Such thoughts came to mind, but they were hard to give credence.
If I’m not insane, that means I’ve returned to the past.
Just that alone is unbelievable, but to hear ‘a sound’ as well?
This couldn’t possibly be real.
“…It’s all over.”
At that moment, Big Sis Marie smiled at me.
Seeing her face made my heart ache faintly. It had been so long since I had seen that smile.
“Annie is cute, so she’ll be able to meet new parents soon,” Big Sis added.
Her words didn’t bring much joy.
* * *
After comforting me, Big Sis Marie left to check on the other children.
I pinched my cheek.
My cheek stung with pain.
“Have I really returned to the past?”
How is this even possible?
Confusion and incomprehensible things abound.
If this is reality…
‘I’m so unlucky.’
A regression I never wished for!
If there’s any solace, it’s that Big Sis Marie is still alive.
I retied the ribbon Big Sis Marie had fastened in my hair.
Unable to see a mirror, I could only guess at the shape of my hair, but it didn’t really matter.
What mattered was the ribbon, a mix of ivory and my pink hair.
It was hard to see clearly, but there was still a hint of blue in the ribbon.
The fact that I had returned to the past.
Originally, it had been blue, but when Big Sis gave it to me before she passed away, it had faded to gray.
But now, a hint of blue seemed to have returned.
“Have I truly come back?”
I couldn’t believe it, but if, for some unknown reason, I had been given another chance, there was something I needed to change first.
“Don’t follow Mrs. Mallon.”
I recalled my life before my death.
Obeying her, even though it was forced, had ultimately cost me dearly.
“I don’t want to go through that again.”
But if Mrs. Mallon wanted to take me away against my will, the matron would gladly comply, just as she had done before.
“Mrs. Mallon wanted to take me because of my appearance and my hearing.”
If I let them know that I can hear this time, wouldn’t they naturally pay attention to other children?
But what if she still wants me this time?
No, I shouldn’t think like this. I should consider other options for now.
I loosened the hair that Big Sis Marie had tied for me and ran my hands through it.
Despite being born with straight hair, my hair quickly became disheveled.
I felt sorry for Big Sis, who had taken the time to make it look nice, but it would only draw attention if I did it nicely.
I had no doubt that apart from Mrs. Mallon, no one would notice that my hearing was back, but…
Still, I wanted to avoid any trouble.
“It’s better to keep it tied to the doorknob, so Big Sis Marie can easily find it.”
Big Sis’ ribbon was old and worn, not something that would attract the other children.
So, no one would take it.
“How old am I now?”
I needed to have a rough idea of when Mrs. Mallon might come, so I could be prepared to run away.
I was still in the orphanage, so she hadn’t arrived yet, right?
I was around nine years old at that time, or even younger.
‘But I should ask Big Sis Marie for my exact age later.’
I was thinking this when suddenly,
A sudden noise made me cover my ears and crouch down.
“What was that just now?”
While I was startled, the children around me were not scared at all; instead, they seemed excited.
“Hey, Bloody barked! I think Mother Matron is here!”
After a moment of recollection, I remembered it was the name of the dog the matron used to keep.
A large hunting dog that always guarded the entrance to the orphanage.
“That dog’s name was Bloody.”
So, the noise must have been the sound of the dog barking…
As I nodded in realization, another strange noise echoed.
This was also a sound I had never heard before, and my nerves instantly tensed.
A familiar woman entered through the door, her golden hair shimmering as if artificially enhanced, and a distinctive mole near her mouth.
“It seems everyone was waiting to welcome their parents. How sweet.”
I stared at the woman who was smiling so sweetly.
“It’s the orphanage matron.”
It was indeed a face I hadn’t seen in a long time, but it didn’t bring back any pleasant memories.
I had no good memories with the matron, of course, considering the circumstances.
“Please come in.”
The director said as a tall man with brown skin entered the room.
It wasn’t unreasonable for me to guess that, given the fair complexion of the man.
But hadn’t someone like him visited the orphanage before?
As I tilted my head in confusion, another person walked in.
In an instant, my entire body stiffened involuntarily.
The director clapped his hands to get our attention, speaking as he did so.
“These are the people who have come to see all of you. This gentleman here is a nobleman from the Sound Kingdom.”
The director pointed to the man and then gestured to the woman standing beside him.
“And this is a wonderful person who has always been helpful to our orphanage.”
While the director didn’t reveal the woman’s identity, I knew who she was.
She had neatly styled chestnut hair, and while she looked younger than I remembered, there was no mistaking her.
But why was Mrs. Mallon here like this?
“Well then, we should welcome the two guests who have come to see you, right? Shall we give them a big greeting?”
The children greeted cheerfully.
Unaware and simply eager to be adopted by their potential new parents, they introduced themselves enthusiastically, just as they had practiced.
But Mrs. Mallon and the man seemed indifferent, as if not very interested in the children.
It was when it was my turn, passing by the other children, that it happened.
Mrs. Mallon’s brown eyes sparkled as she looked at me.
Did I know that look meant curiosity? I instinctively clasped my hands together.
“What a pretty child.”
A phrase that sounded like something I’d heard before, some time ago.
I had deliberately tried to appear inconspicuous, even going as far as messing up my hair…
“What’s your name?”
Mrs. Mallon leaned in closer to me and asked with a friendly smile.
But why was it?
“Annie, there’s something you need to do.”
“Count Sorgen requires your assistance.”
As her face overlapped with the last image I had of her, it felt like a hallucination.
My body stiffened. I couldn’t speak. In my silence, the director subtly gestured toward me and spoke.
“Ohoho, I apologize, Madam. This child is deaf and couldn’t hear what you just said. She hasn’t been able to hear since she was found in front of the orphanage. It’s quite unfortunate.”
“Yes, she can’t hear. It’s been that way since we found her in front of the orphanage. It’s quite a pity.”
The director glanced at me, his head shaking slightly.
“All the other children are perfectly fine except for her. Please, take a look at the other children.”
He discreetly guided the children who had been standing beside me toward Mrs. Mallon, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.
“The other children are fine. I like this one.”
“Are you serious?”
“Madam, do I seem like someone who would make frivolous decisions?”
“Well, I can’t imagine that. Most people tend to hesitate…”
“I don’t. Just because she’s deaf, you think I can’t understand her?”
Mrs. Mallon added, “I happen to need a mute maid, and this child seems perfect. Being deaf, she won’t be able to talk or hear.”
“She also looks cute, which will help me save face.”
Mrs. Mallon gently lifted my chin with the tip of her fan.
Suddenly, I snapped back to my senses.
‘This can’t go on.’
Right now, the foreign man and the other children were watching, so the director wouldn’t completely surrender to Mrs. Mallon.
‘But if I don’t win Mrs. Mallon’s heart here, it will eventually be the same.’
I would end up as Mrs. Mallon’s maid, facing that repulsive Count Sorgen and ultimately meeting my demise against Grand Duke Belroc.
‘I refuse. That’s not what I want.’
I tightly gripped the hem of my faded skirt.
There was no guarantee that my current actions would yield better results than before, but…
‘It’s better than repeating the same thing without even trying.’
With determination, I looked directly at Mrs. Mallon and spoke.
“I can understand what you’re saying.”
Though still unfamiliar, my own voice rang out with certainty.
“H-how did you…?”
The director stared at me as if he had seen a ghost.
But I calmly continued, “I’m not deaf.”
Originally, I couldn’t hear, but now I can, so it’s not a lie.
Mrs. Mallon, having heard me, furrowed her brow and sharply confronted the director.
“Oh, please, Madam. That child is definitely deaf.”
“But can she speak like this and understand our conversation now? Are you treating me like a fool?”
Mrs. Mallon already seemed suspicious of the director.
If she had believed him, she wouldn’t be glaring at him with such skepticism.
In truth, Mrs. Mallon despised gossip and lies. She had discovered when a childhood friend she thought was close had lied about being sick to cancel a birthday party, leaving her out of the celebration with the other friends.
She had noticed that I was placed in front of her and spoke to myself frequently, thinking that I couldn’t hear due to being deaf.
“I need to think about the next sponsorship amount.”
When the director inquired, Mrs. Mallon shot him a sharp look.
“Are you really asking because you can’t hear?”
While receiving substantial sponsorship funds, he did his best to save as much as possible from the children and fulfill his own selfish desires. He was obsessed with money and had ties to some shady figures in the underworld.
But if the sponsorship funds were reduced, it would be a disaster.
“Madam, you’ve got the wrong idea!”
Mrs. Mallon struck the director’s hand with her fan.
“I dislike fussing, you know? And…”
Mrs. Mallon pointed at me with the tip of her fan.
“I will take this child with me.”