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    “And don’t have any more strange thoughts. It was my choice to come here. And these days, I’m having a lot of fun every single day.”

    “Okay, I won’t. I’ll trust you.”

    “Anyway, that’s why I couldn’t readily accept the business card and go. I might put Lee Hyun in danger if I went without weighing the pros and cons. I guess I’ve become a bit more meticulous.”

    So that was the reason he had sought out information about that person through interviews and paintings. I felt ashamed of myself for thinking Cesare had matured without even knowing that. As I quietly lowered my gaze, Cesare spoke with a bright smile.

    “Shall we get going now?”

    “Ah, yeah. Let’s go… Ouch.”

    I had gotten up from my seat, but I plopped back down due to a pain in my ankle that felt like it was being gouged out.

    “What’s wrong? Does your ankle hurt?”

    “It, it hurts a bit. I think I twisted it when I fell earlier.”

    “Let me see.”

    At my words, Cesare knelt down on one knee and rolled up my pants. When he pulled down the sock, a swollen, reddened ankle was revealed.

    “I don’t think I can walk right now.”

    “It’s okay, if you just support me… Aargh!”

    As Cesare gently massaged around the swollen ankle, a scream immediately escaped my lips, and tears welled up. He seemed to be checking the condition, but my ankle hurt too much to pretend to be fine. Cesare made an awkward expression as he looked at me with tears brimming in my eyes.

    “I don’t think support will be enough.”

    It was clear he felt sorry. It was an accident anyway. Just as I opened my mouth to say it was okay, Cesare beat me to it.

    “Which do you prefer, being carried in my arms or on my back?”

    “……”

    ……I couldn’t help but feel like he was somehow enjoying this.

    “I think being carried on your back would be better.”

    Cesare, who had just finished the last gelato, turned his back to me. It was a broad back that anyone would want to be carried on at least once. I quietly climbed onto Cesare’s back. The sky had already grown dark. There were also far fewer people. As we walked towards the hotel relying on the streetlights, Cesare spoke.

    “Lee Hyun.”

    “Yes?”

    “You don’t really want to go back to the hotel, do you?”

    I inhaled sharply at Cesare’s pointed question. Then, I tried my best to open my mouth as if it was nothing.

    “No. Why do you think that?”

    “You were eager to get out of Mr. Giovanni’s atelier, but after coming out, you listened to music, ate arancini, and had gelato.”

    I felt a little wronged for some reason.

    “You’re the one who said we should listen to music, and you bought the arancini and gelato.”

    “I did that because it seemed like you wanted to, Lee Hyun.”

    “That’s not true.”

    “Are you afraid to see Matthias?”

    “……”

    I felt like I had been stabbed by Cesare’s words. It was an undeniable truth.

    What kind of gaze would Matthias look at me with when we got to the hotel?

    What would happen to our relationship? It might be a simple conclusion like I lost my cell phone, but if it wasn’t… what should I do?

    Such thoughts became entangled, and I found myself hesitating even though I knew I had to return to the hotel. I wanted to see Matthias, but at the same time, I didn’t want to. Seeing him, the things that might happen if I saw him, scared me.

    “If you’re being honest, I’ll take another lap around for you.”

    When I raised my head, we had already arrived in front of the hotel. I whispered softly into Cesare’s ear as I hesitated.

    “…Okay.”

    Cesare, who burst into laughter, began to walk again.

    “…Am I not heavy?”

    “I can easily do three laps.”

    Cesare’s back was warm and cozy. So were his consideration and gentleness. I suddenly wanted to tell this story.

    “Cesare.”

    “Yes, Lee Hyun. Go ahead.”

    “Do you remember what I said before? That I didn’t trust anyone. Whether it was religion or people. But I trust you guys.”

    I cleared my throat in embarrassment and spoke.

    “In this world where there’s no one to trust, you guys are my only faith. Even if someone I can trust appears as time passes, just like you said, you guys will be the only ones I can trust and love unconditionally.”

    “Lee Hyun, you really…”

    Cesare pondered for a moment before continuing.

    “You seem like a person who says all the right things without knowing anything.”

    “What do you mean by that?”

    Was it a riddle? As I tilted my head in confusion, Cesare spoke.

    “I should give a prize to an honest person. Somehow, it feels like I’m giving it to Matthias, though.”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “It’s okay if you don’t know. Lee Hyun.”

    “Yes?”

    “Try talking to Matthias.”

    I didn’t expect to receive such direct advice.

    “It will be fine, really. It might unexpectedly be no big deal and get resolved without any issues.”

    “…You think so?”

    “Of course.”

    When Cesare said it, it somehow felt like it would really be that way. I might have already made up my mind and was just waiting for someone to give me a push.

    “Okay. I’ll make sure to have a proper talk with him.”

    As I was talking about my resolution, a familiar voice rang in my ears.

    “Lee Hyun!”

    When I raised my head towards the direction of the sound, Absilon was leaning dangerously out of the balcony. Judging by his appearance, it was clear he had been looking outside waiting for us to arrive as soon as he got there.

    “Eek, we’ve been caught.”

    Cesare spoke as if it couldn’t be helped. It seemed Ludwig and Matthias were also there, as two more figures rose from their seats. I lowered my head without even realizing it.

    “Now, put me down.”

    “With that ankle?”

    “It’s fine, hurry.”

    Cesare carefully put me down. Even though I barely put any weight on the twisted side, my ankle throbbed.

    “Put your hand on this shoulder.”

    Cesare spoke as he supported me. As soon as we entered the hotel, Absilon came running towards me.

    “Lee Hyun.”

    Despite the considerable distance from the room to the hotel front desk, Absilon approached me out of breath. He must really like me. When Absilon saw me limping while being supported by Cesare, his eyebrows immediately drooped.

    “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

    “I fell and sprained my ankle. It’s no big deal.”

    Absilon naturally took a spot on the opposite side of Cesare and supported me. Both Cesare and I knew it was just a ploy, and even the decorative cabinet over there knew, but I was too lazy to refuse, so I obediently accepted Absilon’s support.

    As we got into the elevator, Absilon scrutinized me from all angles. I tried to avoid his gaze but ended up observing Absilon as well. I hope he hasn’t been getting beaten up somewhere again. It would be nice if he could take care of himself, but he can’t seem to do that, making me worry. As if he knew he had caught my attention, Absilon grinned.

    “Don’t smile.”

    “Okay.”

    At my single remark, the corners of Absilon’s mouth that had risen in a smile immediately fell. I had to put in a lot of effort to maintain a solemn atmosphere because I felt like I would burst into laughter at the sight.

    As we walked down the corridor with beige carpets after exiting the elevator, the door to our room was open, with light spilling out. When Cesare fully opened the door, I lowered my head without realizing it. Two pairs of shoes came into view. One was Ludwig’s, and the other was probably Matthias’. My heart pounded with tension.

    I hesitated before raising my head, and Matthias, who seemed to have become a little haggard, came into view. Behind Matthias, who was looking at me, it seemed like an invisible tail was wagging frantically. I gulped and opened my mouth.

    “Uh… You’re here.”

    “Y-Yeah. Mhm.”

    …It was so awkward. A strange silence followed at the doorway where the five of us had gathered. I felt like running away just like that. The one who saved us from the strange silence was Cesare.

    “Let’s go inside first. Lee Hyun, you should sit down.”

    “Lee Hyun is hurt.”

    “Where are you hurt?”

    Matthias asked in surprise at Absilon’s words.

    “It’s really nothing. I just sprained it a bit.”

    As soon as I sat on the sofa, Absilon took off my sock and checked the condition. My ankle, which had swollen much more than before, was visible.

    “Ooh, that must hurt.”

    “Not really…”

    …Although I said that, seeing how swollen it was, it kind of seemed to hurt a bit.

    “Hold this for a bit.”

    Ludwig brought an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Absilon sulked as he rubbed my foot.

    “You don’t need to go to the hospital, right?”

    “No, why are you making such a fuss over a slightly sprained ankle? If I put a warm compress on it, it’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

    I thought if they made this much of a fuss over a single ankle, the house would be in complete chaos if I broke a bone somewhere. I should try not to get hurt as much as possible. With that resolution, I sprawled out on the sofa.

    “Oh, right, Absilon, did you bring the card?”

    “Yep! Here it is.”

    Absilon held out the card with a grin. I couldn’t be happier. I felt like kissing the card.

    “I wanted to have dinner at a nice place to celebrate getting the card, but with my ankle like this, I guess we can’t go out to eat.”

    Even if I told them to go out and eat, they probably wouldn’t. It would be the same even if one of the other kids got hurt instead of me.

    “Is there anything you want to eat?”

    “Hmm… Should we have burgers or pizza? No. Since it’s the last day, should we order room service?”

    Today was our last day in Rome. Tomorrow, we were scheduled to take a privately booked car and head down to Amalfi. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t properly go sightseeing even though I had come all the way to Rome.

    “I’m fine with anything, Lee Hyun.”

    “Room service sounds good. I want to try it.”

    “I’ll go get the menu.”

    Absilon ran off and brought the menu. He looked just like a faithful dog. I spoke in a pretentious tone.

    “Order whatever you want to eat. Don’t worry about the money.”

    What I just said sounded really like a rich man, and it felt great. I began to examine the menu, satisfied with myself.

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