Hina never really indulged in eating in the evenings. She had gotten accustomed to having a nice cup of tea, sometimes with a light snack to go. She also enjoyed the comfort of being alone in the evenings and not having to see Tanaka, so this evening was definitely outside her comfort zone.
Despite the approaching cold of the evening with the changing of the seasons, Hina could feel a different kind of chill as she sat beside the merchant, while Tanaka sat just opposite her. The servants had served various mouth-watering dishes before them but Hina found herself feeling sick.
"I hope you were a good girl while I was away, Tanaka"
"O-of course! Tanaka made sure to be polite and nice to my stepmom" she smiled at her father as she picked at her meal. It seemed like Hina was not the only one uncomfortable and unable to eat.
"That's good to know. How have your studies been going?" He smoothly sliced the steak on his plate as he waited for a reply, his grey eyes constantly glancing between Tanaka and his steak.
"It's been great, father. Tanaka has been studying a lot and improving on her skills"
"Good, good. You need to be smart to be able to endure the world"
Tanaka nodded at her father's words and continued with her meal.
"What about you, My dear Hina?"
"Would you like to learn how to read and write?"
Tanaka held back a laugh, her eyes mocking Hina who she assumed was illiterate.
Indeed, Hina was illiterate. Her mother never allowed her to go near a book and often locked her in the house, making her clean and wash, as she forced Hina to become her personal maid. She was too busy with house chores and being occasionally sick from her mother's poisoning that she never had the time to learn how to read or write.
"Actually, I have been slowly learning how to read and write..." she selectively chose her words.
Hina's maids and the head maid were all aware of her constant visits to the bookstore as well as the family's library, so it would have been odd for her to pretend she couldn't read.
"Really? How so?"
"I got some simple books from the bookstore to practice. It's been of great help"
The merchant looked amazed as she spoke as if her learning how to read was such a miracle. Hina found herself feeling insulted.
"Wow! My Hina! That's amazing! I was planning to get you a teacher for that. I'll tell the head maid to prepare for one so that you can learn under proper guidance"
"Yes, thank you"
Hina forced a spoonful of her meal into her mouth and chewed ever so slowly.
[That was close!]
She mentally praised her quick-witted response.
In the novel, Hina Kudo was illiterate up until her husband's death. She started learning how to read and write after his death while preparing to take over his hotel. The real Hina loved to look through picture books because that was the only thing that she could understand.
However, Hina was a different person now. Not only did she remember her past life before she came here, but she also still had all her skills and abilities from her former life. As someone who had a very high IQ and was on a scholarship program at University, Hina was very intelligent. As much as she would have loved to show off her wits, it only felt right to play the dumb girl card for now. It would seem too unnatural for someone who was illiterate all this while to suddenly become so smart.
Hina reminded herself that there was a process she had to follow to these things. She took a sip from her glass of water, forcing down her meal that threatened to come up.
[This dinner is taking forever!]
With Tanaka's endless giggles and conversation with her father, Hina didn't feel the need to remain in the dining room, especially since she was done with her meal. Nevertheless, she couldn't leave the table before the merchant as it was common courtesy and proper etiquette.
Hina watched the man pour himself a nice glass of red wine and gulped it down in one go. Oh, how she wished she could drink some wine too! If only she wasn't trapped in a child's body right now.
"It's a bit late for you two to be up. Let's call it a night" the merchant clapped his hands and the maids came rushing in to clear the dining table.
"Goodnight, father. Goodnight, stepmother" Tanaka bowed and exited the room with her maids, a fake smile plastered on her doll-like face.
"Let me escort you back to your chambers, my dear Hina" the merchant extended his right hand to her with a tired smile on his face. With the long journey and a busy day, it was only natural that he would be tired and in need of sleep. Hina held onto his stretched out hand and left the room with him, while her maids followed silently behind them. On getting to the front of Hina's room, he kissed her goodnight on her forehead and departed to his quarters.
[I can never get used to his nice behaviour. I have to pay attention to him even more]
She sighed and jumped on the fluffy bed, not caring to listen to the things her maids were talking about. Their words only got more faint as a sudden sleep whooshed her away.
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