Chapter 04: Claude Ritter
Three days later, I quarrelled with my husband and rushed out of the mansion.
Even though I said we’d quarrelled, he was lecturing me about my bad behaviour and about how I wasted money at Charmes Mondt. The lecture would have ended if I’d just obediently apologised to him, but I acted in a sulky manner instead. I snapped at my husband, who was trying to talk calmly until the end.
In the end, I shouted a terrible remark, “I’m going to find my lover to comfort me!” as I violently slammed his study door shut. I actually had an appointment with said lover in the afternoon, so I used that as an excuse.
When I left the study and returned to my room, I ordered Renee to prepare the carriage and had Claire help me get ready.
When Renee left, I didn’t express my usual displeasure, nor did I start chatting friendly with Claire since Renee would become suspicious upon her return if the mood in the room was different than usual. I didn’t talk much and only exchanged the occasional glance with Claire.
She did my hair and make-up, then I wore a light crimson dress and a flowery hat that had a ribbon which was embroidered with white flowers.
My sombre appearance looked somewhat better because of my bright and gorgeous dress.
Claire quietly praised me, “You look nice, Madam,” so I thanked her. I maintained my straight face and declared, “I’m going to put on a good show,” before leaving the room.
Claire was staying behind, and only Renee would be accompanying me.
My destination was the studio apartment where my lover, Claude Ritter, lives.
Actually, my husband had just pressed me to end my relationship with my lover just moments ago, so I thought that the butler would stop me, but surprisingly, I was able to leave easily.
The carriage shook, and I cheered up as I stared at the roadside trees.
The silence inside of the carriage, which contained only Renee and me, didn’t bother me at all.
That was how much I was looking forward to seeing Claude.
It didn’t take long to get from the mansion on the outskirts of Nabel to the apartment complex where Claude lived; it only took 30 minutes.
He used to live further away but moved closer because I had complained about the distance.
Of course, I paid for his moving fees.
Well, I can’t say that proudly since the money belonged to the Rosensteins―――.
Claude’s building was a stylish brick building along the street, and his studio was on the ground floor.
The door opened a while after Renee rang the doorbell, and the resident of the studio appeared.
Claude Ritter is a good-looking man with soft, cat-like blonde hair, which at a glimpse looked as if he had just gotten out of bed, and green eyes.
He is the man who is rumoured to be my lover.
He had just been drawing a while ago.
He had on a white shirt with black trousers. Brushes in various colours were stuffed into his apron.
“How do you do, Claude?”
“Well if it isn’t Lady Rosenstein.”
Claude looked disgusted as soon as he saw me.
His slightly twitching mouth was also a reaction that I always get from him.
The rumours were that he was accompanying his patron, Countess Rosenstein, against his will, and that he was compelled to accompany a selfish woman who was younger than him because she had given him financial support before.
That was why he had reacted in a disgusted manner.
Because of those rumours, people in high society ridiculed Countess Rosenstein saying both her lover and husband hate her.
“Aah! I wanted to see you, Claude!”
I pushed Renee out of the way and hugged Claude, and he shivered and froze as if he was shocked.
It was probably unpleasant to be touched by me.
A firm voice sounded from above my head, “Countess Rosenstein…”
Claude separated himself from me. I put my hands on his shoulders, which were slender for a man, and looked up at him.
Claude’s poker-face didn’t crumble, and he looked down at me with eyes that hid his discomfort.
I knew that this behaviour wasn’t accepted by others, but I didn’t care and acted coquettishly.
“Come on, Claude. Don’t I always tell you to call me Ophelia?”
Claude turned his head away to avoid my gaze.
“… I’m sorry, Ophelia.”
“It’s fine if you get it.”
I clung to Claude’s arm, and went inside his house without asking for permission as if it was my own house.
His room didn’t have many things in it, and sunlight poured in through the big window, and the peculiar smell of oil paint drifted in the air.
This studio was also his living room, and on one side was his kitchen and the other his bedroom. It wasn’t too big nor too small, and it was perfect for living alone.
I rudely looked around his room and peeked at the still-life painting that was placed in the middle of the room before turning back to look at Claude, who stood idly at the entrance.
“How is living here? Do you need anything?” I always say these words whenever I visit this apartment.
Claude sluggishly shook his head and said monotonously, “I’m living comfortably thanks to you.”
“Really? Then that’s fine. Tell me right away if you’re having trouble or need anything. I’ll deal with it.”
Claude silently lowered his head.
His indifferent attitude and the way how his expression doesn’t change really resembles that person.
I looked around the room again and noticed Renee standing in the corner like a shadow.
I have already shown her how affectionate I am towards my lover, so isn’t it about time for her to leave this cramped room?
Most of all, I can’t have an intimate conversation with Claude while she’s still in the room.
“Say, Claude. I don’t want to leave you today. Something terrible happened, so can I stay over?”
I walked over to Claude and crossed his arms with mine.
Claude frowned, and his face showed his inner feelings which said, “You would trouble me if you stay over.”
But it didn’t matter how he was feeling inside, I am his important patron.
He couldn’t bluntly refuse and nodded reluctantly instead.
“That’s how it is, so you can leave. Come pick me up tomorrow around noon.” I smugly turned to look at Renee and said as if I had won for no particular reason.
Renee bowed and said, “Understood,” before leaving the room.
The door quietly closed, and it was just the two of us.
Claude, who had hardly spoken and looked sour up to this point, burst out in laughter as if he couldn’t hold it back anymore.
“Aahaahaahaa!” He held onto his stomach while laughing.
It was a cheerful laughter that made it seem like his displeasure had been a lie.
“Phelia, you’ve gotten better at acting. Especially your attitude towards the servant! It was amazing. Uh-huh, you were quite arrogant.”
“Thank you for your compliment.”
People whisper rumours about how Countess Rosenstein fell into an unrequited love with an up-and-coming painter, and that she forced him to be her lover by offering him money.
However, the facts are different.
I am providing financial support to him so that he could continue as a painter, but I have never forced him to be in a sexual relationship, nor have I ever wanted to.
He is like a friend to me, plus his love affairs are limited to those of the same sex. So, no matter what people suspect of us, we can never have that kind of relationship.
Most importantly, I already have someone I love.
The love I have for that person is so endlessly deep that even being self-sacrificing isn’t painful, and I am confident that even if a ravishing young man tries to flirt with me, I would never be swayed.
Claude is a good man, but he is only a friend; nothing more, nothing less.
“I took your advice. I’m loathed in the Rosenstein House now thanks to that, even the servants don’t want to look me in the eyes. Of course, the general public also views me in the same way.” I didn’t say this in my domineering high-pitched tone, but in my natural low voice.
The forced smile that was usually plastered on my face was also gone, and my expression was blanker than the one Claude had on before.
Actually, this is my real face, and I am bad at expressing my emotions on my face, let alone smile.
When I lived at my parent’s house, I was as blank as a mask and people feared me because they said that I don’t have any human emotions.
I could fake my smile because I trained until I bled.
People curse Countess Rosenstein and she never loses sleep over anything they say. She is the result of my acting, which I perfected from careful research and observations.
“I’m sure you went all-out because it’s you. It’s enough to ruin a beauty.”
Claude Ritter isn’t a noble; he’s only a painter.
Despite this, he doesn’t use honorifics when talking to me, his investor, because I asked him not to.
The reasons were that he is older than me, and I respect him, and I didn’t want my friends to be mindful when they are around me.
At first, he had declined in horror, but after asking him many times, he gradually changed how he spoke to me and speaks to me in a friendly tone now.
“If I have to do it, then I’m going to do it properly. Also, I always say this, but unfortunately, I’m not a beauty.”
“You do always say that, but you are beautiful.”
I understand how mediocre my appearance is, so I don’t go over the moon over simple flattery.
“If you want something, then I’ll get it for you even without such flatteries.”
“No, I don’t want anything. I’m not flattering you. I’m being honest. You’re gorgeous.”
―――Is that really so?
Claude noticed my confused gaze and suddenly smiled gently.
His green eyes were filled with undeniable affection, and it felt as if my tattered heart was being gently caressed.
“You’re the only one who says that.” I, who was happy that he had been honest, said in a charmless tone to hide my embarrassment.
“Really? Well, whatever. You won’t believe me no matter what I say. Anyway, take off that gaudy hat and sit down. I’ll make some tea.”
“Uh, Claude…” I said hesitantly when Claude was about to go to the kitchen.
“What is it?”
“Can I really stay here tonight? I can leave if you don’t want me here.”
He had already said that I can stay, but I’m worried about being a nuisance.
If I am, then I don’t mind staying at a nearby hotel for the night.
Renee has probably already reported to my husband that I would be staying the night with my lover, so my goal has already been accomplished.
However, Claude widened his eyes in surprise and said, “What’re you saying, Phelia?”
“Of course, you can stay over. You’re my friend, so you don’t have to be shy. I’m sure there are lots of things you want to talk about, and I also want to hear about them. You have your nightgown and a change of clothes. I’ll also help you change, so it’s fine, right?”
“I can change by myself but are you free? Are you sure I can stay over tonight?”
“Of course. You have things you want to talk about, right? Why don’t we talk all night?”
I was pleased that he had called me that and my heart got a little warmer.
Yes, we are friends.
Claude is one of my few friends and a collaborator.
The only person who knows about my feelings.
Claude cheerfully waved his hand, and my tension became lighter.
――― This person is really a lifesaver.
I thought, once again.