“I...I’m a professor.”
Stella stared at him with narrowed eyes, then clearly said the words that could not leave his mouth for him.
“Professor, do you like me?”
“N-n-no! Th-that’s nonsense! I’m a p-professor, how could I do that to a student!”
He leapt immediately into denial, and Stella’s expression turned dismayed.
“So you don’t...”
Her shoulders drooped, and Wayne Hill’s heart lurched.
“It’s not...well, for a professor to think about a student like that...”
“Is it forbidden?”
“Not really. It’s not unprecedented, and not so long ago...no, no.”
“Did you look for the precedent?”
“No! I overheard it by chance.”
“...So you didn’t look.”
Somehow, Wayne Hill telling the truth only served to demoralize her even further.
“I...I did find it.”
“But just because it’s acceptable doesn’t mean I’ll allow myself to indulge in it.”
Wayne Hill paused, then corrected “we.”
“Both Miss Lapis and I, we know a professor who lost her objectivity.”
“I don’t want the same experience.”
He hoped that Stella would end her time at the Academy with peace and impartiality. She had to prepare herself for the future more than anyone else.
“So that’s it, Miss Lapis.”
Stella, who was usually so stubborn, unexpectedly gave him a polite nod.
“Thank you for your understanding.”
At his formal answer, Stella put together her hands and smiled.
“Thank you. I like you, too.”
“Ah, yes, and...what?!”
“I like you.”
Stella shamelessly took a step closer to him. He backed away in a hurry, but Stella managed to narrow the gap.
“I told you why we couldn’t. Didn’t you hear me?!”
“Yes, I got to know your mind well. So it’s only for you to say it aloud too.”
“...You can’t say it.”
Wayne Hill’s heart throbbed again painfully.
“If you insist, then I’ll listen to you a little.”
Stella somehow got the knack of dealing with the professor.
“I like you, professor.”
“Really. I’ve liked you for a long time, haven’t you noticed?”
“I didn’t know that. If you don’t mind me asking, since when...?”
“If you can tell me when you started liking me, I’ll tell you.”
“That’s, I-I can’t tell you...”
He was a professor.
“...I want to hear it.”
Stella squared her shoulders, and Wayne Hill felt that he had no choice but to tell the truth.
“It was last autumn. The day we found the flowers...no, what am I saying?”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said any of this...”
He pressed his fingers against his forehead then looked at Stella again.
“Anyway, these conversations are strictly forbidden until your graduation.”
“Don’t say it so prettily! And, well, I’m a professor!”
“But I like you. Don’t you like me?”
“Of course I like you, too. But until graduation...we can’t!”
Wayne Hill sat down and cradled his head. His mind must have lost its function to crumble under such a simple conversation. The words that wanted to come out of his stupid mouth had no sign of wanting to slow down.
Professor Wayne Hill was a genius.
He was perfectly prepared to rebuff Stella’s confession. Although Stella was unhappy that he wouldn’t say he liked her back, she understood his wanting to be fair, even if he wasn’t teaching her.
And so, she spent autumn and winter with their relationship undefined. Stella finished her time at the Academy at a perfectly respectable second place in the exams, and decided to work for the Sweeney family as soon as she graduated.
The Lapis family was still a long way off to regaining their family name. She wanted to put in a request right now, but only when she was perfectly prepared to do so.
Stella hesitated in front of the lecture hall after her graduation ceremony. According to the promise made by both of them, they could say anything to each other after the graduation ceremony.
Like that they liked each other.
It was strange. The professor’s attitude was lukewarm to her yesterday, but it seemed unchanged today.
After a moment of concern, Stella knocked at the door of the lecture hall. No reply came. Was he not inside? She had checked in the greenhouse earlier, and he wasn’t there.
Stella pulled the doorknob carefully. When she opened the door, she saw Professor Hill leaning back on a chair with his eyes closed.
She called out to him in a small whisper but there was no reply. Was he sleeping? There were towers of books stacked on his desk, so she thought he might be.
It was a shame. She thought he would definitely wait for her today, but it looked like things would be just as they were.
Stella crept up to him and looked closely at his face. Suddenly, she was struck by a sudden urge to play a joke. She carefully pulled off his glasses just like long ago, barely holding back a grin.
‘He’s so handsome...’
She admired not only the shape of his sharp jawline, but also his high nose and his eyes that were as green as a summer tree.
Stella stopped thinking and stared straight into the professor’s opened eyes. She must have awakened him again. She smiled awkwardly with his glasses in her hands.
“Oh, hello, professor.”
He did not reply immediately. Instead, he smiled sheepishly and pulled her waist until she sat in his lap. Stella’s head suddenly leaned on his chest.
His arms tightened around her a little harder.
“...I thought it was you.”
Stella was a good student, so she decided to go over one thing just in case.
“You don’t think it’s a dream, do you?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that last time it hurt.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
He apologized with his lips buried in Stella’s hair. Feeling a tickle, Stella quickly lifted her upper body, but she still embarrassingly remained seated on his lap.
“How come you’ve suddenly changed so much?”
“It was a promise.”
That was true!
Stella looked down at her hands and realized that she had dropped his glasses when he had pulled her. As soon as he realized what Stella was looking for, Wayne Hill smiled and pulled her chin back to him.
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
“But you need them!”
“It’s not an inconvenience. I can see well.”
“But you said you can’t see gestures when you’re far away.”
“So I brought you in front of me.”
“...Do you originally have such a forward personality?”
“Ah, well, it’s...”
“I like you, Stella Lapis.”
“I like you.”
“O-oh, of course I like you too, I mean...”
In the past, it would have been a reply that Professor Wayne Hill would’ve given to Stella. He smiled in amusement and patted Stella on the cheek.
“It’s just weird to think of! You’ve never treated me like this!”
He lifted his eyebrows as if to say, “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Treating someone I like is different from treating a student.”
“It’s still strange that you speak so clearly.”
“Speaking truth things is my best job.”
“But if you don’t like this, shall I wait again?”
“Are you serious?”
He laughed instead of answering, and his usually sharp gaze softened.
“Patience is one of my best traits.”
Stella shook her head quickly. He had been under Professor Lassen, and she knew how much he had to endure.
“You don’t have to...I think it’s okay.”
Stella nodded her head in answer to his question. From now on, both of them would only tell the truth. Not because they had to find or prove something, but just because they could be honest with each other.
“You know, professor.”
Stella grabbed him by the sleeve and whispered.
“I like you, too.”
“That is...thank you.”
He kissed her hair, and Stella giggled.
It was real happiness.
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