Part 44: The Lovers
October 4th, 1986, 10:03 PM
BGM: Moonlit Night
"*giggle* You're still pretty young yourself, George-san."
"Hahaha... I guess it's because I've always been the oldest of the cousins... It's always made me feel like I'm not one of the young ones anymore."
George and Shannon could be seen standing in the rainy rose garden. Though the rain was still pouring down, there was hardly any wind at all. The scant protection provided by the arbor was more than enough to house this secret meeting between lovers.
Following that fight with Erika, they had decided to play some cards for a change of pace. When that was over, Shannon had returned to the servant room, and shortly after that, George had left his room to meet with Shannon at the time they had arranged.
"...Yeah, that's true. Around that age, most kids are so determined to free themselves from the shell of childhood that they lash out in all directions with their beaks. When they do break out, they'll finally be free to stretch their wings and fly high."
"...I was like that too. When I was still inside that shell, I was a weak, deplorable man who didn't deserve any respect."
"Th, that's not true..."
"No, it's okay. I realize it myself. Back then, I might have been the oldest of the cousins, but I was still a lazy, hopeless man. And it wasn't just with the cousins. At home, at school... I was like that everywhere."
I wanted to break that shell and become a splendid adult like Mother and Father.
"But in the end, you did break out of that shell, George-sama. Every time I've met you these past few years, you've grown beyond recognition."
"...Did something cause you to make up your mind?"
"To break out of my shell?"
"Yes. I can't imagine that you grew so rapidly, like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon, by just wandering around aimlessly. I thought there must have been some turning point which made you become so determined."
BGM: Steady Pace
"No way... It's hard to believe that someone who's always as bright and cheerful as you could have negative emotions."
"Well, my parents taught me to treat a girl well. And I thought that I had succeeded in living that way."
"Yes. I think you're a really wonderful gentleman..."
"But that was wrong."
Of course, George had wanted to be around girls as much as any boy might. However, he didn't know how to interact with them. He wanted to act like a gentleman, avoid being disliked by them, and treat them with care. Of those feelings, only the words 'treat a girl well' took precedence, blossoming into a subconscious fear of women...
"You might call a man like that 'gentlemanly' or 'a late bloomer'. Ridiculous. I was just a coward."
"Because of that, I started to wonder why I couldn't get a lover if I was so gentlemanly, and I eventually came to the conclusion that all the women in the world had no taste, and started to hate all of them... stupidly. That's what a truly pathetic man looks like."
How many years ago was it when I noticed? Probably when I was in middle school. At the time, I assumed that I was obviously the most gentlemanly of the cousins, so I would obviously be popular with women. However, reality was completely different. At school, I was pretty much completely hopeless. Far from being a leader, I was the bullied kid who got pushed around by everyone. At the time, I figured I was just a capable and adaptable man, who could keep in perfect tune with his surroundings. How stupid. Sure, I might have gained some measure of trust from girls. However, not only was there no one who would become my girlfriend, there were very few girls I could even call a friend.
"...I can sort of understand how you felt. Just because someone puts in a lot of hard work to look attractive to the opposite sex, it doesn't necessarily work out as they planned."
"Oh? Has that happened to you too, Shannon?"
"Of course. One time, I wanted to catch a boy's eye so much, I tried to put on makeup even though I didn't know how and embarrassed myself... Eheheh, I remember a lot of embarrassing failures."
"The person that made me finally get over my conceit and open my eyes... was you, Shannon. No, it was both of you."
"...What was the turning point for you, George-san?"
"Haha... envy, probably."
"That's unexpected. But envy for what?"
BGM: Worldend (solo)
"...Me and... Battler-sama?"
Shannon raced through her memories, trying to find a conversation that might have made George envious.
"Haha, it probably seemed trivial to you two. However, it still made me envious. I don't want Battler to hear what I say next, no matter what. Can you promise me?"
"O, of course..."
"...It's going to be a shameful confession. Still, I want you to hear it. I want to hear your answer tonight... only after I've told you about my bad sides as well."
"...Okay. Let me hear it."
With a smile but a serious look in her eyes, Shannon nodded. Tonight. She knew what he was going to ask her tonight. George had the right to confess before asking that sacred question, and Shannon had the obligation to listen. Shannon understood this, so she listened quietly.
"...Stories of love are truly timeless. I never tire of them. However, I do find that expression of virgin disgust on your face even more charming..."
Featherine laughed quietly. Ange huffed and looked away, but she quickly realized that this would only entertain Featherine even more, so she tried to act unconcerned...
George looked up at where the moon should be, high above the rain clouds... and spoke. They were honest words, spoken from George's meek heart...
"I don't. People are allowed to think anything they want inside their hearts. In fact, I think you were all the more commendable for not letting it show on the outside."
"Thanks. I secretly looked down on those two. I was so conceited that I truly thought I was just overflowing with gentlemanly charm compared to them."
I was at that age where having a girlfriend felt like a necessary condition for becoming a real man. I truly believed that no girl could fail to admire a gentleman who treated girls as well as I did. So, I really did assume that the girls I knew were attracted to me.
"I thought that Battler-kun and Jessica-chan, who always joked around and spoke in a rude, vulgar fashion, would never be able to get a boyfriend or girlfriend. I might have used that argument to distract myself when I still couldn't get a girlfriend. I was a fool. They weren't inferior to me at all. I was the inferior one, with my deification of the opposite sex and my fear, which I hid under the guise of 'ladies first'."
"...I sort of understand. People like Onii-chan and Jessica onee-chan can get along with anyone whether that person's a boy or a girl. I hate to say it, but I find guys who act too polite... a bit creepy. It's like they're virgins trying too hard or something..."
"People respect it when someone they are distant from is boring and harmless. However, they only like that person because he or she doesn't get in their way. No human would want to hang around with a boring person."
"...Of course. No idiot would want to be friends with an unmoving, unspeaking telephone pole. However, unmoving and unspeaking is exactly what you'd want from a telephone pole."
"That's it. It seems as though George finally discovered that he wouldn't be viewed as an attractive man no matter how superior he was, and that he had been treated like a telephone pole the whole time..."
"Back then, my conceit was at its peak. So, when everyone gathered at the family conference, I believed that I was the most attractive, and that all the servant girls who played with us loved having me there. On that day, I finally realized how pathetic I was."
"...Did I... say something inconsiderate then...?"
"No, it's the opposite. You didn't say anything at all. My conceited delusion that I was the only one ever reflected in your eyes... was crushed."
Just when did it start? No, it must have started long before then. I only failed to notice because my eyes were clouded with conceit.
...Yes. Those two, whom I had looked down upon so much, were radiating far more charm than I was. You really looked like you were enjoying yourself that day. The look on your face was far brighter than any you ever showed me.
"Hahaha, sickening, isn't it? I just assumed that you liked me, and even had some childish fantasy that we might end up dating. I one-sidedly felt as though my girlfriend had been stolen from me and let myself feel hurt. Just how pathetic was I at that moment... When that happened, I finally realized how foolish I had been."
"After that, stuff happened and Battler-kun stopped coming to the family conferences, but I heard about him from time to time from Uncle Rudolf. He's a pretty funny guy. Even though he got in fights with Battler-kun all the time, he always paid close attention to his son's goings-on."
"...That's true. He spoke to me about it as well. I think even Asumu-sama was bothered by it. She thought all his popularity with the girls at school and the unceasing trouble this caused must have been because of Rudolf-sama's blood."
"And Jessica-chan too. I hear she built up a huge number of friends, both boys and girls, and that she was always the center of attention. When I actually talked with her, I realized that this was no exaggeration."
That experience had... shown that the two I had looked down upon... were much more attractive human beings than I was...
"At first, I tried to imitate those two. It was pretty ridiculous. I thought that by joking around and speaking rudely, I could get that same charm they had."
"*giggle* You did that? It's a bit hard to picture."
"It was miserable... I wish I could forget that time for the rest of my life. In any event, I quickly realized that I would never gain any true charm by imitating them like that."
I resolved myself to overcome that flaw and be reborn. I finally understood the shell I was in, and I swore to break out of it. Every time my resilience began to waver, I would remember that day. That day I saw you two forget about me entirely and play around happily. And the fact that those eyes of yours, which I always assumed were attracted to me, never noticed me at all. I made an oath. This time, I would really make you take notice of me, and I would be reflected in your eyes. Actually, that's the first thing I felt when I fell in love with you.
"On that day, my desire for revenge against the two of you who ignored me and played together, no, against you alone... suddenly transformed into true love."
"...However, I swear this to God. Even though that was the reason I first started to take you seriously, there are no lies in the way I feel about you now. I swear to love you for all my life. I will not lie about that for anyone or anything. And I am prepared to take you as my wife, even if it means having the entire world as my enemy."
"That is the confession I wanted to make to you beforehand. Before now, I've called you my first love, love at first sight. That was a lie. It was only my selfish, twisted-"
"That doesn't matter."
Shannon smiled, but she spoke forcefully enough to cut through George's words.
"Love... isn't that simple. Well, it might be simple. After all, love is easy. Always, whatever you feel now... only the honest feelings you feel now can tell you the right answer. So, things of the past or how our relationship started aren't important at all."
"...Then, I shouldn't have confessed...?"
"*giggle*, no. I'm a bit glad to learn that even George-san, who's always perfect at everything, has a human side to him. And I'm kinda glad that I'm the only person you've told this to."
"...Thank you. I was only able to become who I am because of you."
"Me too. I am as I am because of you, George-san. So please, tell me without holding back. What kind of husband and wife will we be, and what kind of future will we build together?"
"When I have you as my wife, I will become an even more accomplished businessman than my father. And after several challenges and adventures, I hope to find the limits of my potential. I want to reach that peak together with you. The view from there will be something no one can show you but me."
"It sounds fun. I'll be with you wherever you go."
"Of course, it won't only be an adventure as a businessman. I'd like to create many things that only a couple can make."
"*giggle*. And what could that be?"
"*giggle* ...Yes, my husband."
"I'd like three of them at the least. At least one boy and one girl."
"And what if all three are boys...?"
"Then the next one might be a girl. We can make a fourth one. It doesn't matter how many. Let's enjoy the adventure of bringing them up together. And when those children eventually leave their nest, they'll make us some grandchildren. Before we know it, we'll reach a boisterous old age surrounded by many children and grandchildren."
"It sounds like fun. I wonder... what kind of a grandpa you'll be."
"And I wonder what kind of a grandma you'll be. However, I will always keep loving you. And when we eventually pass away, surrounded by our vast family, our lives will stretch behind us, unmatched by anyone else's."
George didn't just talk about his love of the present. He swore to love her soul until the final moment when the lid of their coffins would be shut. Then, George took a small box out of his pocket. Even without opening it, she knew what was inside. He took it out with a motion that was more natural even than the one he had practiced in the bathroom at the airport, and it was overflowing with charm.
"Please, take this ring and put it on your finger."
Of course, Shannon had already decided which finger to put it on.
"I swear to resolutely stand against any fate which may attempt to get in the way of our future."
George proclaimed that he would reveal their engagement to the entire family on the next day.
"My parents might criticize this marriage... However, I will not let them stop us. I am going to inform them of our engagement, not ask for their permission. If Mother says that she will not allow our marriage, I plan to have myself disinherited, and we will leave this family together."
"I have been prepared for that since long ago. I swear once again to resolutely stand against all fates that get in the way of our future."
...George had said it aloud. So, Shannon said the same thing.
"Me too. I swear to stand against all fates that get in the way of our future."
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"...Be quiet and watch."
"...Sure, fine. I'd hate to yawn and let some spectacular bit of foreshadowing slip by."
"...Do you have no love?"
"Are there any mysteries which accept love as proof? No, there aren't."
Erika laughed coldly and stared down at the two on the game board. Battler watched her quietly. Erika thought she felt a touch of pity in his gaze, and she averted her eyes uncomfortably.
"...I do understand, more or less. Love can at least become a motive for murder. I can interpret this scene beneath the arbor to represent a possible motive for the crime if their engagement is somehow impeded."
"...Then again, no matter how much people talk of love with words that aren't red, it's all just an illusion. *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"...That's very sad. So, you could never love a human without proof given to you by a witch."
"Please put an end to this frivolous love talk. I'm your enemy, not a friend to whom you can talk about love just for the hell of it."
"...Please don't tell me that feelings of true love have sprouted from your murderous rivalry or anything like that, okay?"
"...Lady Erika. Let us have him continue the game's PROGRESSION. Boring love scenes such as this are best finished QUICKLY."
"Ah, you've got a point there."
" Sorry for butting in. Come on, let's move on."