Talking about inheriting titles and all!”
Frederick didn’t bother restraining her.
He probably thought she would show up at their sister’s birthday party a week later anyway.
It irritated her even more that it turned out to be true.
That’s why she can’t stand smart people!
Oh, except for her sister.
Miss Cordelia’s opinion is the most important.”
It was very strange that Noah spoke softly and without a bad sign next to her who openly gossiped.
When he first heard this story, she expected him to say something like, “But you should reconcile because you’re family,” but instead, he said:
‘You haven’t severed the bond.’
His unexpected response made her doubt her ears for a moment.
From what he said, it seemed like he had a good relationship with his mother, so she thought he would phrase it more gently.
The more she looked at it, the more difficult it was to like him.
Is there no way? Cordelia was left speechless.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to get married.”
She added hastily, not wanting to come across as a lightweight, and Noah cocked his head.
“Is that so?”
I mean, I want to be with someone I truly love.
Marriage is for a lifetime, after all.
It’s not an easy thing, you know?”
To be more explicit, Cordelia couldn’t imagine not getting tired.
She had been in numerous relationships but had never reached an end, which was why she felt uncertain.
If she ended up in a strategic marriage, she might not have a choice, but still, didn’t she have some say in the matter? It was only natural for her to want to be cautious.
Sitting on her knees, Cordelia absentmindedly counted her fingers and murmured.
“I want to experience love and marriage.
But I don’t want just anyone.
I want someone I feel special about.
Is that wrong? Whenever I say something like this, everyone tells me I’m acting like a child.
They ask me how I can expect to be satisfied with everything.”
Listening to Cordelia’s words, spoken as if in a sigh, Noah plucked a nearby flower.
“In reality, I think I’m full of enthusiasm, but my emotions can’t keep up… That’s where it falters.
I’ve tried to adapt to make things work somehow because I want to get along well, but in the end, it always comes to an end.
I can’t accept things that feel like they’re not me.”
No matter how much she wanted to make a relationship last and go well, Cordelia found herself naturally noticing her partner’s flaws as time went on.
Despite her efforts to resolve things through conversation, she often couldn’t compromise and relationships would come to an end.
After experiencing countless relationships that ended without reaching a compromise, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of resignation, even if she tried to stay positive.
She had dated people she genuinely liked, but somehow they always ended up like this.
She sighed deeply, remembering Edward, the last person she had broken up with.
“May I have your hand?”
As she wondered why he would ask for her hand, Noah went ahead and removed the glove from her right hand.
After a moment, Cordelia’s eyes widened as she noticed the white flower ring on her ring finger.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it? Just… that’s why.”
Without needing to say anything more, Cordelia could sense that Noah was trying to comfort her.
As she looked at him with a bit of surprise, he added quietly,
“Don’t worry too much.
I’m sure that Cordelia will find someone like that.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because you’re putting in the effort.”
His serious tone lacked any hint of laughter, but it had the power to make the listener pay attention despite the simple words.
“Isn’t it natural that someone who actively seeks opportunities has a better chance of finding them than someone who waits for fate to come knocking? That’s what I believe.”
Why does he always manage to say the things she wants to hear? Even though her throat felt tight, Cordelia kept her composure and lightly patted Noah’s shoulder.
“It’s been a while since I heard someone call that effort.
Thanks for saying that.”
“If it’s been a while… “
“People often can’t stay calm when they sense misfortune.”
Noah’s smile, slightly tugging at the left corner of his lips, was reflected in his eyes.
He answered without avoiding her gaze.
“Well, you know.
Just as paint colors vary, everyone has their circumstances.
How can we casually judge someone else’s life?”
Shadows crept into the man’s eyes as he mumbled absentmindedly.
Despite his handsome appearance, his face was filled with unresolved struggles that he hadn’t managed to keep hidden.
“And perhaps, I might be more relentless than you, Cordelia.”
“I mean, I can never compromise when it comes to the beauty I pursue.”
Noah’s response, as firm as it was, came somewhat unexpectedly.
As he received Cordelia’s puzzled look, he turned his gaze forward, taking in the vast landscape that stretched before them.
The open scenery was reflected in his blue eyes.
“For me, you see, I believe that beautiful things ultimately bring joy and comfort to people’s hearts.
Preserving a moment is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But beauty is subjective for each individual, so I’m always pondering.
How can I be beautiful in more people’s eyes? Is it okay if I’m beautiful in my own eyes alone?”
In the end, it felt like he wanted to say that as long as he felt more complete, he would be fine.
Suddenly, Cordelia thought of an unrelated question.
“Um, so, how do I look in your eyes? How do I appear to you?”
Noah slowly turned his head to face Cordelia, meeting her expectant gaze.
As he looked into her eyes, he silently recited in his mind.
Instead of telling her that he was relieved that she hadn’t changed, that he meant it, he skillfully crafted a compliment.
“Cordelia, you’re too beautiful to say anything.”
He’d already changed so much that he can’t say anything to her.
The time that has passed has been significant for him to stay true to his emotions.
He’s not a child anymore, and he couldn’t live according to his own heart forever.
He doesn’t want to reveal it for eternity.
So, he had to maintain this distance.
In truth, he realized that even this was too much.
He found himself despicable for secretly delighting in the sudden events that impacted him, even as he believed that being joyful at something like this was beneath him.
Despite these thoughts, Noah gently raised the corners of his eyes affectionately.
He was accustomed to ignoring the beating of his racing heart.
“Really? Well, I guess I’m beautiful, after all!”
While inwardly lamenting Noah’s response, Cordelia shook her head lightly.
Of course, she didn’t dismiss the compliment, and with a radiant smile, her eyes catch Noah’s.
Not only was her face aesthetically beautiful, but Noah also admired Cordelia’s eyes.
The royal blue color of her irises resembled the sky’s expanse above her head.
The way the color shifted with every emotional fluctuation was particularly mesmerizing.
It was as if her eyes were proving that life was a constant process of change.
The silence that came with the sound of the wind, the faint scent of something tangy on the tip of his nose, the green of the forest and the blue of the sky, and the person at the center of it all.
A profound sense of premonition swept over Noah’s back head.
He was certain that he would never forget this moment.
He wanted to immortalize this moment.
With an almost overwhelming intensity.
* * *
In the night, hanging lanterns in the air emitted a gentle glow.
Utilizing the faint scattered lights as companions, a man engaged in a battle with a large canvas.
He struggled to capture the fleeting images that kept dispersing in his mind and somehow transfer those shapes onto the blank surface.
His hand worked tirelessly, first establishing the overall framework and then meticulously filling in the details.
His movements were rapid as if he were chased by time, and his intense blue eyes carried an emotion akin to madness.
Only when dawn approached, the brush that had been painting the irises with blue pigment dropped weakly to the floor.
The sunlight that pushed away the blue dawn poured through the window into the room, illuminating the finished painting.
Sinking into the chair, he slumped down and stared blankly at the completed artwork.
With the painting now finished except for the drying process, he sighed and absentmindedly wiped his dry paint-covered hands.
While at it, he impulsively picked up the brush with black paint on it that he had thrown on the floor.
He held it poised over the canvas as if to strike.
The brush, swinging roughly, came to a halt just a finger’s breadth away from the painting.
Even though a little more movement could have ruined this perfection, he eventually sighed.
His voice, devoid of moisture, cut through the tranquil dawn.
In the painting that filled the canvas, he stared at the face of a woman smiling brightly, and unknowingly, Noah recalled.
Ah, I miss you.
And then Noah chuckled to himself.
It hadn’t even been a day since they parted, yet he found himself in such an agonizing state.
Perhaps he was indeed terrible at managing his own heart.
Perhaps due to the relief, or perhaps fatigue, it surged rapidly within him.
Accompanied by the sound of the brush hitting the floor, he closed his eyes, both to let out a sigh and to find solace.
The warm sunlight poured into the room.
He didn’t want to get up, but the determination of the sunlight was strong.
Slowly opening his eyes, the hazy objects started taking their original forms.
He blinked his blurry eyes.
As the objects came into focus, the messy room, the pouring sunlight from the opposite side, and above all, the large canvas that dominated his field of vision.
Rubbing his eyes and calming his disoriented body, he looked down at his hands.
They were covered in paint, his hair hung down like curtains.
Everything was so vivid, denying the possibility of being unreal.
With a scream, Cordelia grabbed her face, or rather, Noah’s face.
What on earth was going on?
“We’ve changed bodies again!”
Only one day was left until the banquet was to take place.
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