A picturesque scene sponsored by the Blanche mansion, where fresh autumn flowers are in full bloom.
A tea set that could only be described as perfect.
Limited edition sweets from the kingdom’s favorite patisserie and a lovely hammock suspended among the trees.
The aroma of the black tea, made from the finest leaves, was so rich it was almost floral.
All of this had been achieved an hour earlier when I’d shouted for a seat in the garden because I wanted tea.
I leaned back in the fluffy armchair and then stretched.
‘Maybe I’ve always had a talent for being a bully.’
This ease, this comfort, this luxury.
It was so comfortable, I wondered if it would become a habit.
I sipped my tea leisurely and flicked through the law books I’d retrieved from my study.
Leo, who had been sleeping on the hammock like a curled-up puppy, suddenly jumped up with a startle.
His freshly trimmed hair gave his exposed face a nice shine.
He had slept so sweetly, his hair was sprawled out like a crow’s nest, and he looked so cute.
I placed a hand over my mouth, hiding the corners of my mouth that were starting to melt like butter.
“I’m, I’m sorry…….
I didn’t mean to sleep, but the hammock was so cozy…….”
Yeah, that was the plan.
It had just been 30 minutes since Leo had been laid in the hammock as an excuse to check if the hammock was securely tied.
‘You’re up from a nap, so you probably are hungry.’
I pointed across from me with a chin gesture.
Leo hurriedly climbed out of the hammock and sat in the chair across from me.
On his hands and knees.
I wasn’t about to scold him.
‘It’s okay, just sit like you want.’
“With a perfect specimen of good manners in front of you, you’re going to sit there like that?”
Leo adjusted to sit with his legs crossed like me, and lifted his chin high, as if looking up at the sky.
He didn’t look particularly comfortable, but it was better than before, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
“Hmm, now you’re worth watching.”
Leo’s face barely peeked up above the table, as he was shorter than his peers.
I scooped up a generous portion of frozen lemon sorbet with a teaspoon.
Leo didn’t seem to notice what I was doing, as his eyes were skyward as he tried to mimic my chin.
I smiled and brought the spoon close to Leo’s mouth.
‘Here, Leo, say ahh? Let’s try it.’
“Open your mouth, Ratchet.”
Without realizing it, Leo’s eyes squeezed shut and his mouth flew open.
As if he were swallowing poison.
I shoved the sorbet into his wide-open mouth.
The reaction was immediate.
Leo, who had been licking his lips with his eyes tightly shut, opened them and looked at me with wide eyes.
In his excitement, his tiny lips, which were tightly closed, chirped like a baby bird.
“Oooh! That’s cold – No, that’s really cold!”
And then he stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as if he was trying to savor every last hint of the dessert he had tried.
Oh, my heart! My heart aches from all of Leo’s loveliness.
I quickly scooped up another spoonful of sorbet and shoveled it into Leo’s mouth while he was distracted by the sweet and sour taste.
“This is your prize for taking care of the hammock.
Eat it all right here and now.”
Leo grabbed the spoon and moved his hand vigorously.
He made a small noise occasionally at the sourness of the lemon and squinted one eye as if trying to hide it, but his spoon never stopped moving around – like he liked it.
It was a more enthusiastic response than the last fondant chocolate he had.
‘He likes the lemon flavor…… noted…….’
I watched in amusement, making a mental note of Leo’s taste.
After taking the last bite very, very carefully, Leo suddenly looked up at me with a determined expression.
Though it didn’t last long before he averted his gaze with a trembling shoulder.
I waited silently for Leo to speak, and finally he did.
“Miss Belinda, thank you for these lemon-flavored snowflakes for the last time.”
Huh? The last time?
“I’ll get ready to leave later today.”
Leaving, where? Why?
At my fierce glare, Leo ducked his head and fidgeted with his hands.
“I’ve made too many….mistakes…… while I’ve been here, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave…….”
“I couldn’t shake the blanket out properly, so I made a mess.
I lazily stayed in bed for several days with the excuse that I was sick, and then again, I actually fell asleep in the hammock just before this.
Leo’s voice began to shake as he confessed his faults.
“I didn’t take care of Miss Belinda properly, and I’m…… a useless servant.”
There was a familiar hint of resignation in those last words.
I glared at Leo’s round head as he bowed.
Come to think of it, Leo had been looking for something to do since he arrived here.
Every time I took Leo’s job away, he was visibly down.
I realized in hindsight why he had looked like that.
‘You were trying to prove you deserved to be here.’
Just like I did when I was at my aunt’s house.
At the time, I was desperate for a word of praise.
I would do chores until my hands were tired and never received a thank you.
Unconsciously, I reached for Leo’s small, round head.
It tickled to feel the thin strands of hair in my hand.
Leo’s disheveled hair was a mess, his cheeks ripe red as apples.
His eyes are shaking wildly, and seeing him clenching his fists in a tense state…
I swiftly slipped my hand under the table.
I wanted to comfort him, to assure him that everything was alright, but I wouldn’t force my affection on him if it made him feel afraid or uncomfortable.
All I wanted for Leo was simple.
I just wanted him to grow up healthy, not to get sick.
But maybe that’s the hardest thing for him to do when he feels like he has to prove every moment that he belongs here.
After thinking for a while, I deliberately opened my mouth with a sullen expression.
“Well, since you’re pathetic and little, like a rat-chestnut, you are pretty useless.”
At my words, Leo’s body shrank like a deflated balloon.
Then I tapped the empty sorbet glass with my teaspoon, catching Leo’s attention.
“So, for now, you’re going to eat all the food the master gives you, and then you’re going to grow up.”
Leo blinked his wide eyes as if he didn’t quite understand, then asked cautiously, “Is that…… what I’m supposed to do? Eat a lot and grow big?”
“So that you can be a useful servant to me in the future.
And when that time comes, I will keep you by my side for the rest of your life and treat you like a dog.”
At that moment, Leo’s smile, bright in the sun, cut off my words.
It also cut off my heartbeat.
His rosy cheeks were dimpled in a way that illustrations don’t do justice.
It reminded me of a literary expression about an angel cuddling an unusually adorable child and accidentally poking him in the cheek, leaving a dimple.
Leo’s smile, wearing the angel’s dimple on both cheeks, was more lovely than any flower in this garden.
“Yes, yes, I’ll do my best! I’ll work hard, I’ll eat well and grow up to be a useful rat-chestnut!”
Unable to control my expression any longer, I hastily unfurled my fan to cover my face.
Leo smiled at me.
He keeps showing me such an adorable smile!
Don’t let it get to you, heart.
When I smile, Leo gets scared.
I finally managed to compose myself and lowered my fan.
“Miss Belinda,” the maidservant called to me quietly.
“The master has been looking for you.”
Her unannounced interruption at the best of times sent my expression straight to the depths of bitterness.
There was no way Sybel would seek me out for anything good.
I crossed my arms and arrogantly raised my head.
“What do you think I am, a dog that comes when he wants me to come and leave when he wants me to leave? If he’s got something he needs to take care of, he can come to me.”
I waved my hand, telling her not to disturb my time with Leo and to get lost.
The maid didn’t back down, though, and managed to get in one more word.
“They say the notary of the will has arrived at the mansion.”
Despite my tough talk, I had no choice but to bitterly become a dog and obediently follow the maid.
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