As they approached the crowded room, Elisabeth excused herself and as she tried to leave, Hiro pulled her back and whispered harshly into her ear, “Where are you going?”
“I see me grandfather over there, I wanted to go and greet him,” Elisabeth protested.
“You can’t leave me here with him!”
“Oh he won’t do anything!”
“He would do something,” Hiro objected.
Elisabeth pushed Hiro hands away and said, “He won’t try anything. Even if he does, you need to know how to deal with it.”
And so saying, Elisabeth slipped away and left Hiro and the young man together. She looked up at him frantically and he looked back at her blankly.
Before both could say anything, a waiter came up to them and escorted them to an empty table set for eight people. He placed a wine glass before the young man and a glass of punch before Hiro, bowing his head down before departing.
They sat together awkwardly before the young man spoke up and broke the silence.
“Let me see your hand.”
Hiro withdrew her hand further from him and nearly dashed from her seat when he attempted to grab her had.
“Come on, let me see it,” he prodded.
“No! Why?” she asked, sliding her chair further away from him, nearly knocking a lady to the side.
As Hiro turned to apologize, the man pulled her chair closer to him and grabbed her hand quickly before she could remove it. Hiro turned back around and pulled at her hand, but the man clutched it gently but firmly.
He held it with one hand and put his hand inside his coat pocket, pulling out a small decorated box. Opening it with his fingers and laying it on the table, he picked out a diamond ring from inside and moved it before Hiro’s face so that she could see it.
“Oh no,” she whispered, further dragging her hand away with vigor now that she knew what was happening.
The young man smirked and held her hand and slipped his thumb along her palm, using it to pushed the ring finger of her left hand out more than the rest of the other fingers.
“No, no, no,” she moaned frantically, as he moved his other hand to slip the ring on.
As she moved her free hand to intercept the ring, a voice rang out, “Hiro?”
Both Hiro and the young man turned to look at the owner of the voice.
Hiro’s eyes widened in shock and bewilderment and Sashen and Kei had similar looks on their faces. The young man looked from face to face and lingered a look longer at Hiro’s. Silently, he slipped the ring onto her finger and withdrew his hands from hers, Hiro suspected nothing in the least.
“What are you doing here?” Sashen asked, crossing her arms together.
“You mean to ask what a commoner is doing here,” Hiro reiterated, staring defiantly at Sashen.
“What does it matter? The question is still why you are here?”
“What is the President doing here?”
“Don’t dodge the question!”
Hiro looked at Kei with her head tilted and seemed to ask him with her eyes, what are you doing here? He returned her look but quickly looked away when Sashen turned to look at him.
“He’s my escort,” she boasted, taking Kei’s arm into hers.
“That’s nice,” Hiro muttered under her breath.
“He’s my boyfriend as well,” Sashen added, smiling triumphantly.
At this, both Hiro and the young man’s head snapped up to look at the couple before them.
“Interesting,” the young man murmured to himself.
“No way,” Hiro breathed.
As if to prove their relationship, Sashen tugged Kei’s tie, bringing his head closer to hers. She kissed him squarely on the lips to both Kei and Hiro’s surprise. Kei’s eyes darted to Hiro who returned his look with bewilderment.
Hiro watched almost as though she were in a trance until the young man poked at her arm with a finger, drawing her attention. She turned to him quickly and almost grateful for a chance to look away.
“What do you want?” she demanded, almost hurriedly.
The man’s eyes were downcast but he responded and said, “I was trying to help distract you from…” He paused and gave a small cough.
Blushing, Hiro opened her mouth to retort when she realized something. She clamped her mouth shut and looked down at her finger.
“Hey! When did you put this on? Take it off this instant,” she yelled, completely forgetting about the kissing couple.
The man looked up at her and smirked, lifting her hand in his and bringing it close to his lips. He kissed her fingers and tilted his head to the side.
“I love when you get worked up like that,” he whispered to her, oblivious of the fact that she was punching him with her free hand.
He laughed and held her other hand as well. He looked her in the eye and Hiro felt obliged to do the same to him. A strange mutual understanding passed between them and they both stood up together.
As they turned to go, Sashen’s voice called out to them, “Where do you think you’re going?”
It was the young man who turned around and answered, “We need some fresh air.”
Placing his hand on the small of Hiro’s back, he led her away from the fuming girl and her awkward escort.
“Thank you,” Hiro whispered to him grudgingly.
“My pleasure,” he replied, leaning his head close to hers. “Besides, I wanted to show you something.”
The young man led her towards a door that lead out onto a terrace when they were stopped by Sir Renkai and an older couple.
“Where are you two going?” Sir Renkai asked, smiling when he saw his daughter hand in hand with her fiancé.
“I need some air,” Hiro said and after glancing at his companions, added, “Father.”
“Is my son treating you well?” the woman asked, smiling, though there was nothing happy about her smile.
“Oh yes,” Hiro replied, feeling the need to defend him. “He was about to show me a place out in the garden.”
“Ah yes, I remember. He used to spend a lot of time out there when you’re mother was still alive. You see, your mother and I used to be best friends. It doesn’t look like it but we’re all the same age. Your parents just happened to be gifted with the fountain of youth.”
Sir Renkai chuckled but said nothing, letting the woman continue.
“I see you gave it to her already?”
Hiro felt as the young man clenched his hand tighter and suddenly release his grasp on her. He stepped toward his parents and soon they were in deep conversation.
Sir Renkai pulled her to the side to give privacy to the consulting family.
“What are you doing, Fa-” She stopped and corrected herself, asking, “Principal?”
Sir Renkai frowned and placed an arm around her shoulder, walking with her a little ways away from the other family.
He whispered to her and asked, “Why did you change it? You had it right, I am your father.”
“No you’re not, you’re my principal.”
“Dear, how can I make you believe?”
She ignored him and said, “In front of your people I will call you ‘Father’ but in private, I will not acknowledge you as so, I never will.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if you just called me by one name?”
“If I did, you already know which one I would choose.”
He clamped his mouth shut and looked away from her. Turning around, he plastered on a bright smile and ushered her back to the awaiting family.
- POV Switch -
“I see you gave her the ring already?” the young man’s mother inquired.
“Yes ma’am, I did.”
She raised her eyebrows in question and asked, “Why?”
He tensed up and returned her piercing gaze calmly.
“She was perturbed and needed a distraction. I thought that maybe by putting the ring on her finger it would be a sufficient enough diversion to help ease her mind.”
His father chuckled heartily and clapped him on the back. His mother, on the other hand, frowned and pursed her lips in thought.
“You need to get the ring back. How are we to publically announce your marriage if she already has the ring on? It needs to be grand declaration so that everyone will know the daughter of Sir Renkai is back and that she is yours, only yours.”
The young man bowed his head and replied, “Understood, mother, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Young man,” his father exclaimed, his voice boomed loudly, causing the young man to inch his head away. “Keep your distance from her, we don’t know if this marriage will be official.”
The mother slapped his arm roughly and retorted, “Of course it is. The statistics are showing a steady rise in their income compared to Serizawa’s. This is the best option.”
“Either way, I wish to marry her,” the young man murmured, looking over at Hiro through the corner of his eyes.
“It all depends on how things go,” his father declared, thumping the young man on the back, causing him to double over. “If all things go according to plan, she’s all yours, if not then say good bye to your wishful thinking. When it comes to money, you never know what will happen.”
The man’s eyebrows furrowed as he contemplated his parents’ words.
“Let’s continue talking to Sir Renkai, dear,” his mother whispered to his father, linking her arm with him.
The young man turned back to face Hiro, just as she and Sir Renkai finished their conversation.
- Hiro -
“I believe my son was going to escort your daughter somewhere?” the young man’s mother prompted, nudging her son towards Hiro.
“Yes, I think that was where we left off,” agreed Sir Renkai, also pushing Hiro towards the young man.
Walking towards the older couple, he held his hands out and motioned for them to follow him into his study for a long discussion.
The young man took Hiro’s hand and fingered the ring he had slipped on earlier. Hiro turned her head to look at what he was doing, but snapped her head up when his mother called her name.
“Tell me if he treats you poorly, dear, I’ll straighten him out for you,” she said, smiling, though her smile held no mirth in it and her eyes lingered on her son as though in warning before she turned her back and left.
Hiro forced a smile and replied, “I will.”
She laughed awkwardly and gave a small wave as the adults walked away.
As she was talking, the young man had slipped the ring from her finger and placed it back into the box, which he promptly stuffed back into his pocket. Hiro looked at the young man distrustfully but didn’t suspect the missing ring. He returned her look and smiled, taking her hand and linking his fingers between hers.
“Well go on,” she exclaimed. “Show me this garden of yours.”
“As you wish, my lady,” he murmured, leading her outside onto the terrace.
It was a beautiful night, with stars lighting the sky like little sparkling diamonds. The view of the night sky took Hiro’s breath away and she stepped away from the young man to wrap her hands around the railing, pushing herself forward and looking up at the sky with awe.
“It’s beautiful!” she breathed, smiling at the sight before her.
The young man looked at her for a second then turned his head to view the scene as well.
“If you think this is beautiful, I’ll show you something even more breathtaking.”
Taking her hand, he led her down a flight of steps and opened a gate to the garden. Taking a path known only to him, the young man directed the way to a secret place.
“Where are we going?” Hiro ventured after they had taken the fourth consecutive left to who knows where.
“To your mother’s favorite place out of the entire garden,” he answered, turning right this time.
Hiro gave up trying to figure out where they had just gone. The paths they took gave her a headache and her feet, especially, were starting to hurt. She had never worn high heels for such an excruciatingly long time before.
The young man ducked under a low awning and used his hands to push aside a few branches, opening the way to a clearing. It was a large area with a fountain in the middle. There was a bench to their left and a pathway before them that led toward the fountain.
Everything was dark and desolate looking. The brambles and greeneries that encircled the area looked like they were dying. The flowers sagged in their bushes and the birds flew outside the area, never settling down on this side of the clearing.
And yet despite the negligence and poor condition of the area, Hiro was mesmerized by the sight.
“Waaahhh!” she breathed, her eyes widening at the sight.
The young man observed her as she stepped forward, his lips twitching into a small smile.
“Is this what you were talking about? My mother’s garden?”
“Yes, this is her getaway place. A place she goes to just to relax and escape the burdens of being the Lady of Sir Renkai.”
“How did you discover this place?” she asked, turning to look at him.
“She took me here before, when she was pregnant with you,” he answered, stepping up beside her. “She always took me places and gave me things. She was a sincere and warm person.”
“It sounds like you had a crush on her,” Hiro muttered, looking around her.
“Well, every child had a crush before, no?” he asked, looking at her sidelong.
“I guess,” Hiro whispered, turning her face down. “It’s not like I had real parents while growing up.”
The man pursed his lips but didn’t respond.
Hiro wobbled toward the bench and sat down. She reached for her heels and pulled them off, sighing contentedly as the cruel devices were slipped from her feet. She stretched her toes out before her and exhaled heavily.
As she flexed her toes, the young man wandered over and sat down beside her. After watching her momentarily, he bent over and picked up her feet, pulling them onto his lap. Hiro yelped in surprise as her body moved to face him.
“What are you doing?” she asked, incredulously.
He didn’t say anything but pressed his thumb into the back of one of her feet. He pushed his thumb up and down her foot and did the same with her other foot in his other hand. Hiro moaned in ecstasy and tilted her head back as he massaged her sore feet.
“That sounds wrong,” he commented as he held his hands around her feet.
She lifted her head a bit and looked at him, begrudgingly.
“I can’t help it. It feels really good to have my feet massaged once they were out of their torture cocoons.”
He smiled and continued, rubbing her feet with his fingers. Just to poke fun at her, he pressed his thumb deeply into the center of the back of her feet. Hiro’s head whipped forward and she grabbed her foot, yelping in pain.
“Ow!” she cried, bending over to caress her throbbing feet.
He sat back on the bench and watched in amusement as Hiro clutched her feet and squeezed them between her hands to rid of the aching feeling. He took a finger and lifted her head with it. She looked up at him and he smiled at her.
“You should look up for a bit,” he told her, withdrawing his finger and turning to look up straight ahead.
With her feet still in his lap, she did as was told and turned to follow his gaze. As her eyes fell on the fountain, a bang sounded and suddenly lights blared on. Water from the fountain surged out of its pipes and danced as the power turned on, filling the fountain with water. Lights that encircled the area blinked on one by one from tall lampposts until the clearing was fully lit with bright fluorescent lights. In the air, there were strings of light that crisscrossed like a net and lit the sky with patterns.
“Amazing,” she breathed, taking her feet from the young man’s lap and placing them on the soft grass.
His smiled broadened as she stood up and made her way over to one of the tall lamps. She placed a hand on it and turned to look all around her.
“It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed, smiling at the young man.
He stood up as well and followed her at a distance as she scampered over to the fountain. Bending over, she placed a hand down upon the rim of the fountain to support herself, and passed her other hand through the water and flung the droplets from her hand, watching as they rippled upon landing.
As the young man stopped to stand beside her, she noticed something shining in the depths of the fountain.
When she pointed it out, he said, “People used to wander through the garden maze. This place is like an enchanted area, people are usually lost when they come here. Only Sir Renkai, Lady Renkai, and I can come here at will. Most people would throw coins into the fountain for luck or so that they could get their wish fulfilled. I used to do the very same.”
“How can there be so many coins if only lost people make it here?” she asked, turning to look at him.
“Think of all the parties and social gatherings held here. And don’t forget the servants and the guests that explore the garden. Many people would get lost wandering this maze. The sheer amount of twists and turns here are incredible.”
“Is that so,” she murmured to herself, turning her gaze back to the depths of the fountain. “Hey!” she exclaimed suddenly, tugging at his arm. “There’s something that looks out of place in there!”
Hitching up the ends of her dress into her arms, she stepped over the rim of the fountained and placed her feet tentatively into the water. Upon landing, she felt the coins shift beneath her feet as she stood unevenly atop the mound of trinkets. The water came to halfway up her knees, so she held the folds of her dress higher to avoid them soaking. She made her way closer to the center of the fountain and bent down to pick something up.
The young man rolled up his pant legs and took off his dress shoes and silk socks, stepping into the fountain with a light splash. He stepped toward her and stopped to wait for her as Hiro waded over to him. Clutching the folds of her dress in one arm, she held out her other and showed him what she had picked up.
“What is it,” he asked as she opened her hands for him to see.
“It looks like a locket,” she answered, tilting her head to side as she pondered the object in her hand.
“Can I see it?” he asked, holding his hand out.
She nodded her head and passed him the locket. He took it carefully into his palm and pressed the clasp at the top of the locket. The lid swung open, revealing a picture on the inside and on the flap of the lid. They both leaned their head in closer to examine the photos.
“This one on the inside has a picture of Sir Renkai and his wife,” he paused then said. “This over here is the picture of you when you were a baby.”
The young man handed the locket back to her and she took it with both hands, dropping the folds of her dress into the water to hold the locket with utmost care. She was afraid it would break apart in her cupped hands. She held it up to the light and looked at the picture of her mother. They looked so similar she almost resigned herself to believing she was Sir Renkai’s daughter. She bit her lip and shook her head, crossing the thought out of her mind.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“I… I,” Hiro stammered, unsure what to say.
Her head was so full of questions and mental images. She was so conflicted and confused. She clutched at her head, the locket pressed against it.
The young man pressed his lips together tightly and watched her as she squirmed in place, shaking her head as though to clear her head by moving it.
He gently took her hand and held it away from her head. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and her face full of clashing emotions.
“It’ll be alright,” he whispered to her, smiling slightly at her in encouragement.
Forgetting her strong dislike for him, Hiro dropped her head and jumped into him. Digging her head into his chest, she wrapped her arms around him and held him to her.
Startled, he looked down at her and struggled to understand what was happening. Slowly, he clutched her to him and soothed her, brushing his fingers through her hair. She sobbed into his chest and he patted her back in an attempt to comfort her.
“Hiro,” he breathed her name, so gently that she almost didn’t hear him.
She looked up at him, tears falling down the side of her face. The young man wiped a tear from her face with a finger, tilting his head to the side and looking at her with concern in his eyes.
With sudden realization, Hiro brought her hands up to his chest and pushed, separating the two.
“I-I’m sorry,” she apologized profusely, brushing the tears from her face with vigor.
Surprised, the young man tried to calm her, but she shook her head and stepped away from him. As she moved away, her foot slid beneath the coins and she slipped, tumbling backward into the water. The man knelt before her hurriedly to help her and when Hiro surfaced, their heads almost collided.
Much to Hiro’s dismay, their eyes met and she could no longer tear her gaze away from his beautiful green eyes. Her arms gave way and she almost fell back beneath the water. The young man held her aloft with his hand held beneath her neck and the other wrapped around her waist. Frozen solid in anticipation, Hiro couldn’t resist as the young man brought his face closer to hers.
For the second time that day, their lips brushed against each other.
“Ah, there you two are!”
Both their heads whipped around to see who the voice belonged to.
Sir Renkai stood there, a look of amusement upon his face.
The young man looked past him and withdrew his hands from Hiro when he saw his mother duck under the foliage into the clearing. Hiro splashed back into the water, but the young man seemed to have forgotten her. He stood up and stepped out of the fountain as Hiro reappeared above the water, furious.
The young man stepped toward their spectators and stopped short when his mother called over to him and asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Hiro struggled to lift herself out of the water. Her dress clung to her, the folds of the dress waterlogged and heavy with liquid. The young man bent over and picked her up into his arms, plucking her out of the fountain’s depth.
“I really hate you,” she whispered harshly into his ears.
The young man seemed not to have heard. He approached the waiting parents and was about to put her down when his mother advised him not to.
“Her dress will gather pieces of grass if you put her down now. Just carry her inside,” she said, turning around to return back into mansion.
The young man set his lips into a grim line and did as told, bending over to pick up Hiro’s discarded heels and his own dress shoes. He followed the older pair as they retraced their steps back to the veranda.
Stepping back into the party room, Hiro could feel all eyes turn to look at them. Her cheeks flushed and warmed as the young man carried her in his arms out of the room. Feeling embarrassed, she turned her head and dug it into the man’s chest. He held her closer to him and soon they were out of the view from prying eyes.
“Call for Elisabeth,” Sir Renkai ordered a nearby butler as they were nearing Hiro’s room. “And tell one of the maids to clean up the water that dripped from the young lady’s dress.”
“Aye sir,” the butler replied, bowing his head low and retreating to do as told.
Sir Renkai opened the door for the young man and ushered him and his mother in, closing the door behind him when he entered the room.
Placing Hiro down, the young man stepped away from her and sat down atop the dressing table, his chest and his pants drenched from the folds of Hiro’s gown.
“Thank you,” she murmured, looking around her in discomfort.
“An announcement will be made,” the mother was saying to Sir Renkai. “To announce the marriage between these two. I’m sure you understand that this is of utmost importance and that everything must be perfect.”
“I understand,” he replied, smiling and nodding his head. “That’s why I’ve sent for Elisabeth. She’ll give my daughter a lovely wardrobe change.”
“Wonderful! I’ll call my head seamstress and have her ready another tuxedo for my son,” she clapped her hands together in mock delight and turned to the door.
Opening it, she poked her head out and looked to the side. Whispering something to the person, a booming voice responded back and then she was back in the room, eyeing Hiro with such ferocity that Hiro couldn’t help but shudder and look away.
“Well,” the mother said, motioning for the young man. “I’ll take my leave, Sir Renkai, please excuse me and my son as we leave to prepare ourselves.”
“Of course,” Sir Renkai responded, bowing his head at them. “Take all the time you need.”
She nodded curtly and herded the young man from the room, leaving Sir Renkai and Hiro in an awkward silence.