“You are awake.” I heard an apprehensive, yet affectionate voice.
          I felt droplets of water trickling on my face and strands of long hair prodding my eyes.  I struggled to open them, and as he moved away from me, I saw a drenched, almost half-naked man gawking at me. His almond eyes were perpetually cobalt, reminding me of a summer’s beach, and his prominent nose was situated symmetrically to serve as the perfect border between his eyes. What complimented his voice was his lightly tanned and angular face, which revealed his strong jaw.
          I could sense my heart skipping too many beats that I almost forgot to breath. This was a foreign sensation. Never had I judged a man in that way. Never had I felt mesmerized by his presence. What was this feeling, I had asked myself. Was I becoming an old lady suffering from heart aches? I laughed at Ghislaine while thinking of how innocent she was. She was oblivious to love, yet who could have blamed her? She had been caged in a palace and perhaps, had been forbidden to love. When there was no one to teach someone something, personal experience had to be felt to understand what was happening. She . . . must have felt . . . the beginnings of love, just like I had . . . a long time ago.
         “Your Imperial Highness, we must be on our way,” an older man who was on a black horse called from behind. He had spoken in Koseian, and by the greeting that he had used, this man had to be a Koseian Prince. The question was, which prince?
          “I understand,” the Prince turned to reply. Then, he gazed at me and gently asked, “Miss, are you all right?”
          He had crept so closely to my face that our lips were only a finger’s away from each other. Before my heart exploded, I pushed him away. Then, I glanced at my own body and realized that I too was doused in water. Almost immediately, I recalled what had occurred earlier, and what else to add to this Prince’s name.  I yelled while pointing my finger at him, “You! You were the one who ran past me! You plunged me into the river!”
          “I apologize, Miss,” he spoke in my language but with a vague Koseian accent. “However, I did rescue you. You would have drowned if it were not for me.”
          “Yes, and I would not have drowned if it were not for you as well.”
          I folded my arms to shield my chest. I had noticed his eyes glance just once around that area. His lips parted to form a delightful, energetic smile.
          “You seek for reparation?”
          “I believe I must,” I explained with much haughtiness. “My reputation will be tainted once you depart.”
          This time, I heard his thundering laughter, which oddly reminded me of his gentleness. “You have quite a mouth,” he remarked and then took off the outer jacket of his elaborate robe, placing it over my shoulders. “This shall do.”
          He was beginning to walk away, so I rambled, “How am I supposed to return this to you?”
          “I believe you have forgotten what reparation means.” I saw another grin. “Reparation need not be returned.”
          “B-b-but—“
          Again, he turned around to smile, but this time in a more devious way, bearing his teeth. “You wish to see me again?”
          My cheeks abruptly disfigured to redness. I covered my embarrassing face with my hands. This would have been the right moment to disappear, I thought. I thought he would have vanished too. Still, I heard his alluring accent once more.
          “I can grant you your wish,” he uttered. I felt his hands untying what had decorated my waist, my ribbon. “But,” he added, “you must agree that you wish for us to meet again. You must . . . agree to this exchange.”
          Seeing how he clasped the ribbon in his hand, I recognized what he meant. Instead of compensation, this jacket of his would become his token for me and my ribbon would become my token for him. He gazed deeply into my eyes. That sort of look could make me agree to anything, and now, he even asked, “What say you?”
          How could I have rejected him then? My mind had already stopped thinking and my mouth had already opened. “Yes,” I mouthed.
          Then, he pressed his icy lips on my forehead. “I promise you that we will meet . . . very soon,” he noted before adjusting his tone, “and I believe others would have mistaken you as a boy . . . even with those soaked garments.”
          Like igniting a piece of wood, my cheeks bristled to crimson. I should have argued back, yet I couldn’t. Instead, my eyes never strayed from him. I watched him climb into a carriage along with at least a hundred set of horses following behind him. My mind was carving a flawless memory with every part of him carefully etched. I could have drawn thousands of portraits and those drawings would have been perfect. With every stroke, I would savour the same sentiments again.  
          This was love, I mumbled to myself.
          This had to be love for Ghislaine. I had felt this way a long time ago. My heart had pounded. My brain had malfunctioned. My eyes had fixated on him. My nose had detected all signs of his scent. My life had incorporated his. I had loved him with all my heart, yet . . . he had chosen to rupture me with all his heart. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and at Ghislaine.
          We were poor girls that were never born for love.
          “I never knew that you could faint under water!”
          I recognized this to be Theo’s voice. I was resting now in her bedroom again. It was like before when all of them had cared for me.
          “I suggest you consult a physician,” Verrill casted a glare at me before reminding me. “Fainting spells are not worth ignoring.”
          I sighed at my own feebleness. “There is no need for a physician. I am simply remembering . . . what was.”
          “Oh, I wish I could know my past!” Theo threw her arms in the air, and thrashed. “Then I could do whatever I desired!”
          Verrill grumbled, “I would rather live in the present.”
          “But, would you not wish to know what to correct?” Theo interrogated in a raspy tone.
          “Then, that would be mindless living. You live as you will and understand that no choice is a mistake,” he clarified.
          I couldn’t have said it better, but the problem was I couldn’t have said it in the first place. My life wasn’t geared for that ideology. Before, I had decided to live in peace. I had chosen to befriend Adriana and Alanna. I had chosen to love Thayne and to believe in him. I had chosen to live bravely after my father committed suicide. Still, everything was out of my control. Was everything that I had done a fatal mistake then?  
          Even if that were so, there was no sense in regretting what had already happened. This, I was reminded by Verrill’s words, was another chance for me to live properly. That meant that I had to live with the past and the present. My body made sure of it and there was no sense in being ignorant of this fact. Ghislaine . . . I didn’t understand what she wanted from me. What did I have to correct? What did I have to choose?
 
Chapter 34                                                                            Chapter 36
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