One day, a month away from graduation, I received a letter from Esther asking me to meet behind the school after class.
“I’m about to get stabbed.”
“Don’t be so negative. I’m she’s grateful and wants to make up.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” I said, certain something like that could never happen, yet Joshua completely disagreed.
Actually, thinking about it again, Esther might be precisely the type of woman to try something like that. Nevertheless, in the unlikely event of an apology, I would definitely suspect there was something more going on.
As soon as we turned the corner of the school building, I heard a high-pitched yell that made me stop in my tracks. There was still some time before our scheduled meeting, but it seems like Esther also arrived early and had been waiting. That’s a surprise. I’d have thought her the type to try and flaunt her natural charm by coming a few minutes late and saying, “I was lost!”
Well, I’m not a marriage candidate, so I suppose there’s no point to charming me.
Esther waved her right hand in a wide arc and smilingly waited for us to arrive. For some reason, her left hand was awkwardly hidden behind her back.
“Is she hiding a knife, after all?”
“I’m going to need you to be my meat shield, Joshua.”
“My pleasure, Lady.”
Of course, I doubt she’d actually try to stab me, and even if she did, Joshua could easily protect me without having to sacrifice himself. In any case, we approached her while exchanging some light comments, and Esther’s face broke into a sickening smile.
“Good afternoon, Miss Jones. For what reason did you call me to such a place?”
Well, I do have a prediction. I gathered up my courage and asked, and Esther moved her hidden hand. Joshua stepped ahead of me as if to protect me.
“What do you think?”
A ring with a strong presence was mounted on the ring finger of her left hand, which she now held up with a triumphant look on her face.
I was honestly quite amazed at the sight; It was a gaudy, fancy right with a comically large stone.
“Tristan bought it for me~. Look, it’s from Philston~! Isn’t that amazing?!”
“…Wow, so amazing.”
I started to feel sorry for Esther, who kept bragging in excitement. It’s almost certainly from a different jeweler. I doubt Philston would sell such a tacky ring.
The stone is undeniably large, but the cut is rough, and the luster, or lack thereof, makes it clear that it’s a second-rate product. Besides, the gaudy design is indescribably vulgar. I would never wear something like that.
The quality of their stones were one of Philston’s main selling points, but more than that, their sophisticated designs were the reason behind the high price.
“…A knife might have been better.”
“I feel so bad for her right now; I might just let her stab me.”
It seemed that Joshua also caught on. He moved back behind me with a disappointed look. He’d also developed a discerning eye while accompanying me to various stores.
A stone of the same type and weight as the one Esther presented would be of a much higher grade and cut in a much more attractive design if bought in Philston. In fact, a ring stone would be much lighter and still cost triple the price Esther’s ring likely did.
I guess Tristan decided to pocket the difference, I immediately thought and sighed. He must have wanted to offset the reduction in his allowance. I still get my money back at the end, one way or another, but it feels pretty stupid.
“Tristan has finally proposed~! Of course, it’s an official engagement! Even my future father-in-law approved it! I’m not a noblewoman, but he still accepted me! Isn’t that amazing?!”
“Well, I guess so.”
Esther spoke with a lot of excitement, but I could only watch her with a lukewarm smile. She seemed to have interpreted it as a sign of remorse and became even more excited.
“Girls really have to be charming, don’t they? A woman like Ilse, who’s merely talented and capable, is just boring~. You need to show more of your weak side!”
“Thank you for the advice.”
“I think Lady already is the cutest in the world, just the way you are.”
I thanked my dutiful attendant while maintaining my apathetic smile. Even if all the men in the world said they preferred women like Esther, I still couldn’t be that kind of person.
“So? Did you call me out here just to give me this report?”
“Yes. I’ll wait until graduation to get married, so…”
I wanted to get it over with and asked her to abbreviate, and she changed her tone and smiled wryly.
“Please don’t ever interfere with me again,” she said, for once taking off her Cute Girl camouflage and speaking naturally. Had she been like this from the start, we might have gotten along a little better.
“Yes, of course. Please be happy,” I responded with heartfelt words and a genuine smile. I felt very peaceful.
I can finally be free from the constant hassle of dealing with Esther.
My contract with Tristan’s family allows him to loan more money for the next five years, to be repaid three years later. Should Tristan and Esther be allowed to marry, they would be exempt from interest for the duration of the marriage. Tristan’s father had initially been very reluctant to approve a betrothal with some nameless commoner, but at the current rate, Esther and Tristan would be able to get married without a hitch.
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he was also caught up in that charm she mentioned.
Of course, it seems very unlikely that Tristan, who’ll take over after his father, would be able to rebuild his house and pay off his debt. In the worst-case scenario, I won’t be able to get my money back. But that’s all right. I’ll just take as much as I can while his father still lives.
Having been gifted the ‘Philston ring’, Esther must have falsely assumed that Tristan’s family was very prosperous. Her misunderstanding would help speed along their fall from grace.
“Oh, make sure you don’t regret it later!” Esther shouted as if impatient, perhaps because I nodded lightly without missing a bit. Please stop. You’re making it hard to tell which of us is the villain.
“I’ll be fine. It’s Miss Jones who needs to make sure she won’t have any regrets. You belong to Tristan now, so no more cheating and affairs, okay?”
“O-of course, I’ll never do that!”
Her eyes shifted unsteadily despite making a decisive claim. How unreliable.
“Just give it a few months. I’m sure she’ll be snacking on every servant in the house.”
“Well, that might produce better children than Tristan’s blood.”
“Ooh, maybe Tristan will finally get a younger sibling.”
“…Don’t make me imagine that.”
“Please stop whispering~!” Esther shouted, her face bright red. We’ve been speaking in a low voice, so she shouldn’t have been able to hear anything, but she must have noticed something from our tone.
“My apologies. I’m just jealous that you’re able to marry Tristan.”
“Oh, so you really are jealous?!” Esther’s face lit up at the blatant lip service.
“Isn’t it adorable?”
“That’s it, isn’t it?! You used to be Tristan’s lover, Ilse! But now Tristan has fallen in love with me!”
“I don’t remember being anyone’s lover.”
“It was a contract marriage.”
I reflexively interjected with a denial, and Joshua backed me up, but Esther’s monologue could not be stopped, maybe because we were too quiet.
“When he was hitting on me, I said ‘Don’t you feel bad for Ilse?!’ many times~. But Tristan insisted and said he could not stop loving me~. He was just so passionate about it that I fell in love with him all over again~.”
“Oh God, when will it end?”
“It’s fine. This is the last time, so just bear with her.”
“Well, alright. But you’ll have to prepare yourself for a long whining session later.”
“I could endure it for a whole night if it’s with you, Lady.”
Joshua casually accepted my warning, so I decided to make him keep me company all night long.
Well, it may be Law that the villainess has to listen to the heroine’s victory speech. I gave up and patiently went along with Esther’s theater, which lasted for an hour or so.
*Drum roll* I have returned! Stars are pretty nice. Too bad the place got crowded with people who failed to realize floodlights aren’t exactly the most appropriate equipment for the occasion. Next time I’ll find some empty spot in a desert or something.
I’ll publish a chapter of the new story tomorrow, most likely, so please give it a try at that time.