Across the dining table, sister Emilia and sister Regina shouted simultaneously.
I was sharing grapes with sister Alice and jumped in surprise, covering my ears with my palms.
“Why are you screaming so early in the morning?”
“What’s this article about? Marriage? And with the Empire’s emperor?”
Sister Emilia shoved a newspaper right up to her nose, but sister Alice, without even glancing at it, popped another grape into my mouth.
As she ignored the paper, sister Emilia tapped it in frustration, taking deep breaths. Sister Regina then tried to calm her down by patting her shoulders.
“Is this a mistake? We need to ask the newspaper to correct it. Saying that someone without a boyfriend is already getting married is ridiculous.”
“You’re right. Nowadays, these newspapers are so weird, consuming gossip as if it’s true. Emilia, go request a correction.”
“That article tells the truth.”
Sister Alice replied shortly, causing both sister Regina and sister Emilia to snap their heads around.
I couldn’t follow their conversation, so I tried to read the paper that sister Emilia had tossed in front of the eldest.
“Alice Verchio, to wed Em… Emperor Marius.”
Uncle Marius is getting married? And to sister Alice?
‘It’s not Uncle Leopold but Uncle Marius?’
For a moment, the situation didn’t make sense, and I felt confused.
That annoying emperor is getting married? And to our smart, talented, and coolest sister Alice in the world?
“Sister Alice, you’re getting married?”
“You remember Marius from last time? I’m planning to marry him.”
I was so shocked that I spat out the grape sister Alice had fed me like it was shot from a cannon. The grape rolled off the table and dropped onto the floor.
The grape wasn’t the problem in the moment. Why was sister Alice suddenly getting married? And not to Uncle Leopold, but Uncle Marius?
“Why? Why are you getting married? Why Uncle Marius?”
“Do you not like Mr. Marius, Liliana?”
“No, no! I don’t like him!”
“Sister Alice, even the baby doesn’t like him. Why are you suddenly marrying an emperor without even a word with us? It doesn’t even seem like a marriage of love.”
Sister Emilia’s observation was correct.
In my keen eyes, there was nothing between sister Alice and uncle Marius. Their interaction seemed more like a battle between a snake and a shield.
The ones who seemed to have a subtle tension between them were Older Sister and uncle Leopold.
“We decided on this. We’ll skip the engagement ceremony and just exchange rings. I’ll be going with him when he returns to the Empire. We plan to hold a wedding ceremony there.”
“What are you even saying? Explain instead of just informing us. Why are you suddenly marrying, and why the Emperor?”
“Emilia, this is between him and me. It’s not your business.”
Sister Emilia yelled, and I nervously watched them.
I wanted to tell sister Alice I didn’t want her to get married, but the mood wasn’t right.
It was so tense it felt like a fistfight might break out. As I held my breath, sister Alice gave me an order.
“Liliana, go to your room.”
With her strict and intimidating face urging me to ‘go,’ I quietly got up and went to my room.
“Cookie, why is our sister acting like this all of a sudden?”
Hearing the heated argument outside my room, I tightly hugged Cookie.
Sister Emilia was spitting words out rapidly, and when sister Regina joined in, she began bombarding sister Alice with questions.
The voices of the twin sisters had risen by at least two tones, but sister Alice’s sounded cold, almost icy.
“So… that’s what I’m saying!”
“I can’t quite hear what they’re saying…”
Maybe it’s because my room is the farthest from the dining area, but I couldn’t hear the conversation clearly.
Still, from the few words I could catch, I could tell that sister Alice had made up her mind.
‘I wish I could hear more.’
Driven by curiosity about what was going on, I carefully turned the doorknob.
Although the door made a small noise, everyone was too riled up to notice.
Through a tiny gap, I could hear clearly. Soon after, sister Alice’s voice continued.
“I’ll take care of Liliana.”
Cookie soundlessly fell onto the plush carpet.
I froze in sheer shock, forgetting to breathe.
It wasn’t the time to match uncle Leopold with older sister.
Right now, it’s time for the ‘Break Uncle Marius and Sister Alice Apart’ project.
* * *
Her saying she’d raise me meant I’d have to go with her to the Empire.
This meant that I would be separated from my two sisters.
I’d never imagined our family scattering, so I felt not just downcast, but deeply anxious all day.
“No way. This isn’t happening. Right, Cookie? You think the same, don’t you?”
First my brother who one day suddenly took off to the countryside to live his own life, and now this separation from my sisters…
A broken family leads to a broken society, and a broken society leads to a broken nation.
And when nations fall, it often leads to the end of the world.
So for the sake of world peace, I have to stop my sisters from living separately.
“Cookie, I’ve decided. I’m going to persuade uncle Marius.”
There’s no way that scoundrel can easily win over our dear sister!
I promptly stuffed biscuits and a coin purse into my hamster bag.
Not forgetting my beloved stuffed animal Cookie, I wore the bag.
The biscuits were in case I was hungry when I met uncle Marius, and the coin purse was to pay for the carriage ride to the hotel where uncle Marius was staying.
I crept from my room on my toes, heels lifted, trying not to get caught by my sisters.
They’d surely want to follow if they knew.
Luckily, they were in their respective rooms since their argument had ended.
I managed to leave the house without making a sound.
“Phew, I made it.”
Relieved to have escaped unnoticed, I heaved a sigh.
Worried my sisters might follow, I quickly went to catch a carriage.
This time, before crossing the street, I made sure to look both ways, even raising my right hand as a precaution.
Reaching the carriage stop, I approached an old man sipping a drink on a bench.
“Sir! Take me to the Risolo Hotel!”
According to the newspaper, uncle Marius was staying at the Risolo Hotel.
“Kid, if you’re pulling a prank, you’ll be in trouble.”
“I’m serious… I need to go to the Risolo Hotel. I have money!”
“If you want to go to the hotel, go get your mom.”
The coachman dismissively waved his hand, and I felt my bottom lip quiver.
“I don’t have a mom… and no dad either…”
I felt a pang in my heart because of the coachman.
It was sad enough not having my parents, but I might also have to part ways with my sisters.
Not just scattered across the country, but to a faraway land across the sea.
“I’m heading to the Risolo Hotel because my brother is there. He and my sister had a fight, so he can’t come home. I need to go meet him… I really want to see him…”
Thinking of ‘brother’ reminded me of brother Andrea, who suddenly left for the southern countryside.
Without any warning, he left our home as if running away, without letting our sisters stop him.
He left behind his clothes, books, everything–just took some money. Back then, he said:
“I’ve done my best for you and given all I could. You’re on your own now.”
There’s a 24-year age gap between brother Andrea and me.
He’s even six years older than sister Alice.
After our parents passed away, he took care of family matters and even raised me when I was a baby.
Maybe he left the capital, our lifelong home, because he was tired of looking after his youngest sibling who was young enough to be his daughter…?
He probably felt he had done enough. It’s clear he left because he was fed up with me.
‘Maybe I’m a burden to my brother and sisters.’
Tears streamed down my face at that thought.
Seeing me cry, the coachman exclaimed in surprise.
“Oh my! Let’s go! You said you’re meeting your brother, right? Family should at least see each other’s faces!”
Swiftly, he lifted me onto the coach and set off toward the hotel.
The rhythmic sound of the horse’s hooves and the coach wheels somehow calmed my heart.
I wonder how my brother is doing in the countryside. It’s been quite a while, and there hasn’t been a single letter.
Maybe the newfound freedom feels too good, so he’s too engrossed in it to think of me.
Or perhaps he’s truly happier there.
Wiping away my tears, I checked a piece of newspaper I had tucked into my pocket.
‘I hope I don’t miss him…’
Should I just lie down on the floor when I meet Marius? Or should I lie that he’s the most handsome in the world and persuade him not to marry my sister?
“Ugh, this is so complicated.”
I lay down on the coach seat and stared at the blue sky outside.
Watching the clouds drift by, the coach came to a stop.
Jumping up, I saw the hotel entrance.
I took out the money I had prepared from my coin purse and handed it to the coachman.
Then, with a spring in my step, I headed for the hotel.
Well, at least I tried to.
The coachman suddenly grabbed my bag and pulled it towards him. Didn’t he call me ‘kid’ earlier?
“You’re short on the fare.”
My sisters always paid five coins for the coach fare.
I did the same, but I overlooked one thing!
My sisters paid with silver coins, and I gave copper ones.