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The source of the scream was Leila. She tripped while climbing the stairs. She suffered minor bruises, as well as a sprained ankle.
The doctor, who was called to the Blanchett residence late at night, carefully examined Leila’s condition. He applied medicine to her injuries and a cold compress to her swollen ankle.
“Is it very serious?”
Chloe asked while staring at Leila’s ankle propped up on a cushion. Her heart was still pounding. It hadn’t calmed down yet due to her friend’s scream in the middle of the night.
“No, the sprained ankle is not that bad, so you just have to take a break for a few days to gradually get better.”
She was relieved at the doctor’s words.
“If she had been any higher, her life would have been in danger.”
Her imaginative mind took a few words and pictured the worst possible situation. She shook her head lightly as she remembered reading an article about the instant death of a lady who fell down the stairs.
“So, why were you… walking around at such a late hour? It’s dangerous.”
Chloe blamed Leila. Her words remained cold, but Leila felt pretty satisfied when she heard them. There was a hint of concern in her friend’s remark.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that… I can’t fall asleep.”
Falling asleep had been the most difficult thing Leila could do lately. She couldn’t fall asleep easily due to the depressive thoughts that came whenever she closed her eyes. Moreover, she became more depressed when she tried harder to fall asleep. To the point where she would have woken up the people who fell asleep except for herself.
“You haven’t been able to fall asleep lately, have you?”
The doctor, who noticed Leila’s darkened eyes, asked.
“Did you check with your family’s doctor?”
“No. Do I have to see a doctor? Won’t it get better in a few days?”
“There are times when it naturally gets better, but there are times when it doesn’t. When you return, I hope you can get a proper examination from the doctor.”
Leila nodded slowly.
“I’m going to brew tea with pain relief and calming effects for you today.”
The doctor fixed Leila’s ankle with a bandage as he said so. When the treatment was over, Gerard stepped out to send the doctor off.
“You’re doing a wonderful job at such a late hour. Let me send you off.”
“Yes. May you have a peaceful night.”
The doctor bowed politely to Chloe and Leila before turning around. However, Leila hesitatingly held him back.
“Um, I just have one question… So I can’t participate in the hunting festival, can I?”
The doctor gave a firm answer without hesitation.
“Of course not.”
Leila’s expression seemed noticeably sulky. Nothing was going her way.
The next day, Chloe waited for Gaon and Catherine at the annex of the mansion. She was so anxious that her hands couldn’t remain still. She was nervous at the thought that she could finally see Catherine.
‘What should I say when I see her?’
She had no idea what topic she should bring up to her sister, whom she would be reunited with for the first time in nine years.
She waited like that for a few hours while wiping the sweat off her damp palms. The person Chloe was waiting for finally arrived.
However, Gaon was alone.
“Rin couldn’t come with me because she wasn’t feeling well.”
Expectations and excitement were replaced with hollowness and anger. None of the people who claimed to know her sister’s whereabouts had proper information regarding her.
‘I was so excited because I hadn’t seen her in a really long time.’
Chloe narrowed her eyes. A cold voice naturally slipped out of her mouth.
“I… I must have looked so vulnerable.”
She spoke in an overbearing tone.
“What do you want from me? I mean, what did you expect, coming from the East to deceive me like this?”
“I didn’t deceive you.”
Gaon might have been confused or upset by Chloe’s doubt, but he replied calmly. He only thought she was as his wife described. His wife described her younger sister as ‘a kid who thinks she’s cold, but she’s actually really sweet’, which was true.
If Gaon was in the same situation as Chloe, he wouldn’t have used honorifics or allowed him to talk at all.
“Why do you think I’m deceiving you?”
“Does it make sense for someone to become that sick in a day? Why didn’t you come up with a plausible excuse?”
Gaon was lost in thought for a moment. He contemplated if he should explain Rin’s situation or not.
“Get out of my house right now, before you’re being dragged out by the guards.”
However, he didn’t have enough time for that. After all, he had no intention of hiding his wife’s condition, and it was a fact that would be revealed once they met each other.
“My wife is naturally weak.”
Chloe, who was about to call for guards, stopped upon hearing Gaon’s unexpected remark.
“She suffers from chronic stomach pain, to be exact.”
“She couldn’t come today because she has been traveling for a long time with a frail body, and she got sick from eating Hernian food.”
Actually, he didn’t want to stay in Hernia for long. He was worried about Rin, who would be alone here, so he just wanted them to return as soon as possible. If his wife hadn’t asked him to come along with her, he wouldn’t have come.
“Chronic stomach pain?”
Chloe was confused by Gaon’s remark. She wondered if this stranger’s words were true or not.
“I heard that my wife left Hernia and her family because of illness. Did you really not know that Rin has been sick?”
Catherine was sick? Chloe didn’t notice anything specific regarding that. Her sister didn’t appear different from usual except for going out frequently at that time.
“She must have hidden it better than I thought.”
Gaon murmured bitterly.
“She might have not eaten properly. Especially since Hernia’s food doesn’t suit Rin.”
However, the more she listened to Gaon, the more memories, which had been hidden in the back of her mind, began to emerge one by one.
–I’m worried, darling. Cathy keeps skipping meals.
–You know that Catherine doesn’t eat properly when she starts working, don’t you? It must be difficult for her, so we shouldn’t bother her with food.
–But she’s been skipping it a lot lately…
–She must be so preoccupied that she forgot to eat. I think she will make a masterpiece this time.
Catherine often skipped her meals when she started working, and each time their parents would have similar conversations. That was the reason why Chloe didn’t take the conversation seriously at that time.
“And I heard she vomited blood.”
‘She vomited blood?’
Chloe sucked in her breath at those unexpected words.
‘But I don’t remember… it?’
And she recalled the memories which gave Gaon’s words creedence.
The day Catherine’s work was finished nine years ago. The day Chloe was hurt by her older sister who had imitated her painting.
Chloe glanced back when she ran away from her sister’s studio. She was expecting Catherine to come after her.
However, Catherine didn’t follow her. When she saw her sister through the crevice of the door, which was slowly closing on its own, she was sitting on the ground while covering her mouth, her body slumped forward.
‘Why is she crying when I’m the one who’s supposed to cry?’
Chloe thought her sister was crying at that time. Now that she thought about it again, she realized it was the kind of movement to stop herself from vomiting. That is if the man in front of her was telling the truth.
“Rin is very sorry. She regretted what she did to her younger sister’s painting.”
And what Gaon said was true. Catherine imitating Chloe’s painting was something that remained between them.
Chloe’s eyes were filled with tears. She suddenly remembered her painting that Catherine had copied.
Catherine was covered in blood in her elegant self-portrait. It was a painting that had a creepy and grotesque feeling. It was completely different from her usual painting style, which captured heavenly beauty on canvas.
-Painting is a window into the artist’s inner self.
When they were still young, Catherine often taught her younger sister what she learned at the academy. Chloe, who longed to go to the academy, begged her to teach her.
–If you look at a painting, you can guess their thoughts, feelings, and how the artist views the world.
And Chloe felt that what her sister said was true.
‘What happened to her back then…?’
Catherine, who woke up from her nap, called out to Gaon.
He was the only one who would rush to her even when she spoke faintly.
‘Oh, he must have gone to meet Chloe. He must have not returned yet.’
Catherine looked around the room while wiping the sweat off her forehead.
It had been a few years since she left Hernia. Although she couldn’t walk around freely, she felt unfamiliar when looking at the stone buildings, which was the Empire’s iconic style. Was it because she had seen wooden buildings for nearly eight years?
‘I never thought I’d come back.’
Even though Catherine returned to her home country, she still suffered from terrible homesickness. She must have missed Hernia more than she thought.
Even though she had a foolish and promiscuous past here, she still missed it.
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