I’ve been very quiet lately because I was writing two chapters in a row. Thank you all for your patience! For those who aren’t familiar with Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS) spoilers, please bear with me. I don’t want to repeat what Mizuki had already written in the epilogue, so this chapter begins near its end. Because of this, some time had elapsed since the previous chapter, so be ready for flashbacks here and there. I’ll provide the link to CCFS spoilers later.
Hope you like this chapter as much as I do! ❤ If you spot any mistake, please kindly let me know. 🙂
“Good night, Candy,” said Albert in a soft voice right after planting a peck on her cheek, his warm breath tickling her ear. As he drew himself away after that, she practically threw herself at him, one hand resting on his chest and the other holding her old diary, which Albert had just returned to her back in Lakewood.
He stiffened but managed to clear his throat, murmuring, “Candy…”
She mumbled, pressing her cheek against his firm, comfortable chest, “Please… just five minutes. I promise.”
It was a sweet torture, feeling her soft body against his with the leather bound book between them, as if he needed a reminder about the shadow looming over his future with Candy. Yet, he complied and lowered his head, locking her petite frame in his strong arms and breathing in her flowery scent, just like what he had done earlier today, when Candy had been shedding uncontrollable tears for his dear nephew, Anthony. Unlike this afternoon in the enchanting forest, she was rather quiet and thoughtful right now.
Little did he know that she missed him already, unsure when he would visit her again. His absence prior to today had been agonizingly long, and getting his sentimental letter from São Paulo had made the wait even more intolerable for her. How could she not realize back in the apartment he was everything she should want in a man?
In fact, her Prince on the Hill was everything she wanted to be herself. Ever since their very first encounter, he had seen her tears; she had sprinted up the hill, her refuge, to supposedly hide from everyone, including her loving caretakers, only to meet the first love of her life.
Yes indeed, she was back to her first love. She could hardly spend a day without thinking of him these days. Therefore, the moment he had invited her to go to Lakewood with him early this morning, no words could describe her exhilaration. He would spend lots of time with her, meaning that he hadn’t forgotten her original birthday wish.
For the time being, she relived the moment when he had lovingly pulled her towards his bosom to comfort her when she had blamed herself for being the culprit of causing Anthony’s death. Rather than playing down or belittling her grief, he had uttered to her, his voice dripped with melancholy, “It was I who adopted you… It was I who ordered the fox hunting… ”
She had been flabbergasted by the deep regret and sharp anguish in his tone. Only then she had realized all these years he might have been tormented by the thought that he had unintentionally taken Anthony’s life. As she understood firsthand the pain to have lost someone dear to the heart, she couldn’t bear inflicting chastisement upon Albert as the dominant cause of the tragedy.
Nevertheless, they were both involved and somewhat responsible for the disastrous consequence. She had been sobbing so hard that her body couldn’t stop shaking and her tears had soaked his shirt, but he had held her tighter in the safety of his loving arms, as if he had wanted her to transfer her sorrows to him. Moments later, he had reasoned, no one could have foreseen the accident, so it had been nobody’s fault. Right then, his words had miraculously liberated her; the heavy weight of the guilt and blame had been lifted away from her.
Meanwhile, she snuggled even closer to him, hearing his steady heartbeat and savoring his body heat, his warm breath on the crown of her head, and his familiar fragrance. As always, she had found solace in his embrace, and how she wished she could hold him like this forever, but all of a sudden, the way the expensive linen of his crumpled shirt had clung damply to his chest this afternoon, outlining his pectoral muscles, resurfaced in her mind. Instantaneously, her pulse raced and her face reddened with a rush of blood. Feeling self-conscious, she reluctantly released her grip on him. Just then, a cool night breeze swept over them, chilling the warmth of her cheeks, ruffling her blond hair and making her dress move as though it was alive.
When she brushed the stray strands of hair away from her face, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Before he knew it, he reached out to gently thread his fingers through her tousled, blond curls. Startled, she looked up, only to meet his intense gaze. As she gaped at him, swallowing hard and feeling butterflies in her stomach, he scrutinized her features, his hands sliding down to cup her face. Yearning flashed in his eyes when he opened his mouth, but nothing came forth. A couple of seconds later, he inhaled sharply and suddenly closed their distance by kissing her.
She gasped, but it was the pleasant kind of surprise. She had been longing to feel his lips on hers, so she responded to him with fervor, shedding tears of happiness. Feeling encouraged, he deepened the kiss, and she melted in his love, unknowingly letting go of the diary that she had been holding. It fell right on her toes, causing her to yelp in pain, “Ouch!”
Candy shot up in bed, her cheeks burning in shame and her heart pounding furiously; the dream seemed so real that she couldn’t help uncovering her feet to check if her toes were bruised. No, they look fine, of course…
Still reeling from the wild dream, she sighed, pulling her knees towards her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin on top of her knees. The kids sharing the large bedroom with her were fast asleep at present, and she was relieved nobody would know about her dream of kissing her prince. At this point, his striking blue eyes flashed across her mind, and she whispered, “Little Bert… when will I see you again?”
She recalled the first time she had timidly called him “Little Bert”, a name given by his dear late sister, Rosemary. His features had broken into a smile of joy and affection. Nodding to her encouragingly, he had said, “I like it, Candy, very much.” Then, with courage, she had attempted using a louder voice, “Little Bert!”
He had appeared delighted, fondly petting her hair and looking tenderly into her eyes. “Yes, that’s it.”
Then she had laughed, unexpectedly running away from him. “Catch me if you can, Little Bert!”
Chortling out loud, he had gladly accepted her challenge and caught her shoulders in no time, turning her around and murmuring, “I feel that I’m bound to your spell, Miss Sorceress.”
She had collapsed in giggling. It must be the spell she had cast on him prior to her birthday earlier this year. “Ahhhh, so my spell is working after all!”
Only then he had released her and continued touring the premises of the Ardlay’s villa in Lakewood with her. It had been the happiest day in her life yet, even happier than her twenty-first birthday in Chicago when she had received presents after presents from him.
His love and thoughtfulness in celebrating her birthday had moved her to tears, but deep down, she treasured his presence more than anything else. Now, almost two weeks had elapsed since her prince had spent his entire day with her that fine summer day, just the two of them, on a Sunday. After spending several hours in Lakewood, he had driven her back to Pony’s Home that night. Then, hugging each other, he had indeed leaned forward, scrutinized her face and run his tender fingers through her locks, trying to smooth her wind-tossed hair for her as in her dream, but before long he had taken a deep breath and stepped backwards, bidding her goodnight once more and heading towards his car.
Currently, as the pre-dawn light infused the room, Candy felt that her cheeks were gradually cooling down. She wondered if Albert had received her letter yet, the letter she had sealed with love and gratitude from the bottom of her heart. Just as she had predicted, she couldn’t sleep that night despite being exhausted from work that day. She had been anxious to find out how Albert would react. Would he write her a reply or would he pay her yet another sudden visit? She hoped to see him in person if she was given a choice. She ached with the longing to feel his protective arms around her.
Albert would usually come on Sundays when Candy had her day off for sure. Sometimes she had to work on Saturdays, but not today. Dr. Martin had made new friends in the village, and they would go fishing together today.
Just then, Candy had an urge to watch the rising sun, so she gingerly tiptoed out of bed, grabbed her morning robe and quietly left the bedroom on bare feet. After the renovation, thanks to Albert’s generosity, the floor would no longer creak with every step, so not a soul was disturbed when she was heading towards the bathroom down the hall.
Having enough windows near the ceiling in this public bathroom, there was no need to turn on the light during the day. She swiftly washed her face and brushed her hair, tying her long tresses up into a ponytail. When she was satisfied with her looks, she went straight to the front entrance and put on her morning robe. As expected, it was a little chilly outside, and very foggy too, but she didn’t mind a bit. She knew the path by heart.
She liked going up the hill without shoes, and right now she relished feeling the dew on the grass under her feet. Miss Pony had admonished her once, “This is not a good example for the kids, Candy.”
Yet, Candy was alone at the moment, and if Albert was really serious about their relationship, she didn’t know how many more times she could run up Pony’s Hill barefooted or whether she could feel the grass with her toes again. However, for her beloved Prince on the Hill, she was willing to give up all these, and she prayed that her message in her long letter was obvious enough to him. Yes, Albert, my happiness lies in you and you alone. I need you, and I sense that you need me too when you hold me. Whenever our eyes meet, I feel love like I’ve never felt before…
That day in Lakewood, after unlocking the door to the family memorial hall, Albert had picked up a flat velvet box engraved with the Ardlay insignia on top of a writing desk. Then, taking her hand, he had gently uncurled her fingers to expose her palm, where he could place the velvet box. Flipping it open to show its content, he had remarked, “For you, Candy.”
While she could only stare at him, bewildered to see the familiar silver badge again, he had explained, “This is meant to be passed down to the male heir, but who says I can’t change the tradition? Therefore, please accept it as my gift to you, Candy. I know how much it means to you, so you won’t… you will remember me…”
He had faltered, diverting his eyes to a prominent portrait not far away from them. Then, as though nothing special had happened, he had introduced the gorgeous-looking couple in the portrait to her, “Candy, want to meet my parents?”
She could see love in his blue eyes, but her mind had been preoccupied with his words, you will remember me…
She believed he had alluded to their first encounter on the hill, where she had discovered the badge. Since it had always represented him, it had struck her that he wanted her not to forget him, ever.
“Prince on the Hill…” she murmured to herself right now, wandering around the spot where Albert had stood after coming all the way from Chicago to Pony’s Home on a fine spring day just to confess to her. Even though George had soon interrupted Albert’s dreamy confession, she could never forget the moment when Albert had responded with moist eyes and in a hoarse voice, “…you’re also pretty when you’re crying, little girl…”
Anthony had promised to come to Pony’s Hill with her, but he had passed away. Terry had stepped on the winter soil up here for a short time, but without her. Only Albert, her prince, had shared this refuge with her, again and again. They had been tied by an invisible thread after all.
“Invisible thread? What do you mean?” Albert had been baffled by her remark. He couldn’t stay long to celebrate her birthday with her. When he had to leave with George, she had taken the chance to thank him and George for all the birthday presents, especially painstakingly finding Caesar and Cleopatra for her. While George had humbly dipped his head and slid into the driver’s seat, waiting for his young boss, Candy had started, “Just like the horses, they’re meant to be… after being separately sold to different owners, they could now get back together, happily…” she had continued her feeble attempt to articulate her thoughts, but her voice had faded away. Yet, Albert had comprehended her simply by looking at her eyes. “Candy, I got it. My sentiment exactly. So true.”
Then, planting a light kiss on her forehead as his customary goodbye to her, he had added, “Enjoy the rest of your special day with your friends, Candy. Happy birthday to you!” He couldn’t possibly know how much she’d rather spend the day with him, alone.
Anyway, Albert had indeed understood what Candy had implied. Later in one of his letters to her he had brought up this topic and acknowledged that they had been tethered by an invisible thread; their paths had somehow crossed time after time despite being so far apart for so long.
Come to think of it, even his runaway in his youth had led him to a poor little girl living several hours of driving distance away, consoling her and encouraging her to smile. Since then, neither of them could forget the details of that brief encounter, as though their lives had already been connected. Therefore, Candy had meant wholeheartedly when she had written to Albert in her letter, ‘I… to my parents who abandoned me at Pony’s Home, I’m extremely grateful. Thanks to them, I was able to meet Albert, that’s why!’
Oh, how she missed her prince at this point in time; her heart constricted with deep yearning. Is it possible I have misconstrued his intentions of returning the diary to me? He wants me to be happy, right?
She shook her head vigorously as if trying to shove any lingering doubt to the farthest reaches of her mind. My days back in London will never compare to the time I have shared with Albert so far!
Then she talked to Anthony in her mind, Anthony, please, please watch over me… for sure you know my feelings for your uncle… But how about him? Does he know?
“Candy,” said Sister Lane, jolting the girl from her reverie. “You have a visitor, from Chicago-”
Before she could finish, the girl was exceedingly thrilled. She gave Sister Lane a quick hug to thank her, loosened her ponytail and dashed down the hill at her top speed.
“Wait, Candy!” cried Sister Lane, but the blond girl had already disappeared in the thick fog.
If Candy hadn’t been missing Albert so much, she would have noticed the worried frown between Sister Lane’s gray brows. When Candy saw the polished black car with Ardlay’s insignia parked near the entrance, she didn’t even pause before pushing open the main door of the orphanage.
“Albert!” she called him with enthusiasm, her gaze darting around the lobby.
Miss Pony peeked her head out of her office, ready to beckon her in, but before Candy could react, Great Aunt Elroy appeared from inside the office, leaning her weight on her personal maid’s arm. Candy should have known that Albert didn’t normally drive a car with family insignia. Then she heard, “Candice, is that how you greet an elderly in the morning?”
Madam Elroy looked her up and down and scrunched her wrinkled face in disapproval. Candy instantly blushed in embarrassment. She wished she could hide right this instant, as she was aware she couldn’t have possibly looked more like a farm girl. Her locks were unkempt, and she was clad in her pajamas and morning robe, her feet dirty with wet grass and dirt.
Yet, to her great surprise, Great Aunt Elroy invited the girl to talk with her alone inside the office. “Thank you, Miss Pony. It won’t be long, that I assure you.”
As soon as the two sat down on the sofa, the old lady began, “I’ll make this short if you can cooperate with me, Candice. Miss Pony said she hadn’t seen William since about two weeks ago. Now, be honest, where is he?”
“What?” the girl blurted out, but at once she apologized, “I’m sorry, Great Aunt Elroy. I didn’t mean to raise my voice. Yet, I must say I don’t know his whereabouts. ”
The old lady cast her a suspicious glance before she resumed, her expression suddenly softened, “I should thank you, Candy, for taking care of William for so long when he was sick. I don’t know how to pay back your kindness to him, so I didn’t stop him when I found out he had paid out of his own pocket to purchase the land and finance the reconstruction and renovation of this orphanage.”
When she paused to sip her cup of tea, Candy didn’t say anything in response. She was highly disturbed by Great Aunt Elroy’s original question about her nephew. What’s happened? Has he disappeared?
Hence, the old lady’s pleading voice made her jump, “If you still think that’s not enough, what else do you want from us, Candice? What will make you leave William for good?”
The girl couldn’t believe her ears. “I beg your pardon, Great Aunt Elroy?”
It was difficult for the old lady not to lose patience when William had gone missing since yesterday morning after having a heated argument with her about Candice over the course of breakfast. He had related to his aunt that he had been suppressing his feelings for the orphan girl, but things had improved lately. Due to mutual attraction, they had entered courtship for a while now, and for this reason he had officially filed for adoption annulment. The breaking news had caught Madam Elroy utterly off guard, but the astonishment had soon turned into rage and subsequently dissuasion. However, he had refused to discuss this any further, and he couldn’t finish his plate. Before leaving the mansion, he had declared in a level tone, “Aunt Elroy, you have my respect, so I meant to inform you what’s going on in my private life. Please note that I’m not seeking approval from you whatsoever.”
But he hadn’t gone to work as usual. Even George hadn’t seen William at all. According to George, William had called his secretary to confirm that nothing had required his presence for the day, so he would delegate tasks to George or his subordinates. Nonetheless, Madam Elroy had spent the whole day contemplating various mental strategies in order to talk some senses into her nephew, but William hadn’t come home. She had stayed up for the night, waiting for her nephew, but the longer she had waited, the more frantic she had become. Madam Elroy had dreaded that William had resorted to elopement, so she had determined to track him down, but first and foremost, she would try to find Candice.
Therefore, Madam Elroy was more than relieved that Candice was seemingly just as clueless. At least the girl was still around. As long as William wasn’t with the orphan, Madam Elroy had time to spare. Not to mention that the girl was apparently the easier target to tackle, given their relative positions in the family.
“I mean,” the old lady started to clarify herself, “I can do anything in my power for you with the condition that you will not see him ever again.”
“Never,” the girl couldn’t have responded faster. “Never will I promise you that, Great Aunt Elroy,” replied Candy to the point, her voice amazingly placid but firm.
Madam Elroy eyed Candice, masking her astonishment of getting such a response from the normally meek girl. Since his debut, William had put extra efforts to amend the relationship between Aunt Elroy and Candice. Over time, Aunt Elroy had gradually developed a liking for the girl, so the two had been in good terms for a while now. However, to treat her as a remote family member was entirely different from accepting her as the future lady of the house. Hence, Madam Elroy was unwilling to back down yet, and she proposed, “How about I send you to London or Paris? You’re wasting your time and talents here in this countryside. They are still in desperate need of experienced nurses after the great war, and I have connections with some hospital directors over there.”
Candy hesitated. The idea of working in a large hospital had occasionally crossed her mind, and yet, imagining the rest of her life without Albert made her heart ache, as if imagining her days with no more sunshine. Thus, she took a deep breath and declined, “Thank you for caring about me and my future, Great Aunt Elroy, but I won’t go if that means I can’t see your nephew again.”
The old lady had run out of patience now. Taking advantage of the girl’s kindness, Madam Elroy explained in detail how the questionable nature of her nephew’s relationship with his adopted daughter had considerably marred his reputation, ruining his prospect of marrying a lady from a respectable family. In other words, the scandal had put William in a bad light, making him the laughing stock of the high society for years. Therefore, they should do something concrete to squelch all this negative publicity.
While the old lady was still talking, Candy had remained pensive and avoided the eyes of the persuasive matriarch. Just then, the old lady abruptly changed the topic, “Has he proposed to you?”
The girl shook her head, looking down her lap. “No,” came her terse reply in a low voice, and she mused, has my relationship with Albert reached this stage already?
Madam Elroy was aware that William had recently taken Candice to Lakewood without a chaperone, but it wasn’t time to talk about propriety. The matriarch had a more pressing matter at hand, so she implored, “Will you promise me not to accept him if he does?”
“No, I won’t,” Candy retorted in a murmur, standing up without warning and taking a big step away from the matriarch.
At that, Madam Elroy frowned and pursed her lips in chagrin, craning her neck to glare at the girl. When awkward silence befell them, Candy bit her bottom lip, shaking her head nonstop as though she wanted to emphasize her preceding, straightforward answer.
So Madam Elroy employed a less confrontational approach. “Aren’t you grateful to your adoptive father? Is that how you repay him?”
“I love him!” Candy couldn’t help pronouncing, tears welling in her emerald eyes. Then she quickly added, “From the depths of my heart!”
“Exactly, Candice! So that’s why I’m here,” the matriarch spoke in a patient and kind tone. “You’re simply too naïve, or perhaps too stubborn to accept the reality-”
Before she could finish, the girl buried her face in her hands and began to sob. “I love your nephew,” Candy repeated. “I really do…”
Her voice trailed off. Great Aunt Elroy was right. Candy had been ignorant of the extent of the rumors, and though damage had already been done to Albert’s life, her resolve was rapidly melting away like a sugar cube in hot tea. Then the old lady’s words further fanned the flames, “Yes, but Candice, you will eventually regret. Your attachment to him will only bring downfall to his life.”
As much as Candy was hopelessly in love with Albert, she perceived she herself had been the ultimate cause of his being ridiculed by others. Then she heard Great Aunt Elroy say, “If I were you, I would leave William… before it’s too late.”
Understanding the reasons why his aunt was desperate to make her disappear in his life, Candy thought out loud between her sobs, “I know… I shouldn’t… make him suffer anymore… because of me…”
Just when Madam Elroy’s eyes lit up, believing that she had gained the upper hand and the girl had come to her senses at last, a resounding knock startled them both. In a split second, the door to the office was swung open. The young man who entered into the office earned an audible gasp from the ladies inside, and he sniffed as if he had a cold. As he gave the old lady a polite nod, the corners of his lips curling up a bit, Madam Elroy was relieved yet unnerved to see him here, unsure how to proceed at this dramatic turn of event. Candy looked at him through her tears, wondering if she was dreaming. He had appeared out of nowhere again, this time looking particularly handsome in his business attire of navy suit, black leather shoes, white shirt, and a striped tie in blue and white.
When Candy was in a trance, the man opened his arms wide, smiling broadly at her. Then he sniffed again but uttered invitingly, “Come, Candy, come to me.”
His affectionate voice could always bring smile to Candy’s face and make her temporarily forget what was troubling her. “Albert!” she cried out and wasted no time, striding towards her prince.
“William! Candice!” The old lady was upset about the setback, but she demanded their immediate attention nonetheless.
Yet, the two had missed each other so much that neither of them could hear the warning voice, as if everything else around them, including the matriarch, had magically disappeared. When Candy was close enough, she made a leap and flung herself into Albert’s arms. As she found herself sinking into his loving embrace, he ran his fingers through her hair, his free hand cradling her head and pressing her face to his chest. Then he hunched slightly forward and spoke tenderly to her, “I love you too, Candy.”
Candy froze, her eyes doubled in size. Albert had heard her. He must have heard her words from outside. Then he sniffed, his voice getting hoarser and more nasal every second, “I love you beyond the depths of my soul… I can’t find the right words… to express… my happiness right now.”
His heartfelt confession stirred her heartstrings and brought fresh tears brimming in her eyes. Then he gently pushed her away from him and wiped her tear-stained face with his thumbs. Today, he looked even younger than usual, like a boy who could finally unwrap the long awaited present. She blinked back her tears, her eyelashes quivering in emotion and the pounding of her heart roaring in her ears. For the time being, tears threatened to spill from his eyes too, but he was smiling and snuffling, his eyes luminant pools of bliss. As he stroked her face with his hands, his fingertips brushing over her jaw line and his breath caressing her nose, she shivered at his loving touch and was frozen in place, a mix of surprise and anticipation painted all over her face. Her eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to his lips, the shape of which long imprinted in her mind. Immediately, she felt a tug of desire to be kissed as in her vivid dream, and the warmth of a blush crawled up her neck in no time.
Meanwhile, the lovers were so absorbed in each other that they were oblivious that the matriarch was increasingly alarmed by their outrageous behavior and proximity. Their bodies were too dangerously close for her comfort. The old lady hadn’t realized they had reached this level of intimacy already, and she couldn’t bear the sight of them together like this, especially the girl wasn’t even properly dressed. Not only that, the old lady was seething at the sudden realization that these two must have been accustomed to seeing each other in sleepwear every day while living together for more than two years. Thus, she snarled, “Enough! That’s enough nonsense!”
The young people were staggered, spinning their heads towards the old lady. Only then they remembered that they weren’t alone. Madam Elroy had used her cane to help her rise to her feet, her face enraged and her chest heaving in fury.
Candy blushed profusely, feeling bashful and uncomfortable under the furious glare of the family matriarch. Spontaneously, Candy pulled herself away from Albert to keep some distance between them, but he reached out and clasped her hand in his, something which he rarely did. Even when walking side by side with her in Lakewood, he hadn’t held her hand. At this point, what had plagued Candy before resurfaced in her head. “Albert,” said Candy, a tremor evident in her voice, “Great Aunt Elroy told me-”
He put a finger to his mouth to signal her not to say a word, and she complied. In fact, he comprehended what was bothering her. He had arrived at the orphanage not long after Miss Pony and Sister Lane had brought the kids outside to play in spite of the fog. When he had seen his aunt’s personal maid, Marge, with them, he had got a picture in mind. Though he had been worried about Candy, out of courtesy, he had waited inside the building without interrupting the ladies, but the walls weren’t soundproof, so he had overheard their conversation. Soon he could tell that Candy, who was naturally kind-hearted and selfless, had been perturbed by his aunt’s rambling speech. That was when Candy had declared that she loved him, and his heart had skipped a beat. Feeling doubtful if he had heard it right, he had been ecstatic when she had repeated her words to Aunt Elroy that she loved her nephew. Filled with overwhelming joy, he had felt a lump forming in his throat and tears burning the back of his eyes. Just behind that door is the lady I haven’t been able to stop thinking about… Then he had decided to intervene.
Now that Albert was certain Candy loved him, he glanced at his aunt, then back at Candy. With his eyes fixated on her emerald ones, he said in a voice loud enough for his aunt to hear, “Candy, what my aunt said to you is true. I can’t control what the others are saying about me or you, but I do have complete control over how I feel about them. The truth is, I couldn’t care less.”
Hearing this, the burden weighing on her chest lightened significantly, but her concern for him remained. Then he remarked, “After all, it’s not the first time in my life I get looked down by all people around me, right?”
At her affirmative nod, he concluded emphatically, “What matters most to me is you, Candy. With you by my side, I can face whatever comes my way.”
She was tremendously moved by his words, and she momentarily lost her reasoning ability. She stood dazed, feeling dizzy and dreamy, his reassuring words ringing in her ears again and again. She thought likewise; his company meant more to her than any other thing in the world. As the frown between her brows smoothed away, her apprehension subsiding, his lips curled into a blazing, irresistible smile, which mesmerized her even more. Before she knew it, he lifted up her delicate chin and bent to her, his lips capturing hers in a chaste kiss. Dumbfounded, she was too startled to react. She hadn’t expected to be kissed right now when his aunt was just behind him, but he drew away too soon, and she missed his warm lips upon hers already. Nevertheless, the sweet kiss alone was enough to send her to cloud nine; it signified that their relationship had advanced to another level.
Her rosy lips were just as soft and intoxicating as he had imagined hundreds of times. He almost couldn’t break away, but this was certainly not the appropriate time to give her a lingering kiss. He meant to do this to seal his love with her in front of his aunt. Yet, Candy looked extraordinarily lovely to him afterwards, her flushed face breaking into such a beaming smile that he had to exert all his strength not to take her mouth with his at the moment.
Madam Elroy couldn’t really see what was going on because her nephew was blocking her view with his back facing her, but she heard everything and gathered what had occurred. She was clueless that it was actually the very first kiss they had shared, and the fact that William dared to kiss the orphan girl right before her eyes made her gray head spin. Overcome with a sense of defeat, the old lady had no more strength to remain standing. She retreated until the backs of her legs hit a chair, and she collapsed into it, dropping her cane onto the floor. Then, with her fists clenched in her lap, she lowered her face and mumbled to herself, shaking her head, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this… why… oh why… ”
Both Albert and Candy saw that, and he said, “Let me talk to my aunt. Please get changed, Candy, and wait for me. I have something to show you.”
She agreed without thinking twice and politely bid Great Aunt Elroy good day. Although the old lady didn’t even respond, Candy was way too excited to be upset about it. She desperately wanted to tell her foster mothers the good news, so she left and closed the door behind her. Albert thus turned his focus back to his aunt. Much to her surprise, her nephew crouched down before her, gently holding both of her old hands in his. Stunned, his aunt raised her eyes to meet his blue ones, and he said, “Aunt Elroy, I think I should let you know this. Believe it or not, the dark memories of my amnesiac days sometimes haunt me and make me wake up screaming, with cold sweat all over my body. I feel so disoriented every single time that for a moment I don’t know who I am, where I live or what I do. Even to this day, I remember precisely how the hospital staff treated me like I was nothing but a man with suspicious identity… how they didn’t even bother concealing their disgust when they talked to me, all the while they avoided having any eye contact with me. In short, I was a piece of trash they couldn’t wait to get rid of.”
His aunt was visibly shaken. He had never related to her in detail his horrid experience as a patient. Then what he said next threw her even more off balance, “I was terrified… actually, I sank into despair upon learning from Dr. Leonard that nobody could predict when my memory would return. How I wished it was just a nightmare that I could wake up from, but no. There seemed no end to the dire situation. Aunt Elroy, put yourself in my place, and you will see why I would rather not exist than putting up with this pain and humiliation indefinitely. In fact, I thought of committing suicide then, more than once.”
She dropped her mouth open, aghast. How could the hospital staff mistreat her precious nephew this way? Yet, his voice was so tranquil that she found it hard to believe he was talking about his own experience. Next, he raised himself to his full height and grabbed another chair in order to sit opposite to his aunt. He then looked her in the eyes and carried on, “Candy was my only hope then. She was practically my angel. If not for her, I wouldn’t have survived those days. Aunt Elroy, when you used your influence to make Dr. Leonard fire her because she was living with a male patient for months, she could have abandoned me, but she defended me and stayed with me. What’s more, she continued to cheer me up, day after day, not because she could benefit from my eminent social status or immeasurable wealth, but simply because I was her friend, a homeless and penniless one. Other than Rosemary, never in my life have I met a more caring soul. Can’t you see, Aunt Elroy, why Candy is the only woman in the world whom I can completely trust?”
His aunt stubbornly averted her eyes, dodging his question. Then he let out a sigh and went on, “By the time I became aware of our legal relationship, I realized that I had fallen in love with her. I delighted in her heart-warming presence, and I was unable to will myself to leave her. However, because of her, I had the courage to embrace my destiny and take up my role and responsibilities in the clan.”
Perplexed, a puzzled frown materialized on his aunt’s wrinkled face, but he didn’t elaborate further. He only said, “For her, I was more than willing to come out of hiding, to make a début earlier than planned so that nobody would ever misuse my name to make her do anything against her wish.”
He sounded matter-of-fact, and there was no trace of anger or bitterness in his tone, but his aunt’s countenance became pale, recalling the forced engagement she had imposed on Candice more than two years ago. Still looking at his aunt, he placed his hand on her shoulder, saying, “To me, Candy is beautiful inside out. She loves me for who I am, not for my money or what I can do for her. Therefore, no matter what happens to me, I know she will just love me the same.”
Having said that, he gave her a brief hug, which nearly stupefied his aunt. He had seldom, if ever, shown affection to her because with him, she had always taken a strict and stoic stance. Before she could compose herself, she heard him, “Thank you for listening, Aunt Elroy, but I have to go. I’m sorry to have worried you. Rest assured I’ll return to Chicago later today. Now, let me get Marge for you so you can go home.”
Then he headed towards the door. With his hand on the door knob, he cocked his head over his shoulder and remarked, “Aunt Elroy, I don’t expect you to change your attitude towards Candy right away, but please at least bear in mind that she was the only companion I had during my darkest hours. Therefore, regardless of what you think, I will continue to love and cherish her for as long as I live.”
After that, he opened the door and left her alone inside the office. By the time Marge came back with Miss Pony and Sister Lane, Madam Elroy’s weary face made her look as though she had grown so much older. On the way back to Chicago, she shut her eyes and appeared to have dozed off, but in fact her mind kept returning to what had transpired back in the tiny office of the orphanage, before and after her nephew’s appearance. Madam Elroy shuddered, imagining how William as a patient had been despised by many. As he had said, he could have died out of despair. On top of all that, it was impossible for the matriarch to deny the genuine jubilance displayed on his face when he had held that orphan girl in his arms. She had never seen him happier, so she couldn’t help asking herself, what is it like to marry for love?
After Madam Elroy had left, Miss Pony and Sister Lane brought the children back inside the orphanage. It was time for their morning snacks. While the kids enjoyed their cookies, Miss Pony murmured to Sister Lane, her eyes moist behind her glasses, “Candy’s found her happiness at long last.”
Sister Lane nodded, a content smile gracing her lips. “That’s true,” she agreed before closing her eyes. Then she folded her hands and prayed, giving thanks in silence.
They couldn’t forget the day when Albert had brought Candy back from Miami. He had opened up to them, telling them he had been in love with Candy all along and asking them for permission to court her. However, not wanting to jeopardize their long-term friendship, he wouldn’t confess his love to her until he was absolutely sure that she loved him and only him. He had prepared a surprise for her, a venture to test the waters, but he had to patiently wait for the perfect timing and setting.
The two ladies then let out a collective sigh. Candy was currently out there with Albert, possibly up at their favorite refuge, the Pony’s Hill, but the ladies weren’t entirely sure. The fog was so thick that there wasn’t much to admire anywhere. Oblivious to them, though patches of fog were hovering over the valleys, up on the hill the fog had already dissipated, so Albert and Candy could actually see the clear blue sky.
As a matter of fact, before reaching the spot where Candy had planted Sweet Candy, which she had brought back from Lakewood, she could see a wooden swing for two hanging down from a sturdy bough of her favorite tree. When she cast Albert a surprised glance, he smiled at her, commenting, “I hope you like it.”
“Of course! I can’t wait to try it!” she exclaimed in excitement, sprinting towards it. Only when she came closer did she see that the wooden seat had words engraved on it:
‘Candy, will you marry me? Love, Albert’
Overjoyed and awestruck, she couldn’t believe her eyes. He approached her slowly, smiling. It was another warm summer day, and he hung his jacket over his shoulder, his tie loosened. When he was near, he dropped his jacket on the ground and took both of her hands. Then he knelt down on one knee and produced a little navy blue velvet box with a glittering diamond ring in it. His eyes bore into hers, and he said in earnest, “I didn’t have enough time and skills to carve more words… I love you, Candice White, with all my heart. Will you give me the honor to be my wife?”
She was overwhelmed with sentiments. Everything happened too fast today. When she gazed at him, nonplussed, he professed his love for her once again. Then he explained to her that he hadn’t received her letter until after coming back from his short business trip, and since then, he could scarcely put it down, reading it over and over. His biggest concern was whether she would really enjoy her life with him in the city. She would have to give up everything here in the rural village.
When he broke eye contact and stared at the ground, she leaned over and gently hauled him up by the shoulders. No sooner had he straightened up than she wrapped her arms around him like she would never let him go. Leaning against him, she declared, “Yes, I love you too, Little Bert. For you, I’m willing… more than willing, to leave all this behind. Wherever you go, I’ll go.”
This was the place where Candy had first met her Prince on the Hill many years ago, and this was also the place where he proposed to her. With tears in their eyes, he slid the engagement ring on her finger, and he confessed how much he had missed her in São Paulo. That was why when he had spotted the ring in one of the jewelry stores there, he had impulsively bought it. Yet, he had intentionally left it in Lakewood. Yesterday, he had gone there to retrieve the ring, and he had stayed in the mountain Lodge near the waterfall, where he had all the tools and materials required to build a wooden swing for her.
Then they snuggled up on the swing, and he gave her an unforgettable kiss. With their eyes closed, it started off very sweet and tender. When she melted against him, combing her fingers through his wavy blond hair, he cradled the back of her head and circled his other arm around her slim waist, pulling her closer and deepening the kiss at a slow pace. He didn’t want to scare her, but she was delirious with happiness, following his lead and responding to him most ardently. The instant their tongues touched, the sensation was nothing like she had ever experienced before. She felt like she was being shocked by lightning, but in a wonderful way. She was floating on air, having reached such intimacy with her prince. Her legs turned jello in no time, and she would have collapsed if they had been standing. Thus, she was more than glad she was sitting side by side with him, huddled together with his strong arms locking her safe in his embrace and his feet touching the ground occasionally to keep the swing from swaying too much.
On and on, their lips molded together perfectly, their tongues dancing. To her, it was absolutely mind-boggling and enthralling. Although more than once she had dreamed of being kissed by Prince on the Hill, this was beyond her wildest imagination. As she poured all the love she felt for him into her kisses, he was doing the same to her, savoring and tasting her in delight. Her heart was thumping like a drum in her rib cage, as though it might burst any second from the turbulent emotions. Even the swing was rocking back and forth in response to their passion, the other noises being the birds singing above their heads and their loud breathing.
Some moments later, when their breaths became more and more ragged, they were still unwilling to stop, but as breathing became a necessity, they pulled apart reluctantly, regarding each other with fresh perspective. They had just shared their first real kiss after all. Panting heavily, he brought her hand, the one with the ring, to his lips and kissed it long and lovingly. “Candy, you’re incredible,” her prince admired, his dazzling blue eyes gazing at her scarlet cheeks and slightly swollen lips. When she looked away shyly, he chuckled and fondly brushed her stray locks behind her ear. “My beautiful fiancée, are you ready to head down? I should ask Miss Pony and Sister Lane for your hand in marriage.”
She nodded, smiling all the way to her eyes. His words were music to her ears. Yes, they were now an engaged couple, weren’t they? Though she had many questions on her mind, like his aunt, his relatives, his reputation, and so on, she gladly let him take her hand, ambling towards the orphanage together after he had put his jacket back on. The unexpected encounter with his stern aunt today had convinced Candy more than ever that Albert had already prepared himself to fight any impending opposition for her, for their love. Candy would brace up for him too, for she couldn’t wait to marry her Prince on the Hill, her Little Bert.
Note: I’d like to express my appreciation to the people below for their positive feedback to the previous chapter: ❤ ❤ ❤
Candy Bert, Tiny 12, Reeka, antlay31, QuevivaCandy, kittenandley, Memchew / Mema, Vera García, Anonymous, Evelyn, CKati, Cristina Marchetti, Paola Ruscio, and You Ri Lee.
I’ve let my imaginations run wild when writing this chapter. 😛 I like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice a lot, and I was inspired by the scene in which Lady Catherine visited Elizabeth Bennet, also around twenty-one years old, very early in the morning, giving her reasons why her family would only bring shame to her nephew, Mr. Darcy, a very rich and handsome man nearly thirty years old. Though Elizabeth wasn’t even sure how he felt about her, she had strong feelings for him, so Elizabeth couldn’t promise Lady Catherine that she wouldn’t marry Darcy. 🙄
Those who have read Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS) epilogue will find Candy’s recollections familiar. If not, here is the link to the spoilers. For your interest, I’ve also written many posts about those letters between Candy and Albert. Here are a few of them: A hug so tight, More than words, and The day her life changed.
If you prefer to read the letters in a fanfic, I highly recommend the Spanish story, Memorias de la Señora Andrew, written by my friend, QuevivaCandy. She has remained faithful to the original story portrayed by Mizuki in CCFS. 🙂 Or you can read my other short fanfic based on these letters, The Diary.
I will upload the next chapter some time this coming week. Thank you for following! ❤