The one who was holding the empty basket was still Luca. Most of the contents in the basket had gone into Luca’s stomach. He was tall but thin, so it was a mystery as to where all that food went. Elsa was jealous that he didn’t get fat no matter how much he ate.
Elsa and Luca walked towards the small hut on the harbour where they were rented out boats. There was a middle-aged man there, smiling while filling out the record book.
“You married couple have a good relationship.”
Elsa and Luca inadvertently exchanged glances. The man filled in the record book, handed Luca the key to the padlock securing the boat in place, and then sent them off with, “Please enjoy yourselves”.
Luca opened the padlock on the boat and got into the boat first. Then, Elsa lightly jumped onto the boat. She staggered a bit but because Luca was supporting her, she avoided falling into the water.
Elsa pulled out the boat by lightly pushing the harbour. The oars were, of course, borrowed from the small hut. After the boat proceeded a little into the lake, Elsa started talking.
“Leaving you aside, if you think about it, it was only natural for him to think we’re a married couple because I’m already past my prime……”
Woman around Elsa’s age were usually married. Even if one looked at her from a favourable light, she didn’t look like a 20-year-old young lady. Because of her conduct, people had viewed her as an adult since long ago.
If such a woman was with a man of the same age, it was only natural for people to think of them as a married couple. Elsa also thought that way.
“Because we don’t look like siblings.”
“That’s right…… I was lured in by research funds and made a rash promise, but I won’t get stabbed, will I?”
Alesia had said this but the man sitting in front of her rowing the oars was currently the number one bachelor that young ladies wanted to marry in the marriage market. There were many young ladies who wanted to get closer to him, and the one who would earn their wrath was Elsa.
“I’m also being careful about that but you’re not someone who would easily get stabbed, are you, Elsa?”
“Well, I’m not that soft that I would suffer damage from a frail young lady’s stab.”
Elsa nonchalantly agreed with Luca’s words. Luca stopped rowing and said while taking a break.
“After thinking about it, even I think that this is a crazy idea.”
“Oh, you’re aware that it’s crazy? Well, I think that pretending to be sweethearts is a good idea but wouldn’t it have been better for you to pick someone that suited you a bit more?”
“I have the most fun when I’m talking to Elsa.”
“What’s with that? Are you stupid or what? Even I’m aware that I’m pretty detached from the real world.”
Elsa was disinterested in the world, thus, she didn’t know what she should do when she’s alone together with a man. Well, Elsa didn’t consider Luca as a man. Moreover, she couldn’t even pick a dress by herself.
“I always firmly reply no matter what you say, right? Moreover, you’re smarter than me. It feels nice when you respond to me.”
“…… Really? I’m also a weirdo but Luca, you’ve fairly changed a lot, haven’t you?”
“I might have.”
For some reason or another, the two looked at each other and laughed. Luca began rowing the boat again.
“That’s why, when I was thinking about who I should ask to pretend to be my sweetheart, I could only think of Elsa.”
“In the first place, do you have any close female friends, Luca?”
She asked just to be sure, and Luca replied with, “I don’t have any friends that I can ask for this kind of thing”. Well, that’s true. I would normally get angry, Elsa thought, and although she had been lured in by research funds, she was a broad-minded person. Elsa stretched, and in that moment, the boat shook.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“If it was on purpose, then I would have hit you.”
“You, you really don’t see me as a woman, do you?”
Elsa continued after they exchanged their usual conversation.
“Even if you don’t think of me as a woman, it’s fine if we’re mistaken as a couple. Let’s go to the bookstore next time and then to the new bar. It’s hard to go by myself.”
“You, a bar isn’t a place where an aristocrat lady should go. But it’s very you.”
“Isn’t it fine? I’m interested in it and it’ll be fine if Luca comes with me.”
That was how much Elsa trusted Luca. The boat slowly stopped at the harbour. Luca got out of the boat first and then helped Elsa get off.
“…… Well, I’m the one who asked you to pretend to be my sweetheart so I’ll take you there. So, don’t go by yourself.”
“Even I don’t have the guts to do that.”
Elsa said and smiled wryly. Luca was still staring at her in doubt, so she lightly kicked his leg.
As they walked on the trail, Elsa and Luca felt like it was a good time to head back home, so they got ready to leave. Elsa had said ‘home’, but she was returning to the University of Fillure.
The University of Fillure, itself, formed a town, but carriages couldn’t enter the university; because the roads were narrow. Therefore, Elsa was getting off the carriage a short distance from the school gate that Luca had picked her up from this morning.
“Thanks. It was really fun.”
“I also had fun. Take care.”
“Well, if you take me out again.”
Came Elsa’s extremely lazy reply. She passed through the school gate and was greeted by the female students upon returning to the dormitory.
“Ah, welcome back, Professor ~. Did you go on a date?”
“Welcome back. The panini and sfogliatella were delicious. Thanks for the treat.”
The female students spoke to her with extreme curiosity. She had dressed up nicer than usual, so she could understand the curiosity.
“I went out with a friend. Did you eat everything I made?”
“Yup, yup. It was delicious. Your friend is a man, isn’t he?”
The female student leaned forward as if saying, “You can’t deceive me”. The other student was laughing quietly, but her eyes were filled with curiosity.
“If you get to university, then even you girls have a male friend or two, right?”
Elsa said as if she was avoiding the topic and went into the kitchen, but the two female students followed her.
“Eh ~. But he was extremely good-looking, wasn’t he?”
“Or rather, he was Duke Inglacia, wasn’t he?”
Elsa inadvertently clicked her tongue because they had guessed correctly.
“Do you hate it that much? But I think you two make the perfect couple.”
The students were grinning as they talked to her. Elsa emptied the basket and coldly said, “Stop teasing me”.
“I’m free to associate with whomever I want.”
“Yup. I know. So it was a date after all?”
What a pesky kid. Elsa answered while washing the mug and thermos, “It depends on the other person’s feelings”. For some reason, the students were squealing in excitement.
“So, does that mean that you like Duke Inglacia, Professor?”
“He’s a friend from school, right? So you also have friends like that, Professor ~.”
Elsa, who was gradually getting annoyed, handled it by responding appropriately, “That’s right, so sue me”.
However, the student’s interest gradually faded. Next, they asked her to make different dishes for next time. Elsa replied to them appropriately while feeling as if they were making fun of her.
After that, Elsa went out with Luca again, but it was almost time for the university’s exam period, so she was getting busier, therefore, they didn’t go far. They would often wander around the royal capital, Zola. It was pretty fun even if they just walked along the canal.
Elsa got the technical book that she wanted and Luca took her to the bar she wanted to go to. Elsa felt a little apologetic because he had brought her ornaments as well. The students had been saying to her, “Haven’t you gotten prettier lately, Professor?” She didn’t understand, she had only slightly changed how she dressed. But she still wore professional and sharp dresses within the university. Was it because she was going out often?
Once the university’s exam period was over, it would be social season. Students in their last year of university would graduate as soon as they passed the graduation exam.
As the social season approached, the population of the royal capital also increased because the aristocrats were returning from their territories. Elsa’s parents also informed her that they were returning through a letter.
The increase in population didn’t have a direct connection on the University of Fillure, located in the suburbs of the royal capital. However, since the number of people increased, the academic conferences were also held in the social season. Therefore, Elsa was preparing to publish her thesis at the conference. She was extremely busy because it happened at the same time as the student exams.
For that reason, she didn’t go out with Luca for a while. Elsa would talk to Luca from time to time whenever he came to visit, but quite a lot of people saw him coming and going, so it had become quite the rumour. They never met at Elsa’s study, and usually went to places like the university café, but on that day, Luca barged into her study just like on the day he had asked her to be his pretend sweetheart.
“Elsa! I have a problem!”
“I also have a problem. And I told you to knock.”
Elsa, who was preparing documents to present her thesis with, rebuked Luca, who had suddenly barged into her study, without batting an eye. Luca ignored the rebuke, closed the door behind him and entered the study.
“I’ll knock next time! But I’ve got a big problem!”
“Well, how about you take a seat first? I won’t be serving any tea though.”
Elsa said and pointed at the sofa opposite her. There were a lot of books on the sofa, but Luca moved them aside like he was used to it and sat down. Elsa called out to her assistant, who was trembling behind her.
“Sabina, everything’s okay here, so go and return that book and then take a 30 minutes break. I’ll do something about this in the meantime.”
When Sabina, her assistant, received the book from Elsa, she said, “Excuse me”, before leaving the room. Perhaps, another unfounded rumour would spread again from her, but well, let’s leave that alone. At any rate, everyone would lose interest in it soon enough.
“So, what’s up with you?”
“…… I received this.”
Luca handed Elsa an envelope with shaky hands. Elsa saw the crest and raised her voice, “Oh”.
“It’s a crest that only gives me bad feelings.”
The royal family… Furthermore, it was the crest used by the King’s younger brother. In other words, it was from the Prince. Elsa’s older sister was married to the Prince, Duke Aquafresca.
“So that means…… It’s from Teresa, right?”
Elsa opened the letter and read it. She sighed realising what Luca meant by “problem”.