✧ May It Pass by Like This✧
Odette was engrossed in a book as she lounged by the fountain, appearing serene and unaware of the recent cancellation of her appointment.
Bastian let out a sigh as the barrier lifted, and the car crept closer to the fountain, passing by the officers standing at attention. The road in front of the Naval department forked into three paths that encircled the fountain, and to reach the western road that led to the Imperial Palace, they had to navigate around it.
He wished the vehicle would just keep moving.
Bastian scribbled a note and entrusted it to the soldier on duty, instructing them to rush it over to Odette. He wanted to ensure it reached her promptly, so she could attend to her own affairs.
Perhaps, he thought, it would be a welcome change for the woman.
He sighed and tore his gaze away from the car window, just as Odette set down her book.
Glancing at her watch, Odette gazed at the main gate of the Admiralty with a composed expression. 20 minutes had already passed since the designated time, and she simply waited in silence, biding her time.
Bastian was jolted by a memory of their first official meeting, when she had stoically awaited his arrival despite his intentional lateness. She was his arranged spouse, after all.
As the realization that he had, in fact, married the woman washed over him once more, Odette’s gaze shifted to the car.
But it was a fleeting moment.
In no time, the car picked up speed and the distance between it and Odette grew rapidly.
Yet, the instant their gazes locked stayed imprinted in Bastian’s mind like a brightly lit snapshot.
Odette quickly rose from the fountain upon recognizing him, her blank eyes fixated on him. She briefly glanced at the backseat before locking eyes with him once more.
Her expression appeared pained, though it was difficult to tell for certain. The car had already turned onto the western road when Bastian pondered this.
As he unconsciously relaxed his fists, the car steadily picked up speed.
Odette, now a small yellow speck, receded from view as she stood alone by the fountain.
The emperor’s directive and his pledge to Odette echoed in his mind.
It wasn’t a decision that required weighing the pros and cons, and he made the necessary choice. He was aware that he could have paused the car for a moment in front of the fountain to explain the situation, but he didn’t.
His wife of two years simply could not be his top priority.
It was only natural. She was a woman who possessed nothing and had nothing to offer. What could she possibly bring to the table for him?
Bastian lifted his gaze from his closed eyes to the front mirror with a deep sigh. When their eyes met in the reflection, Sandrine’s lips curved into a gentle smile.
“How’s your headache holding up?” Admiral Demel cautiously interrupted the quiet of the car.
“It’s still persistent, but thanks to you, it’s improved greatly,” Sandrine replied, her expression brightening briefly before she let out a weary sigh. She looked like a person on the brink of exhaustion. “Thank you so much. If it weren’t for your help, Admiral, I’m sure I would have been suffering for days.”
“It’s my duty,” Admiral Demel replied, his eyes filled with genuine concern and the soldier’s honor of being chivalrous. He cast a glance at Sandrine. Meanwhile, Bastian, uninterested in the conversation, turned his attention to the Prater River that flowed past the passenger window.
As the scorching sun began to set, the world around them became clearer, with sharp outlines emerging. The verdant hues of the roadside trees had dulled, and the water had taken on a deeper hue.
An image of Odette, watching the car fade into the distance over a summer landscape past its prime, suddenly flashed through his mind like a light bulb.
As the seasons changed and the festivities came to a close, Bastian would be granted permission to head to the front lines.
This simple reality banished the annoyance caused by the lingering image of the ineffectual woman. He would soon be departing and, once the agreed-upon period had passed, he would return and address this marriage. In the meantime, she would prove useful by efficiently fulfilling her duties and fading away without any further hassle.
With the irrelevant memory banished, Bastian fixed his gaze on the road ahead. He didn’t cast a single glance behind him until he had left the Lenart family behind and arrived at the regal gates of the Imperial Palace.
The rustling of leaves in the breeze created a melodic counterpoint to the tranquil gurgle of the fountain.
With slow, deliberate movements, Odette tore open the envelope amidst the invigorating commotion. Her skirt, adorned with layers of chiffon, was in disarray, much like her current emotional state.
The brief note from Bastian read: “I have a pressing issue to attend to, so I must reschedule our meal for another time.” Just one line of inconsiderate notice.
She read the note over and over again before neatly folding it and tucking it away in her handbag.
The river breeze died down, and the shadows cast by the swaying tree branches above her head grew still. The young soldier, who was on errand duty, continued to stand guard and kept a close eye on her expression.
“Thank you,” Odette said with a soft smile, “You may go now.” The soldier, his cheeks flushing, quickly lowered his head in a bow before spinning on his heel and rushing away.
As the soldier’s figure vanished behind the barriers of the Admiralty, Odette released the quiet sigh that had been pent up within her.
She fully comprehended Bastian’s circumstances.
The sight of him departing with Admiral Demel in a military vehicle made it evident that he was conducting official business. The presence of Sandrine was irksome, but Odette knew it was not a matter she could intervene in.
Sandrine held a greater significance in his heart than his wife ever could, a fact he had made evident from the very moment he broached the topic of marriage. But to say he “proposed” would suggest an ongoing connection between them after their weddings – a connection he had no intention of fostering.
Odette tore her gaze away from the road’s vanishing point and made a decision. She would purge the memory of Bastian from her mind, for he had callously ignored his waiting wife and was now consumed by regret.
Though Odette was aware of everything, she still chose to go through with the marriage. She refused to second-guess herself now or to lay blame on Bastian. After all, it was a sham of a union, a mere transaction that would benefit them both.
With her mind made up, Odette departed from the fountain dissolving regrets within her heart. It didn’t take her long to traverse from the Admiralty to the bustling heart of downtown.
Odette thought the entire time she was alone, strolling down the street that it was actually lovely not to have to be with the bothersome man. The same held true as she leisurely strolled the mall, selected some sheet music, and went to the outdoor cafe.
“Is there anyone accompanying you?” the manager asked, repeating the same question as before.
“No, I’m alone,” replied Odette, her response unchanged from the previous occasion.
With kindness, the manager led her to a charming terrace that offered a picturesque view. As she settled at the table, memories flooded back – this was the very spot where she had shared an unexpected tea with Bastian.
The manager, having set aside the menu, looked concernedly at Odette’s expression, “Is everything okay? Are you experiencing any inconvenience?”
Odette smiled and shook her head, “No, I’m alright.” Although it was an unpleasant coincidence, she didn’t feel the need to switch seats over it.
After indulging in a coffee and cake treat, Odette took a moment to bask in the breathtaking scenery along the Prater River. The tranquil waters glimmered with the dazzling afternoon sun, painting a serene picture. Just then, a tap on her table brought her thoughts to a man who embodied the same radiant glow.
Odette, who realized it couldn’t be Bastian, glanced up in shock. Even more profound and icy disillusionment overcame her when she noticed a strange man standing there.
“Greetings! It appears you’re lone.” A man donned in a vintage infantry officer’s uniform flashed a warm, sugary smile. “Would the lovely lady permit me the privilege of treating her to a cup of tea to fight her loneliness?”
With a gaze that betrayed his true motive, he cast a look at the unoccupied seat across from Odette. He was a typical city rogue who relished in the thrill of wooing single women in his leisure. This type was all too familiar to Odette, having encountered it multiple times in the past.
“My spouse will be arriving shortly,” Odette replied firmly yet gently, emphasizing her point by placing her glittering wedding ring on the table.
“I apologize,” the man said, his face flushing with embarrassment, before scurrying off. Odette let out a soft sigh as she gazed at her husband’s vacant seat. She was grateful to have escaped the situation, but at the same time, her heart ached with sadness.
In a moment like this, the only person she could rely on was her faux spouse. The irony of it all was both poignant and comical.
Has that pressing matter been taken care of by now?
Odette pondered aimlessly, absentmindedly flipping through the sheet music she had acquired earlier.
No doubt he’s with Countess Lenart, her heart whispered.
As she reached a casual conclusion, a waiter carrying a tray approached her table.
Gathering the sheet music that failed to capture her attention, Odette sat up straight and gazed at her wedding band.
The table fell into silence once more as the waiter finished his duties and disappeared.
After taking a moment to catch her breath and carefully centering a vase containing a single rose on the table, Odette indulged in her own private tea time. The Prater River, with its glistening waves of gold, provided a stunning backdrop as she savored every sip of her coffee and every bite of her delectable cake.
Despite the peacefulness of the moment, Odette’s attention was solely focused on tidying up the teacups and plates, almost as if it were a task she had been assigned. In her fervor, she forgot all about the empty chair opposite her, once reserved for her husband who would never again join her for tea.
Deciding not to dwell on what couldn’t be hers, she found solace in the idea that having no regrets was the best outcome. As she had learned from the countless losses she endured in her past, the pain of parting ways would be commensurate with the magnitude of the love she had given.
And so, armed with this knowledge, she settled into a leisurely tea time.
With her long-awaited dream finally realized, Odette said goodbye to the al fresco café as the sun began its descent. Upon reaching City Hall, her agreed-upon rendezvous with her chauffeur, the entire metropolis had taken on a warm, rosy hue.
“Has Master Bastian already departed?” Hans queried, his brow furrowed as he emerged from the sunny yellow convertible.
“Oh yes, he’s got a tight schedule,” Odette replied smoothly, concealing the truth.
“I see. And was everything to your satisfaction, ma’am?”
Odette answered with a beaming grin, as if her smile was a suit of armor to protect herself. Mrs. Klauswitz’s joyful excursion came to a close with the clock tower ringing out the hour.
With Ratz receding in the distance, Odette’s vehicle raced down the road. It was a sultry late summer evening, and the shadows of objects were stretched out into the purple night.