Romance, Their First Step

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“There she goes.”
“She really is a storm of a person isn’t she, that Manaria.”
“… To think the qualities of a royal would hold so much weight.”

As we watched Onee-sama leave, each of the princes gave a meaningful comment in their own way.
I too regret that we’d have to part so suddenly.

I pondered what she could be saying to Rei, but my train of thought was interrupted.

“That aside though, congratulations, Claire-sama.”
“Misha? Just what is that congratulations for?”

Misha’s words didn’t seem to make sense, so I asked for clarification.
In retrospect, this is when I should have fled.

Amidst my confusion, Rodd-sama, Yuu-sama, Misha, Pipi and Loretta all surrounded me.

Eh? Mm… Eh…?

“What are the congratulations for? What else could it be?”
“Yup yup, there’s no need to hide it from us Claire! We’re cheering you on.”
“… Love takes various shapes.”

Though he maintained some distance, Sein-sama joined in as well.
I couldn’t help but have a bad feeling about where this was going.

“Claire-sama~ Even if you do end up with her, please do make time for us as well!”
“Yes, I’d appreciate it if you still invited us for tea sometimes!”
“Hold on, not the two of you too! Really, just what are you all saying!?”

When Loretta and Pipi both broke out into tears, the bad feeling that I felt only grew stronger.

“What are we saying? I mean―”

Following Rodd-sama’s lead in,

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“You and Rei are dating now, yeah? (correct?) (right?) (aren’t you?)”
“Just where did you hear that from!? That’s nothing but idle gossip!”

When everyone present spoke the same nonsense in unison, I used every ounce of myself to deny it.

“Er, but…”
“I mean.”
“Yup.”
“… Agreed.”

Misha, Rodd-sama, Yuu-sama and even Sein-sama all suddenly exuded the aura of a cat who had cornered a mouse and was toying with it.
I, Claire François, perhaps for the first time in my life understood how the weak may feel.

“Rei is mine! Don’t take what’s mine away from me!―Like, come on.”
“Rodd-sama!!”

When he spoke the exact words I said a couple of days ago, I felt myself grow red to the ears.

“What’s wrong? I thought it was an absolutely lovely line.”
“Mi-Misha, I can’t believe that even you are…!”
“Claire-sama~ Please don’t forget about us~!”
“And make sure to invite us to your wedding~!”
“Loretta, Pipi, stop crying! You two didn’t happen to eat liquor filled chocolate again, did you!?”

Things became increasingly chaotic.

“That was… Just something I said to play along with the mood of the moment.
It’s not as though Rei actually means any―”
“Yes, that.
Claire-sama.”

Misha’s eyes sparkled as though to say she wouldn’t let that slip past as she interrupted me.

“What do you mean, Misha?”

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“Just now! What did you just call Rei?”
“Huh? I mean her name is Rei, isn’t it obvious that I’d call her Rei?”
“Claire.
Up until now, you’ve only ever referred to her as commoner.”
“Yup, that’s all I remember hearing too.”
“Same.”
“―!?”

I only realized it now that they had pointed it out, but it was true that at some point I had just begun to call her Rei.
I hadn’t paid much attention to that fact myself, but now that they mentioned it, it did seem meaningful… No, there’s no deeper meaning behind any of this!

“Th-, That’s not it! Up until now… That’s right, I had actually been calling her by her name when we were alone!”
“Oh…? So that means that you don’t see the need to hide it anymore, hm.”
“Claire, you’re so bold!”
“… But that’s not a bad thing.”
“So, don’t you think that congratulations are in order after all?”

Ah… Geez! I’m not getting anywhere with this am I!?

“At any rate! There’s nothing between Rei and I!”
“That’s exactly it, Claire-sama.”
“Just what is it now, Misha!?”

Did I somehow manage to misspeak yet again!?

“It’s the order in which you listed the names.
You had always put Rei’s name after your own, but just now you put Rei first―”
“AghーGeez! Quite the stickler for the subtleties aren’t you!?”

When I vehemently interrupted her, Misha responded with a giggle.

“… Misha, you sure seem to be having quite the good time.”
“Fufu, my apologies, Claire-sama.
I couldn’t help myself, you were just far too cute.”
“You’re just teasing me again, aren’t you!?”

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I made a swift motion and turned my cheek the other way.

“Come on, don’t pout.
What’s the problem? Rei’s feelings will finally see fruition.
Isn’t that something to celebrate?”
“Rodd-sama, are you sure you’re the one who should be saying that?”
“What about it?”
“Seeing as you’re interested in her, if Rei and I were to begin dating, wouldn’t that inconvenience you?”

Intending that as a counter attack, I chose my words to be somewhat mean.
In spite of that, with confidence to spare Rodd-sama simply said,

“Doesn’t matter to me who Rei chooses to love or date.
So long as she’s by my side at the very end of it.”
“… That’s right.
That’s just how you are, Rodd-sama.”
“Looks like you picked a fight with the wrong person, huh, Claire.”
“… Sorry my brother’s like that.”

Why am I being consoled by Yuu-sama and Sein-sama?

“So? Just how far have you two gone?”
“? What do you mean, how far?”
“Come on, it’s just between us, no need to play dumb.
You know, kissing, touching, or maybe you’ve already gone beyond all that?”
“Are you…!”

Are you stupid!?

―Is what I wanted to say, but then I recalled that I was speaking to royalty.
Won’t someone praise me for my wonderful self control?

“There’s no way that we’d do anything like that! We haven’t even properly held hands!”
“What, really, you’re still all the way back there? Hey, you never know when someone will just come by and snatch her away from you, you know?”
“Is that something someone topping the list of potential culprits should be saying?”
“… He’s a strong contender, isn’t he.”

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How strange that the three princes suddenly seem to be in sync.
How nice would it be if they just always got along so well.

“Well then… I guess the first step would be a date!”
“A… D-Date?”
“That’s right, isn’t that the very foundation of every relationship?”
“B-But Rei is a commoner… We might not have matching interests or values…”
“No need to worry about any of that! I’m sure Rei will take care of that somehow.
Claire, all you need to do is brace yourself for it.”
“B-Brace myself? You think so?”
“Of course.”

Was that really true? It was strange, but Rodd-sama’s confidence was so convincing.

“Rodd-nii-san, it isn’t good to make reckless assertions like that.”
“… I think so too.
Unlike us guys, ladies have a tendency to be rather sensitive.”
“You think? I don’t know, I feel like if it’s Rei she’ll brute force her way through that too.”
“Rodd-sama, I think you may be over evaluating Rei a little too much.
She may not look it, but she’s a normal girl herself, you know?”

In response to Rodd-sama’s words, Yuu-sama, Sein-sama and Misha gave their honest opinion.

“Either way, they should just go out and see how it goes.
I mean all you’ve got to do is invite her out, I think it’s worth a shot.”
“You mean I’ll be the one inviting her out!?”
“I mean it’s only you and Rei in the equation, and between the two of you, shouldn’t you be taking the lead, Claire?”
“How a-absolutely shameless!”
“So you intend to force Rei to do that shameless act instead? Is that really okay with you, head daughter of the renowned House François?”
“Mgr…!”

It was around here that I should have realized that he was teasing me… But when he brought my family’s honor into things, I felt the blood rushing to my head.
And so, it just slipped out,

“I understand! I, Claire François, will neither run nor hide! I will invite Rei for a daーan excursion, just you watch! Ohーho ho ho!”

Indeed.
I likely don’t even need to mention that, that night, I cried as I vented all my frustrations to Catherine.

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