Tara's conversation with Theo becomes uncomfortably honest.
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Episode 257. About 9 months (16)
Theodore stretched out his long legs and leaned back in his chair. One hand rested on the armrest, and the other gracefully held his teacup.
He smiled wryly as if he found my inconsequential and nonsense filled story about the weather very interesting and entertaining.
Ugh... The suaveness was too much.
Perhaps it only looked that way to my eyes.
If I really looked at it objectively, he was very gallant, lighthearted, and refreshing. He was also laid back and handsome. He stood out from every other gentleman in the room.
"People keep asking me about your relationship with my Theo. So? What should I tell them?" the Duchess asked.
I refused to answer. The only reason I was spending time with him was because I had lost my bet with the Duchess and was obligated to meet with him three times.
Besides, I was only here in the first place because I had to spend 8 hours a month with this old lady and owed her four hours of my time.
To make matters worse, because Theo was an unexpected guest, this meeting didn't count. I still had two remaining meetings with him left!
My nostrils flared and my eyes narrowed.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to tell them I'm merely granddaughter of a deceased friend, Grand Duchess!"
"They wouldn't believe me even if I told them, especially since you make such a handsome couple! How embarrassing that would be for me!"
"Why does it appear that you're enjoying this, Grand Duchess?"
"Oh, yes, I am indeed. Have you forgotten how I helped you on your birthday?"
Her tone switched from pouting to a low growl.
Ah yes... My birthday.
In response to the old lady's attitude I quickly put my glass of water down and smirked.
"Oh my! How could I have forgotten? I'll never forget your assistance that day, Your Grace! I'll engrave it deeply in my heart and pass my gratitude down to future generations! Hahaha."
"What a shocking change of demeanor. Hmmm."
"How very interesting, Lady Tara."
Theo's eyes sparkled for a moment as he leaned back in his chair and looked at me.
Helen glanced between Theo and me, then slowly rose from her seat. As she moved to rise, both of us put up a hand to stop her.
"That's Countess Cold over there calling for me. She's been meaning to introduce me to her granddaughter, who turned twenty this year, but I've been so busy I've been putting it off, so I'm just going to do it here and call her every chance I get. Phew."
The smile never left Helen's face as she patted Theo on the back. Her popularity was soaring thanks to her spoiled grandson.
"Take care, Grandmother."
"Yes, yes, we must not let our Tara get bored."
"Return quickly, Your Grace. We must fulfil our four hours and then I can be on my way."
"Yes, of course. You still have three hours left this month to spend with me. Oh dear."
Damn it. Time was not on my side here.
"Do you hate being alone with me that much?"
"I just hate being alone with you so publicly."
Theo glanced around. I could imagine the young ladies around him diverting their gazes in surprise as he glanced around.
"It's been a long time since I've been placed in this kind of situation. It seems like Grandmother has made up her mind."
"Yes, she doesn't know how to give up, even when it's past time to do so."
"... You really are a young lady unlike any other."
"Are you trying to make some kind of weird claim again?"
"Haha. What claim?"
"That you're enamoured by the fact I'm the first woman who doesn't want to marry you. Something like that."
"That, and your unflappable demeanor no matter the situation."
"Thank you for the compliment."
"I would be honored to have you as a wife."
I glared at him at the sudden change of subject.
"I must confess, your expression is a little too grave, and I think you may be a bit angry."
"A fine observation."
"Is my confession truly so anger inducing?"
"Are you really asking because you don't know?"
"Why would you be upset... Hmmm. I genuinely have no idea."
"Viscount Theodore Stuart."
I enunciated each syllable of his full title. The smirk he wore was wiped off of his face.
"Okay. Please say what you must, Lady Tara Elias."
"That confession right now was a deception."
Theo tilted his head as if he thought he'd heard me wrong.
"You don't mean it. You don't really want to meet a woman, you don't intend to love anyone with all your heart, and you also don't intend to interact with me as a lover would. So, your confession is a deception, and in the process you're depriving me of the chance to meet and love a decent man. Isn't that right?"
Theo's eyes widened in surprise, then his expression turned thoughtful. He said nothing, tapping the table idly.
"I was going to continue to feign ignorance, but I couldn't stand to hear such an irresponsible confession. You've probably been acting like this for a long time. I have an inkling as to why that may be, but it's none of my business. However, now you've crossed the line. I refuse to form relationships with people who aren't sincere in their interactions with me."
"... I don't know what you're talking about."
I lifted a hand lightly in response.
"Well, in that case, I have nothing to say to you, Viscount. Just know this, if you treat me like this, I will no longer treat your actions as simple indiscretions. I will respond accordingly."
The smile faded from Theo's face. He frowned, still leaning back in his chair.
His eyes drilled into mine. I had never seen him look so serious.
Maybe this was his true self....
I didn't avoid his gaze. I had no reason to.
"... I'm, um, a bit surprised that no one has ever spoken so openly about this to me before."
"It's not an easy subject to discuss." I shrugged.
"I'm very confused right now."
"Well, that's understandable." I shrugged again.
Theodore leaned forward in his chair, put his hands on the table, and suddenly began to confess in earnest.
"She was the first woman I ever really cared about, and she became the reason behind my every smile, my every word, and my every action."
Ah... Oh no.
"It's okay... You don't have to tell me."
However, as if determined, he revealed everything that had been weighing on him.
"But as time went on, we realized the vast difference between our statuses, and were confronted by our families’ opposition. It didn't matter how hard I tried to convince her, or how sincere I was, she was always insecure. I wished I could spend every moment with her. And then, as you know, she died. And now I'm afraid of ever caring that much again."
His blunt admission triggered a pang of empathy, but I couldn't think of anything I could possibly say to comfort him.
"I've been unintentionally rude."
Theodore's polite apology sounded unfamiliar.
I took a moment to bemoan my own shitty personality. I should have just let his confession slide.
‘Why? Why does it feel like I’ve suddenly been awakened?’
Oh God. Why had I let myself get angry at his confession? I should have just moved on!
"Well… You didn't intend any disrespect. I was simply a little flustered by your sudden confession. I… Should I order more tea? The chrysanthemum tea here is excellent, and I should wait for the Grand Duchess to return," I blurted out.
I was eager to lighten the suddenly oppressive mood. Theo was still staring out the window, his face serious and distant.
The silence lengthened. It felt like ten whole minutes had passed. I bounced in my seat, eager to leave this place.
Theo still stared out the window, resting on his chair, his chin on his hands.
Then he spoke quietly. "...I'll refrain from meeting you like this in the future."
Bored, I had followed his gaze out past the window. But at his offhand remark, I turned to face him again.
And there it was. The smile had returned to his face. However, it lacked its usual playfulness.
I swallowed hard.
Theodore pushed his chair back.
"We have two formal meetings left, so let's prepare for them in earnest. I'll leave first and inform my grandmother that I've been called away on business."
He rose from his seat, bowed lightly, and then walked away.
He strode out the door of the teahouse with a long legged stride, people's eyes trailing after him as he left.
‘He seems to have changed his mind…’
"This is awkward. Why did I have to lash out at him and make it so complicated?"
Gibson was an agent from the Second Prince's Palace who had been assigned to House Stuart. He had barely heard Tara's monologue and was busy scribbling away against the wall.
Since September of last year, Gibson had been disguised as a valet in charge of Lady Helen's luggage.
He stood against the wall on the third floor of the teahouse, waiting patiently for the tea party to end while filing as much information as he could in his mind. He listened to the entire conversation between Theodore Stuart and Tara Elias, the daughter of House Elias who had been His Highness's Aide until recently.
Luckily, a large potted plant situated in front of him made it easier for him to eavesdrop.
After Viscount Stuart left the teahouse, Gibson quickly pulled out a notebook and wrote down every detail of the conversation as best he could remember. He hadn't considered it very important at first, but the details were imprinted in his mind because he had grown progressively more interested in the exchange as it went on and found it fun to listen to.
Gibson was so skilled at this method of information gathering (eavesdropping), that his notetaking was swift and nondescript.
However, when writing his report, Gibson made a rookie mistake.
Reports were only supposed to contain an agent's objective observations, rather than subjective opinions. But he had gotten so invested in the conversation that he unwittingly included his own opinion at the end.
The transcript made its way up to the Second Prince's Palace and eventually landed on Kyle's desk.
At the end of the conversation between Tara and Theodore, Gibson's addendum read.
[Theodore, the second son of House Stuart, seems determined to treat his pursuit of Second Aide Tara Elias with uncharacteristic seriousness. He gazed at Lady Elias with such intensity and focus, it was enough to set anyone's heart pounding! I suspect they will be getting married soon. Woohoo!]
Editor's Notes -
This chapter honestly makes me feel for Theo, but Gibson on the other hand...
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