A Gentle Tea Time

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“And so, I hope that we’ll be able to get along as classmates, Claire.”
“Of course, Onee-sama!”

After classes, I brought Onee-sama with me to our usual gazebo.
Pipi and Loretta had the tact to excuse themselves, but the commoner came along without batting an eye.
Goodness… I just wanted some quality alone time with Onee-sama… She just can’t seem to read the room, can she?

Taking a closer look at Onee-sama, I realized once again that she had rather handsome features.
In addition, contrary to most women of this day and age, she managed to maintain short hair without looking boyish.
Her platinum blonde strands were absolutely bewitching, practically glowing in the sun’s radiance.
Though she maintained a mischievous demeanor reminiscent of a cat, her expression held a composure befitting of royalty.

After Onee-sama greeted me, she turned toward the commoner.

“I hope that we’ll get along too, Rei.”
“Uh huh…”
“Hey, commoner! Onee-sama is gracing you with her attention, you know? Couldn’t you look just a little happier?”

First it was in front of our kingdom’s three princes, and now this…The commoner’s irreverence has gone too far!

“But receiving Claire-sama’s attention makes me a hundred times happier than that.”
“… Of course it does, keep saying it.”

It seemed that she intended to maintain her foolishness to the end.
Even Relaire appeared exasperated as she sat on the table.
Really, the commoner was such a troublesome individual.

“Don’t you think so too? Lene… Ah…”

When I turned to my left and said that, I once again realized that she was no longer with me.
Onee-sama appeared confused, while Rei wore a pained expression.

“Lene… that girl was your personal retainer, wasn’t she? Come to think of it, where is she? I don’t think I’ve seen her at all.”
“Lene was… Forced to resign from her post due to… Circumstances.”
“… Is that so…”

I was unable to offer a good explanation of the events leading up to Lene’s departure.
The scars were still too fresh for me to consider them history.
It appeared that Onee-sama picked up on that and decided not to press me any further.

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“Ah.
That’s right, I made a stop at Appalachia as I was on my way to Bauer, but I found quite the peculiar shop.
They offered rather unique sweets.”

In an attempt to clear the air, Onee-sama changed the topic.

“Oh? What kind of sweets?”

The commoner too latched on.
Could it be that she was also trying to be considerate…? No, knowing her, that surely wasn’t it.

Relaire also perked up at the mention of sweets.
She really was quite the glutton, wasn’t she.

“I’m a little curious as well.”
“I thought you might be, so I actually had one of my chefs learn one of the shop’s recipes.
Wait right there, I’ll call for them.”

With that, Onee-sama promptly said something to one of her retainers.
For a while we simply enjoyed our tea as the commoner served us, until one of Onee-sama’s servants returned pushing a small trolley.

“There we are.
This was one of the sweets, I believe they called it Tiramisu.”
“Ti, Tiramisu!?”
“What is it all of a sudden, commoner? Is something the matter?”
“Ah, no… It’s nothing…”

Though she said that, she was evidently astonished.
Yet, at the same time she seemed… happy? I didn’t see why the name of this sweet would make the commoner happy, but she really did appear to be so.

“Well, for now, why don’t you have a bite and let me know what you think?”
“Right.”

Before lifting my fork, I first took some time to appreciate the tiramisu’s aesthetic.
The cross section revealed that it was formed by layers of sponge and cream neatly stacked atop one another with a dust resembling cocoa powder sprinkled on top to finish.
I couldn’t claim that the design was particularly elegant, but it did resemble other western sweets that I had seen.

When I applied my fork to it, the fork cut through almost effortlessly.
As I took my very first bite, the mellow aromas of cream and cheese spread through my mouth.
Then, the rich taste of alcohol followed by a gentle sweetness followed.

“It’s absolutely delicious!”

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“Haha, isn’t it? I was sure that you’d like it, Claire.”
“Yes, I’ve come to like it quite a lot! What was the name of the shop that made this?”

As the establishment had created this tiramisu which quite honestly rivaled Blume’s own chocolate, I was convinced that the shop held promise.
I wanted to check them out while they were still unknown, they would surely become quite the topic.
However―

“Fufu, that’s a secret.
If I were to just tell you, I’d lose the chance to take you there myself, wouldn’t I?”
“How unfair, Onee-sama! Stop teasing me and just tell me!”
“Ahaha, I don’t know~ What should I do?”
“… Like they’re sitting in a tree.”
“Commoner? Did you say something?”
“Nope, nothing.
More importantly, would you two gentlewomen happen to be aware of what tiramisu means?”

The commoner brought that up to dodge my question.

“No, I can’t say that I am.
I’m fairly confident in my vocabulary, but can’t recall having heard the word tiramisu before.”
“I can’t say that I have either.”
“Is that so? The word tiramisu actually also holds the meaning, ‘cheer me up’, so I believe that it’s perfect for Claire-sama’s current situation.
Thank you, Manaria-sama.”

With that, the commoner gave a deep bow.

“There’s no need to go so far, Rei.
It’s not as though I was aware of any of that when I decided to bring this along.”
“Regardless of whether or not you knew, it doesn’t change that you’re the reason that Claire-sama is smiling right now, Manaria-sama.”
“… Is that so?”
“Yes, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

The commoner repeated it for emphasis.

“What is that supposed to mean, commoner? Have I really seemed so down to you?”

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“Claire-sama excels at maintaining her appearances, so I don’t believe that many others have noticed, but…”
“… You really do say some rather cheeky things.
It’s as though you claim to understand me.”
“That’s because I do.”
“Hmph, if you really do, then how do I feel right now? Go on, tell me.”

When I said that to provoke her, the commoner suddenly relaxed her expression and said,

“The scales within your heart are swaying, caught between what you’ve just lost, and what you’ve taken back.”

Before offering a gentle smile.

“Wh-, whatever could you mean by such nonsense…”

While I was flustered seeing an expression the commoner didn’t commonly show, I still yelled at her.
I mean, there’s no way that I could admit that she was actually spot on!

“Hm… The two of you get along quite well, don’t you.”
“Y-You misunderstand! I think nothing of―!”
“Yes, it’s a reciprocating relationship.”
“Commoner!!”
“Ahaha!”

When the commoner’s usual delusional remarks threw me into confusion, Onee-sama gave a hearty laugh.

“Claire.”
“What is it, Onee-sama?”
“You’ve really found a splendid maid.”
“What!? Just what makes you say that!?”

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Onee-sama’s words came so unexpectedly that I couldn’t help but snap back.

“She’s not like the many superficial servants you’ve complained about in your letters that didn’t hold a shred of loyalty.
Just as Lene did, no, perhaps even moreso, she’s making the effort to understand you, Claire.”
“…”

I could tell that Onee-sama didn’t say that to tease me.
Her tone was sincere―no, filled to the brim with love and compassion.

“… Hmph, as if it would ever be possible for someone to fully understand another’s heart.”
“Perhaps, but, Claire… Even if that may be true, I believe that it is important to continue to try.
Both Rei and I want to understand you, and I’m sure that Lene feels the same way.”
“Onee-sama…”

Her words spoke directly to my heart.
I normally had difficulty accepting what others had to say, but Onee-sama was an exception.
My affection and reverence for her thinned the walls that I had put up around my heart.

“… Show off.”
“Commoner!? You’re so…!”
“Ahaha! I can’t deny that my words may have been overly dramatic.
But Rei, at times such elegance is necessary to win over a lady’s heart.”
“… Do you mean to say that my methods won’t work?”
“I wouldn’t say that.
Your bluntness too is an effective weapon, but it can only take you so far.”
“Uh huh…”

Not that it mattered to me either way, but I had mixed feelings that they were discussing their pick-up tactics directly in front of me.
When the conversation came to a pause, Onee-sama took a sip of tea before continuing.

“But really, I’m so glad that Claire has finally found someone she can be open with.”
“Really, you misunderstand!!”
“You really do understand us, Manaria-sama!”
“Could you just shut your…!?”

After that, our merry little tea time continued.
Onee-sama would lead the conversation, I would respond, and the commoner would poke fun―it truly was a fun, gentle tea time.

I certainly couldn’t claim that time was elegant or befitting my status as nobility, but for the first time in a long time, my heart felt at rest.

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