Tara waits nervously until Kyle finally makes an appearance...!
This chapter is dedicated to Kivi! Thank you for your support and kind comments!
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Episode 261. About 9 months (20)
[... A man is not a person, but an animal, and his nature is, hmm. It's very different from women. At some point in their lives when they're old enough, their heads are all... Men are animals who look very rational on the outside, and then all of a sudden they turn around and they're wild and they want to do mean things.]
"Haa. Why do I keep getting that nonsense stuck in my head! Stop!"
I readjusted my posture and focused on the book, but nothing changed. So I closed it.
"Ugh. I can't see the letters because my eyes are aching! I've been reading too many newspapers these days. I've been straining my eyes with all the reports and other things. That must be why everything is blurry. Hmm... Just one drink, to relax...."
I knew all too well that I was trying to rationalize my reasons for drinking, but I chose to justify my own behaviour anyway.
I carefully removed Josh's gift, which was neatly displayed on a shelf, and poured some into my smallest crystal glass. The glass was slightly larger than a Korean soju glass.*
"Oooh.... I can't believe I'm drinking this here! It's so vibrant and richly coloured. As expected of the drink that unlocks doors at night, or um, the drink that's good for your eyes!"
I downed the entire glass in one gulp.
"Ooof! That's good! Aah! Some spicy chicken feet would be great right now!"**
There were no chicken feet to be had here, but instead I took a chunk of cheese I'd brought earlier as a snack and cut it into bite-sized pieces.
The combination was delicious. I quickly downed another cup, and the alcohol made Bernard's words stop cycling through my head.
Rinsing my mouth with cold water, I returned the sericea liquor to the shelf.
The clock ticked down to 8:30 PM. After two drinks, I was feeling more forgiving.
"He always finishes late. And, if he wants to avoid being seen, he'll arrive even later.... Oops! I dropped it."
A chunk of cheese the size of a fingernail had fallen down the skirt of my blue dress. I casually picked it up and looked around my room.
I didn't know exactly why I did it. I could've cleaned myself up without checking my reflection, but I rushed to the full-length mirror to check out my outfit anyway.
My dark blue dress had a square neckline and was neatly tied with a small ribbon under the bust. There was a hint of lustre to the full, flowing skirt fabric. The sleeves were simple, tight from cuff to shoulder, and a cute lace underskirt peeked out from the hem of the full skirt alongside my pointed-toe ivory slippers.
Glancing up again, I gazed into the mirror and muttered, "Hmm. Did I tie it up too tight? Yeah, I'll make it a bit messy, and let some of the baby hairs show.... Mmm, that's it. That looks quite natural....!"
I furrowed my brows as I spoke, and my expression grew suddenly serious.
"What am I doing right now? This isn't a date, this is the day you get to hear why you were suddenly reassigned. Tara– No, Ji Yeonwoo, pull yourself together!"
I was about to slap my cheeks with my palms when I was suddenly startled by a sound.
"Ji... Yeonwoo? Who's that?"
I jerked my head in the direction of the voice.
There was a male figure leaning against the terrace railing with his arms crossed. Kyle.
Startled, she spun around, still holding her hair up with both hands.
She was still stunning after all this time.
"Call me Kyle," he corrected her.
He leaned back against the railing, watching her approach with surprising alacrity.
"Ah.... Kyle. I thought you'd take a little longer."
"I finished work at five o'clock, but I got an urgent report. I kept you waiting. Sorry."
The deep blue dress she wore matched her skin and hair color brilliantly. He also appreciated the full length sleeves.
"Oh, no. It's alright. You're ten people short."
His only complaint was that the square neckline of the dress revealed a bit too much.
'Maybe I should tell her to wear a scarf or cape when she goes outside.'
He was used to seeing her wearing full-length uniforms, so it was a bit strange to see her wear something with a bare neckline, but it was also enticing.
'Hmm.... This is going to be a difficult evening.'
"But how long have you been standing there? You scared me."
"I missed you, too."
Stopping about three paces away, she flushed and pouted.
"What are you saying.... That's not what I asked."
"Have you been waiting long?"
"It's okay, I expected this, now come on in. Are you just going to stand there?"
"... You should wear a scarf."
Kyle cleared his throat, which was tighter than he'd expected. Her eyes widened in confusion.
'Damn it. She's too damn cute.'
With his arms still crossed, he clenched his fists tighter.
"Haa... I'm afraid your dress will distract me from the conversation."
She stared blankly for a moment, then suddenly turned around, her face red.
"What! Don't joke around like that."
"I would never joke about something like that. So, please."
"You must be crazy. Who on earth.... Ah, who says stuff like that?"
Despite her words, Tara walked over to the closet, muttering to herself.
"Haaa. Hmm, where was that polka dot thing Beth gave me, ah! Here it is."
She wrapped a dark navy blue and polka-dot scarf around her neck, fiddled with it a few times, tied it into a pretty bow and then turned around to face him.
"There you go. Are you satisfied?"
He’d known it from the start, but this was going to be a problem. That dress simply looked too good on her.
Kyle nodded slowly, purposefully abandoning his thoughts about how tempting everything about her was, with or without the scarf.
Deep inside, he swallowed a heavy sigh.
'Haa. I suppose it's better this way.'
"Okay, I've been waiting for you long enough. Here, take a seat. I have a lot of questions I want to ask, Kyle."
As he'd observed earlier, the brightly lit room suited her. The furniture arrangement and color scheme screamed warmth and comfort.
She sat in a dark blue armchair, resting her arms on the side table, and propping her chin up with a hand while she encouraged him to come inside.
He found the way she invited him into her room so earnestly unbelievably seductive.
Apparently, she didn't realize how lovely she looked in that position.
'Damn it, tonight is really dangerous.'
Kyle loosened his crossed arms, but he couldn't unclench his tightened fists, so he steeled himself once more and strode briskly into her room.
It wasn't until he sat down that he realized she smelled faintly of alcohol.
'Ah. That's why she's flushed...'
He hadn't seen her in 20 days.
Her safety was his top priority, so he hadn't seen her since he’d transferred her to the permanent secretarial division.
He could live with not seeing her in person for the sake of her safety. Or rather, he thought that he could live with it.
But after finally seeing her after 20 long days all the emotions he'd kept bottled up in the back of his mind had started bubbling to the surface.
From the moment Kyle had seen her in front of the mirror with her hair up, he'd decided that he wouldn't touch her tonight.
The reason was simple. The slightest touch was all it would take to unleash all the emotions he'd been holding in, like a bubble ready to burst.
He had to force down the urge to hold her slender hand in his.
Instead, Kyle sat down across from her, his expression as impassive and relaxed as it always was.
She tilted her small head at him.
"What do you mean?"
"You look a little uncomfortable, your expression is a bit too stiff. Something's off about you.... Not to mention the last time you were here on my birthday you asked me for a hug as soon as you saw me, but today you're not asking for anything...."
As expected, his sensible and honest lover wouldn't let something like this slide.
Did she realize that asking that question outright sounded like an invitation?
He deliberately steadied his voice.
His voice came out unintentionally hard, but he was glad it matched the tone for the change in conversation.
"Oh, so it is serious. I thought it might be, but..."
"Are you really okay?"
Kyle had been purposely avoiding her sparkling eyes, but her question made it impossible.
"You negotiated with the Empress. You went to the Palace and had to do the last thing you ever wanted to do. It must have been hard."
He’d naturally expected her to ask about her transfer first, but instead she asked a question that defied his expectations.
Instead of blaming him for giving her an unreasonable assignment, she was worried about him...
"At this rate...."
"I'm utterly helpless when it comes to you."
".... What's this all of a sudden?"
"You always catch me off guard. You always break the weakest link in my armour without warning. And you do it so casually."
She shrugged, as if it was no big deal.
"I'm fine, I've done plenty of things like that to reach my goals, so don't worry about me."
"I will anyway."
"We're together, right? Then of course you should let me worry about you. Relationships aren't just about having fun all the time. Don't you agree?"
Kyle tilted his head, feeling a sense of wonder and bewilderment. At some point this had become a regular part of his conversations with her.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Because you seem very experienced when it comes to romantic relationships. By any chance…? Nevermind."
He'd started to wonder, 'Maybe she’s been with someone else before…' before stopping himself.
"Ha, ha, ha. That's just my perspective on relationships. I've read a lot of library books about this."
"Is that so? I'm very curious about Elias family library now. Perhaps that's why sometimes you don't act like a typical Imperial aristocrat. There are also times when you don't act your age."
"Well, yes, that's just the way I am. I'm often told I have an old soul. Ha.... ha. I'm feeling a bit hot."***
She fidgeted and averted her gaze.
'What does she mean by 'old soul'?'
The corners of his mouth lifted at the words. As he was smiling, the other strange words she'd said earlier popped into his head.
"Yeon... woo? What is that? I'm pretty sure that's how you just referred to yourself."
Editor’s Notes -
The tension!! Trust me everybody these next few chapters are absolutely worth the wait!
* Soju is typically poured into 50 ml shot glasses, which are larger on average than most shot glasses in other countries which tend to range in size between 25-45 ml.
** Spicy Chicken Feet 불닭발 also called Dakbal, is a common Korean drinking snack made from boiled and stir fried chicken feet coated in a spicy sauce. It's the kind of snack you would eat alongside vast quantities of soju after a long day of work.
***The term Tara uses to describe herself here is 애늙은이, literally meaning 'young old person' which refers to someone in their 20s or 30s whose speech, behavior, appearance, thoughts, values, mental age, or hobbies are different from their peers and are similar to middle-aged or older people. This is very similar to the English term old soul' - which also happens to be very on the nose for Tara’s particular situation.
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