Chapter 26

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It’s cold.

To feel warmth at least once, that’s what he wanted.

But it seemed impossible, even for an entire lifetime.
Children of the slums would not be able to receive any warmth throughout their whole lives.

He swayed on the heels of his feet and his body tilted forward.
Now, he was on the verge of falling under the bridge.

Just then, something caught his eye.
Under the bridge, there was a group of nobles laughing and enjoying their teatime…

They were all wrapped up with thick fur coats made from wrenching away the pelt of animals.
They were enjoying the warmth of a bonfire that their servants had lit for them.
Even so, it was impossible.
They were aristocrats, but those people were so deplorable that they couldn’t possibly be human.

How could they be warm when he was cold.
The contrast between them was so harsh that it felt like his bones were ice cold.

What the hell made them so different?

He thought about it.

What was the difference between him and them, when they were in such a warm place when he had decided to die in the bitter cold?

What was the difference?

Their birth, that’s what was different.

They were nobles and he was a lowborn.
That was what made the temperature they felt between them different.

Would he be able to reach that place?

No.

He wouldn’t be able to, not even if he tried to climb up his entire life.
Because from the start, his birthright was insufficient.
He was a lowborn commoner who couldn’t even work.

But if he could reach it, if he could just go there!

For the first time, he dreamed of living a noble’s life.

But a dream was only that—a dream.
He knew all too well that it was nothing but a dream because it would never come true.
So he only imagined.

A vague picture of him becoming a noble, of a future that would never come to fruition.

But one of the nobles, who was having a pleasant conversation, spotted him right then.

As soon as the woman found him, she screamed and pointed at him.
It was not a cordial greeting.

He tried to get away, but because he could only limp, the servants who followed him soon caught him and hit him recklessly.
This was because he dared set his eyes towards the place where the nobles were enjoying their time.

As he was being beaten, he thought.

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What was the problem.
What mistake had he done.
Maybe it was his fault for being born…

It hurts.

It hurts so much.

But the part of him that hurt the most was his heart.

If he was to be born again, he must be born a noble…

He would trample on all those who looked down on him.

So, he closed his eyes.

He thought he was going to die.
He wanted to die.

However, he survived.
Even as he was thrown away under the bridge, it was all thanks to the old inventor who picked him up that Eric survived.

The old inventor introduced himself as Ed, and he treated the child sincerely.
He said that it felt like looking at himself from the past.

He still didn’t know what this meant.
In any case, after Ed took him under his wing, the old inventor thus named him Eric.

After that, Eric became his adopted son and apprentice.

In itself, the life he had with Ed was a happy one.
Help was given to him, he didn’t need to be hungry anymore, didn’t have to quiver in the harsh, cold weather.

However, despite this change in environment, Eric was still always hungry, still always cold.
The memories of his childhood haunted him.

Having an acute talent in inventing, Eric built himself up and made himself known as an inventor and even gained a noble peerage for it, however even as he faced success, it was directly proportional to his desperate sense of helplessness.

The higher his status became, the more he was encased in fear.
Because he didn’t know when and how he’d be brought back down.
He was afraid about the nobles who had once beaten him, if they would recognize him.
He was afraid that his prosthetic leg would be revealed.

Everything terrified him.
No, what terrified him the most was himself.

From some point on, he became afraid of himself.

That’s why he started wearing a mask.
He covered himself with a mask called pride and recklessness.
He thought that this was enough that he wouldn’t be looked down upon.

He was foolish enough that he stopped feeling any love or affection towards others.
And for that reason, he had become extremely arrogant.
His proud, arrogant temperament was notorious across the capital!

Eric knew all this, but he never thought of fixing it.
He liked how it was in the present.
He didn’t want to go back to the past, and neither did he dream of the future.

He always lived only in the present.
And so, he hated that he was dreaming about this right now.

In this trip down memory lane, there was only one thing that Eric realized.
The fact that his existence was wrong from the beginning—from the moment of his birth.

The moment he came to this realization, he woke up from this dream.

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* * *

 

As he breathed out, he could still feel the taste of alcohol in his mouth.

“……”

Then, he suddenly froze.
Because he saw the woman lying over his arm.

“Chloe.”

He murmured in a hushed voice.
He didn’t know why Chloe was sleeping next to him.
He couldn’t remember anything.

Ah. He hurriedly looked down at his right leg.
His pants were still down.
Chloe shouldn’t have seen it unless she deliberately looked at it.
It was a relief.

Chloe was also dressed the same as she was yesterday, perhaps because she didn’t change.
Unlike Eric, who was a mess because his tie had been pulled out and his shirt was untucked, Chloe still looked immaculately neat.
Or was the back of her dress loosened?

He tried to search his memories.
He attended the banquet last night and punched the man who looked down on Chloe.
Then, on his way out, he drank glass after glass of champagne.

No matter how much he drank, he didn’t know he’d be drunk to this extent.
He showed such a disgraceful appearance in front of Chloe.
His face was burning.

He wasn’t someone who lacked self-control to the point that he’d lose his memories from drinking liquor.
That’s why he eventually recalled what he had said to Chloe.
And he also remembered what Chloe said in return.

‘Nobody thinks of you in that way.
You’re respected.
You’ve constantly brought development through your inventions.’

At the voice that still rang in his ears, Eric slightly bit his red lips.

‘I’m sorry.’

Why did she apologize?

What exactly did he hear? Even if she were to become so terribly unruly, there was nothing about her that’s lacking.

‘…That’s right.
I’m sorry.’

What a foolish woman.

Eric glanced down at Chloe, who still had her eyes closed the whole time.

Whenever Eric looked at Chloe, he sometimes remembered that day he went up the Pierre Bridge and was beaten up so much even after he’d already made up his mind to end his life.

There was a bitter taste in his mouth.
Eric shook Chloe carefully, moving his arm.

“If you’re awake, open your eyes.”

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“You knew?”

There was a small smile on Chloe’s lips as she slowly opened her eyes.
As clear as the summer sky, her bright blue eyes sparkled like jewels.

“How can I not when you’re wriggling like that? Get up now.”

“Are you thirsty?”

“A maid can be called for that.”

Eric pulled the rope before Chloe could even move.
With nothing to do, Chloe smiled awkwardly and sat up.

“What happened?” Eric asked.

“Nothing happened,” Chloe answered.

Chloe pointed to her own neat clothes as she said this.
Eric frowned.

“I can guess that at least.
I’m asking why we slept together.”

Chloe recalled how Eric clung to her last night, rejecting Daniel’s assistance.

When she barely brought him to this room and tried to change his clothes, he suddenly embraced her and lied down like that, subsequently falling asleep.

That’s why Chloe had no choice but to sleep next to him.

Chloe could still feel on her chest Eric’s warmth and even breathing.

“Would you believe me if I told you that you were clinging to me?”

Chloe burst into a peal of laughter.
It was a childlike laugh, and Eric liked the sound of it.
There was a small smile as well on his lips as he tousled his hair.
Then, he glanced in the mirror.
He should really straighten out his unkempt appearance right away.

“It would be better for you to return to your room now, Wife.”

“Are you kicking me out?”

Did it sound like that? Eric had a serious expression.
Chloe shook her head in a hurry.

“I’m joking.
You don’t have to take it so seriously… I don’t get hurt by those kinds of words.”

“What did you hear being said behind your back?”

“It’s nothing like that.”

Chloe smiled brightly as she went to the other side of the room.
Eric looked away for a second, towards the disorganized bed, then looked back at Chloe as she was walking away.

“I’ll take care of that matter with Gatsby.”

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With her perfect posture, Chloe stopped walking.
Eric continued to talk.

“And, I apologize.
Because of me, you heard something you shouldn’t have heard.”

She turned towards Eric.
With clear, translucent eyes, she stared at him.
And for a moment, Eric felt suffocated.
He quickly avoided her gaze.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“……”

“Really.
You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Chloe spoke with all her heart.

“The people who are wrong are those who live their lives with those thoughts.”

Eric breathed out roughly.
His chest was tight.

He remained silent for a while, one hand pressing against his eyelids because of his hangover.

“Would—”

He took a step closer to Chloe and continued.

“—you like to eat breakfast together?”

Chloe held her hands together, shaking her head.

“No thank you.”

She replied with a hard smile.

“You mentioned before that it’s uncomfortable for you to eat with me.”

“That’s…”

“And I’m a little tired.
I need to rest.”

Eric hesitated for a moment, but he soon replied.

“I see.”

Chloe left the room rather hurriedly.

The room she left then felt empty.
Even though the heater was warm, the cold seeped into him.

Eric led his legs back to the bed, not knowing why his right one was throbbing.
Then, he placed a hand over the spot where Chloe had been lying before.
The bedroom, which had felt warm until just now, felt terribly cold.

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