“Wha…What are you talking about? Of course, I don’t!”
“What are you so startled about? Even kids my age are following the trend these days.”
Hestia said flatly, not caring if Anne-Marie was flustered or not then she turned around and began walking away.
“Since you’ve quit the clinic and have more time on your hands, you might as well get one of your own, Unni.”
Anne-Marie’s eyes shook slightly as she looked at her younger sister who seemed more mature than she was.
“Wait, Hestia…you said it’s the trend among kids your age. Don’t tell me, you too…?”
Then Anne-Marie abruptly came to her senses and quickly followed after Hestia. When Hestia heard that, she spun around to look at Anne-Marie like she was pricked.
“No! I was just saying other kids were doing it.”
“Hestia, if you do have one, you can be honest with me. I’m not narrow-minded.”
Anne-Marie lost her mother at a young age and since she was much older than Hestia, she had practically raised Hestia by herself. Because of this, to Anne-Marie, her sister still looked like a child. So even if Hestia had a boyfriend, she only saw it as her playing house and it seemed cute to her.
“So you can just let me in on a little bit, hm? If you don’t have a boyfriend yet then, what about a boy you like? Is there anyone? I’ll be the only one that knows. Promise.”
Hestia looked at Anne-Marie who seemed to be teasing her and wrinkled her nose.
“There’s nothing like that, okay?”
“Eyy, I don’t think so?”
Hestia’s cheek flushed slightly.
Only children would get angry at something like this for no reason. She was 12 years old now and practically an adult. So there was no reason forget to get into a childish argument with her elder sister. Most of all, she really didn’t have a boyfriend or a boy she liked!
Of course, there was a face that came up in her mind when Anne-Marie said that. The boy she got close to not long ago and often played with wherever Anne-Marie was not around. Her friend with animal ears and a tail.
But that kid was just a guy who was a friend. Really!
“It’s…It’s just a friend, okay?”
“Ah, just a friend.”
Although Hestia said that, Anne-Marie’s face had a beaming smile and she looked like she didn’t understand at all.
“It’s really just a friend!”
“Okay, I heard you. Friend, of course.”
It was the same this time.
In the end, Hestia got sulky with Anne-Marie.
“Hestia, where are you going?”
“I won’t play with you anymore!”
Hestia ran away from Anne-Marie and slammed the door of her room closed. Anne-Marie chuckled from behind. She was happy to see her sister acting like a child for the first time in a while.
* * *
While Lakis was away from home, Yuri looked at the reply she got from Damon Salvatore. The content was short and simple.
[Looking for philosopher’s stone. Requesting contact.]
But unfortunately, the ruin’s fragment that Yuri had, had disappeared thanks to Odin. Yuri inwardly criticized Damon for sending a reply so late. If he had give a response a little earlier, Damon would have gotten his fragment and Yuri would have gotten her money.
Still, Yuri didn’t ignore it and wrote a reply to Damon.
[You’re late, idiot.]
Like before, the paper containing the short reply changed into a butterfly and flew away.
Yuri hadn’t yet replied to the client who had asked her to look for a philosopher’s stone. Until now, she hadn’t cared about who her client was, but she was thinking of using this opportunity to look into it.
However, Odin seemed busy with something else lately so Yuri planned on doing it herself. Lakis went out often anyways so she could use that timespan to go out and investigate.
Suddenly, she remembered what happened when she came home with Lakis earlier. And she also remembered what she felt for a moment when she looked into Lakis’ eyes as they stood on the petal-strewn evening streets.
Yuri frowned slightly.
She raised her hand and pressed it to her chest.
‘…maybe it’s heart failure.’
She knew it wasn’t but for some reason, she inwardly acted like she didn’t know.
Then Yuri felt a presence approaching from outside. Since she was in the living room, she could also hear familiar footsteps walking up to the door.
It seemed Lakis came back early today.
But for some reason, he didn’t come in right away, instead he stood still outside for a while.
Yuri tilted her head and walked up to the door. Then her hand touched the doorknob.
However, the next moment, she felt another presence approaching and her hand stopped in place. Following that, she heard a small voice flowing beyond the door.
Yuri’s eyes narrowed for a moment.
When Lakis came in a while later, Yuri was holding the watering can and watering the plants.
“Welcome back, Mr. Lakis.”
At Yuri’s greeting, Lakis quickly responded, showing he was quite familiar with it now.
“I’m back, Ms. Yuri.”
The smell of the night air drifted off Lakis as he approached her. Yuri looked at Lakis’ face as he walked up to her. However, his expression was no different from usual.
So Yuri acted like she didn’t know about Anne-Marie and Lakis’ encounter outside the door earlier.
* * *
That night, Damon went to wash up before going to bed. He sent out all the attendants who came to wait on him in the bathroom and soaked in the bathtub alone.
The bathroom was huge and luxurious which was in line with Salvatore family’s nobility.
Once he got into the hot water, his whole body relaxed, and it felt like the fatigue of the day was melting away. But maybe because he was alone in a quiet place, his mind began to wander, and he remembered what Genos Sheldon said earlier in the day.
‘Anyways, even if I hate it, I’ll have to see your face as often as before from now on.’
‘I know you put someone to follow me around lately. I didn’t know you wanted to see me that much. Well, we’ll be crossing paths at any time so look forward to it.’
Damon struck the surface of the water with annoyance.
“That arrogant bastard…”
Thinking about it again made his anger rise and he swept back his wet hair which was poking his eyes.
And right then, Damon noticed something white coming close to him in the midst of the vapor filled room.
It was a familiar white butterfly.
He was momentarily startled.
It seemed the person who claimed to have the philosopher’s stone had already sent a reply. Even if that was the case, why did it have to come inside his bathroom and at such an odd hour too. Shouldn’t they have considered the time and place?
The butterfly thoughtlessly flew to Damon in the bathtub and turned into paper right before his eyes.
Damon hurried moved to pick up the white paper sitting on the water. He didn’t know what material it was made of but thankfully, it didn’t get wet. Even though Damon was touching it with wet fingers, he didn’t feel like it was getting smudged at all.
Damon frowned and lifted the paper with his thumb and index finger.
‘Hmph, seeing how they replied so quickly, I guess they must be anxious to sell the philosopher’s stone to me?’
With that thought in mind, Damon’s mouth twisted into a smirk. Then he looked down to check the reply. However, the very next moment, he couldn’t help but doubt his eyes.
[You’re late, idiot.]
This was because the short sentence written on the white paper was incredibly insolent.
You’re late, idiot…
You’re late, idiot?
“This…! Who has the nerve-!”
The veins on Damon’s forehead bulged.
He was already annoyed because of Genos Sheldon and now he felt like he was being mocked by someone whose name he didn’t even know so his anger surged.
He had to find them.
He would definitely find out what punk this was, damn it!
Damon crumpled the paper in his hand with indignation.
And like that, his peaceful bath time of the day came to a quick end.
* * *
Today was my day off from the coffeehouse.
So in agreement with my employment contract, I was going to the old man’s…No, since I was going to be seeing him more often, it wasn’t quite right to keep calling him that.
So I was going to Grandpa Bastian’s…
No, that sounded weird too.
Either ways, I was going to the Crawford family house to see him.
“Yuri, I heard from Sebastian. You like puppies a lot?”
Even though today was my first official day at work, he took me outside.
“Here, you can play with them as much as you want!”
Then he said that generously.
I suppose he said the same thing to Anne-Marie because she was already on the lawn and waved to me from where she was, surrounded by dogs.
I glanced behind me.
There I saw Bastion standing next to the butler with a pleasant smile. I looked forward again and gazed at the scene in front of me.
Hahaha! Bark! Bark!
A lovely girl running around the lawn with puppies and laughing. Combined with an elderly figure watching them with a warm smile. Something about it seemed like the example of a peaceful family.
For now, I walked up to Anne-Marie like the old man recommended, plus she was calling for me.
“Hi, Ms. Yuri. Grandpa said we could play with the dogs, so I was giving them some snacks. Do you want to join me?”
Anne-Marie greeted me happily.
Seeing Anne-Marie smiling brightly in the middle of the dogs gave me a slightly odd feeling. I felt like I was only just remembering that she was a young girl who was only 20. Somehow, it also made me think that Anne-Marie must have been like this before losing her father.
“Okay, give me one too.”
I took one of the snacks for the dogs from Anne-Marie. Probably because they’d seen me the other day, the dogs quickly came up to me with their tail wagging. Then again, even when they were seeing me for the first time, they came up to me without any vigilance.
But now, probably because I had a snack in my hand, the dogs were especially excited as they greeted me.
The old man was sitting on a bench in the distance and watching me and Anne-Marie with a nostalgic gaze. Did his late daughter like dogs too?
“Ms. Yuri, try throwing it too!”
After we finished feeding the dogs all the snacks, the trainer gave us a ball. It was easy to tell we were supposed to throw the ball and play with the dogs.
Anne-Marie went first, skillfully throwing the ball behind the dogs. The dogs all ran off before scrambling for the ball, then one of them came back with it in its mouth.
Anne-Marie giggled and stroked the dog’s neck. Then she ran over with her skirt and hair fluttering in the wind and handed the ball to me.
I fiddled with the ball Anne-Marie gave to me. It had been a while since I did this. How hard am I supposed to throw this again?
 What she literally says is: ‘is this much okay?’ as in ‘is this the right amount of force to throw the ball?’ I don’t know why I’m explaining this to be honest, but I felt like it.