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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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Stephen Randolph Suichiro von Dylan Kanade de Faunte, heir to one of the biggest companies in the economic world, gently placed the wine glass he was holding on top of a nearby table and when no one was looking he stepped outside of the huge extravagant ballroom to the slightly snow covered floor of the balcony.

Heir to a large wealth he may be, Stephen was never good at parties and would always take every opportunity to get away from one once he did what he is sent out to do for the gathering. Usually he would act as a proxy for his Grandfather. The Elder de Faunte just love to accept invitations though he never had time to actually attend one so he just sends his grandchildren to do his bidding.

Stephen fished out his cellphone and dialed a certain female clarinetist's number. But as he was about to press the call button, he hesitated. Honestly, he wasn't sure what time it is in Japan and if ever it was morning there then he was sure that she would be practicing. After thinking it through for quite sometime, he finally decided on not calling her. After all he might be interrupting something important.

Stephen pocketed his cellphone and gave out a sigh; his breath turning into smoke the moment it left his mouth.

"If I were just some random person wandering around here, I might be surprised to find the heir of the de Faunte Enterprises freezing himself to death," a reddish-blonde haired boy stated with a smug look on his face, one hand on his pocket while the other was holding a wine glass.

Stephen turned around and when he saw who the speaker is, he couldn't help but show his signature smirk as he straightens himself up.

"Nice to see you too, Josiah" the de Faunte heir said monotonously with a little sarcasm.

Josiah Wilterson is a year older and a few inches taller than Stephen with curly reddish-blonde hair and amethyst colored eyes. Josiah is the heir of a large airline company in Europe. It was for that sole reason as to how both boys met, though it wasn't a good start to say the least. It was always through gatherings like this that they would meet and there was never a time when they wouldn't try to best the other; they were rivals after all. But thankfully, it wasn't always that way. There was a situation that brought them together and they were friends ever since.

Josiah rolled his eyes in exasperation, "Seriously, what are you doing here in this weather?"

"I just remembered something so I stepped out here," Stephen answered coolly with a shrug but Josiah was not fooled by his act.

"Really?" he said raising an eyebrow, clearly unconvinced by his best friend's excuse. Then he rolled his eyes exasperatedly once again but then he smiled, "It's easier to say that you are hiding from those dingbat girls than say that you know. Less suspicious explanation,"

Stephen gave a knowing smile. That's Josiah for you.

"The second balcony is almost empty since most of the guests are down here plus the second balcony mostly consists of books, we can go there if you some peace and quiet," Josiah suggested. Stephen just looked at him for a good ten seconds so he added, "It's better than freezing out here,"

Stephen smiled and nodded, "Let's just wait for the perfect timing,"

And that's what they did. They blend in the shadows of the crowd, trying hard not to get noticed as they made their way to the second balcony. Like him, Josiah is never fond of parties too. It was always easy to escape occasions like this when you have an accomplice. It wasn't long before hey finally reached their sanctuary to the nosy social life of theirs.

It was a good thing the party was held in Josiah's place or else it would be hard to find such refuge.

"So," Josiah began casually as he picked a book up from a table and read the title, only to put it down again when he continued his question, "How are things in Japan?"

Stephen shrugged as he picked a random book then smiled a little for some reason, "Same old, same old," he answered.

"Heard you met someone," Josiah said with a cheeky grin and a matching wriggling of his eyebrows

Stephen stopped scanning some books to look at his friend skeptically, raising an eyebrow as hint of idea went to his mind but for the sake of conversation, he just asked, "Who told you that?"

"A birdie told me," Josiah said with a stupid grin and returned to scanning some of the books on the shelf, trying not to make it a big deal but he knew Stephen wouldn't leave it as that. He mentally smiled, wondering what secrets this conversation will open up.

"Tsk. Yeah right. Birdie my foot," Stephen snorted as he pulled a random book, only to place it back at the shelf again. He knew who told everything to Josiah and he made a mental note to interrogate him later for it. As for now, he had to know what his cousin said to minimize the misunderstanding, "Did Birdie tell you everything that happened?"

"I think so," Josiah answered with a shrug then he finally gave up on the books so he sat on the velvet cushioned couch, crossing his legs and placed his chin on the heel of his hand with a rather amused smile on his face.

"So…you're really engaged huh?" he mused out loud but before Stephen could answer, Josiah gave an amused chuckle that Stephen hadn't heard for quite sometime as he added, "Hard to believe at first. I really thought you would rather choose to become a hermit and live in the mountains like Tarzan than agree on an arranged marriage Step,"

Stephen gave a chuckle of his own before he sat down opposite to his friend, "As if I agreed into it,"

"But you are not doing any act of rebellion," Josiah replied raising an eyebrow, then he smirked, "That girl must be extremely special then,"

"I'm still thinking of a plan," Stephen answered a little bit too quickly for the ordinary making Josiah raise his eyebrows again in suspicion.

"Right," he said skeptically with that teasing and knowing smirk, "I know what's going on inside that coconut shell of yours. You promised her that you would fix things, told her that you would help her, didn't you?"

Stephen looked wryly at his friend, "Did Birdie tell you that too?"

"No. I just guessed," Josiah answered with a knowing shrug implying that he did just guess it. Stephen could only give a small smile at that answer. Well, Josiah is his best friend after all; he is one of the only few people who can understand him immediately.

"She's beautiful you know. Simple beauty," Josiah added his teasing smile visible once again, "But that didn't surprise me, you always prefer simple girls. Not that there is a girl that caught your attention before, this is the first time I saw you act like this,"

Stephen felt his cheeks grow hot and he was sure that Josiah can see it so he just played it cool by raising an eyebrow, "Birdie showed you a picture too?"

"Yep," Josiah answered proudly which caused Stephen to let out a silent groan. He will definitely talk to Leonard about this later when they arrived at the main mansion. He was already guessing the every de Faunte cousin already knew what Shoko looks like by now because of that picture. It must be the one Leonard took during his first official visit at Shoko's house.

"Though I'll say in advance," Josiah said, breaking Stephen's train of thoughts on how he would get back at Leonard for this, "Clarissa won't like this one bit."

As silence enveloped the room, an understanding was brought between them. Then it was Stephen who broke the silence.

"I'm not planning in telling her yet," he said, not bothering to look at Josiah in the eye, "Not until it is publicly official,"

Josiah tilted his head to the side, "Why not?"

As if on cue, a girl with curly blonde hair and big blue eyes came bursting to the door in such energy that made Stephen smile for a moment. Her eyes sparkled with recognition as her gaze fell on the two young lads in the room.

Clarisse Thersvone is the only child of a wealthy fashion designer and a businessman; thus making her the heir of a major clothing line in France. She is a few months younger than the two boys but acted as if she was a year older than them on some occasions. The de Faunte and Wilterson family had been their clients ever since they were even born so it wasn't surprising that the heirs themselves were close friends.

"There you are," she said as she walked across the room, her gown trailing behind her.

Josiah rolled his eyes and muttered, "Speak of the devil and the devil will come,"

The girl quickly tossed a glare at him though she didn't actually hear the words clearly. She was just sure that it wasn't something nice because Josiah rarely complements her.

"What are you muttering about?" she hissed

"Nothing," Josiah answered immediately, holding his hands up in surrender. Stephen saw that it was time to interrupt in case something bad happens to Josiah. He cleared his throat loud enough to catch the blonde girl's attention.

Sure enough it did and her eyes immediately lit up with joy as she rushed towards the de Faunte heir. Josiah smiled smugly. Now he knows why he wouldn't tell her.

"Hey Claire," Stephen said as he stood up, only to fall back on the couch as the blonde girl hugged him warmly as if she hadn't seen him in years, "Nice to see you again, Clarisse."

"I missed you sooooo much, Step" Clarisse exclaimed, not missing a beat making Josiah roll his eyes, "How was Japan? Did you sleep right? Did you eat right? I want to hear all about your trip,"

Stephen chuckled at her enthusiasm. As he was about to answer her, the young girl's facial expression darken as she remembered why she was sent to find them in the first place. She was hesitant because she was sure it will ruin Stephen's good mood but she had no choice but to do what she was told so she added, "But before that, your grandfather wants to talk to you downstairs,"

Stephen's face became expressionless all of a sudden. He nodded once as he answered, "See you two later,"

And just like that, he left without saying much. Both Clarisse and Josiah let out a breath they didn't knew they were holding until the de Faunte heir left. Josiah sighed and ran his hands through his reddish-blonde locks while the blonde girl let her body slide and lay on the couch, absentmindedly staring at the ceiling for a moment.

But Clarisse Thersvone was not that kind of person who delights on not knowing things.

"So what were you two talking about?" she asked the Josiah immediately, though she didn't even bother to look at him and just continued staring up to the ceiling.

"Nothing that will spark you interest," the airline heir answered flatly.

Josiah gave her a look that made the blonde think that they were talking about things that only boys will understand. Like mechanics or cars for example. Clarisse glared at no one in particular as a memory refreshed itself in her mind. There was one time when they were invited to a picnic with some company owner and she was stuck with Stephen and Josiah. The start of the conversation was good enough but when the course of the talk took a turn into cars, mechanical parts and even to airplane mechanics, Clarisse found her self resorting to just reading a random book she let her guard bring.

Unknown to her, as she was busy glaring at something. Josiah let out a small smile of relief that was quickly replaced with a troubled frown. Sure Stephen doesn't want Clarisse to find out but that big of a secret can't stay hidden for long. Clarisse is a good friend, no one can object to that but everyone had a bad side.

If Clarisse knew what just happened to Stephen's life, who knows what she will do.

He just hoped their friendship can survive this upcoming test.

"Am I to expect that he will come back here pissed?" Josiah asked, breaking the silence in the room as he too lay on the sofa and stared at the ceiling.

Clarisse gave a snort, to which some of the etiquette teachers would find very unladylike but perfectly normal to some teenagers. "Count on it," she answered.

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Thirty minutes after….

"I hate him," Stephen blurted out as he entered the room, slamming the door with a little more force than needed.

Both Josiah and Clarisse bolted upright at their friend's sudden outburst. True, they were used to seeing this kind of situation before but it was never a good thing to see a pissed Stephen de Faunte, no matter what occasion.

"Let me guess," Josiah began, rubbing his chin subconsciously, "Your grandfather made a decision you don't like again, correct?"

"I hate him," Stephen said, not hearing what his friend said as he continued pacing inside the room. The two watched as he walked here and there, already mentally calculating on what he will do to turn things around. Finally it was Clarisse who broke the silence after the de Faunte heir's outburst.

"What is it this time, Step?" she asked gently, as if it will calm her friend down.

"He wants me to stay here until Friday," Stephen said irritably, flinging his hands as if it was a very big deal then he slumped on a nearby stool.

It was not what the two had been expecting but if it would make the de Faunte heir that frustrated then apparently the situation must be of great importance. Josiah and Clarisse glanced at each other, both had the same question in their heads but it was Josiah who asked it for both of them.

"So?" the airline heir asked, "Any appointments on that day?"

Stephen opened his mouth to say something, only to close it again. Then he heaved out a sigh and avoided their glances as he focuses his own glance towards the floor and answered sheepishly, "I promised her that I'll go to their Christmas Concert on that day."

"Her?" Clarisse asked immediately, completely surprised and mortified at the same time. It took her a lot of effort to push away the thoughts that immediately entered her mind the moment he said that pronoun.

Josiah raised an eyebrow, in a rather amused and teasing way, "Their Christmas Concert?"

"She plays the clarinet," Stephen answered with a sheepish smile, a way that so many girls found it cute but of course the young heir is either clueless about it or he is just ignoring it.

"She?" Clarisse asked again. Her heartbeat started to go faster, a little tensed for some reason.

While Clarisse was having a mental battle with herself, Josiah was grinning stupidly at Stephen, with a main intention to tease the young heir further, "So it will be a classical concert?"

"Great guessing Sherlock," Stephen answered sarcastically, rolling his eyes exasperatedly to prove his point. He was about to give a witty retort but all of that died in his throat when he saw the wide stupid grin from his best friend's face. Stephen knew that smile and at times he didn't like it.

"What are you smiling at?" he asked pointedly. Now it was Josiah's turn to roll his eyes in exasperation with a 'well-duh' expression on his face.

"You are willing to go to a classical concert despite of swearing that you will have nothing to do classical music anymore for someone you just met for almost less than a month, who wouldn't smile at that?" Josiah countered, that smile still plastered on his face.

While Josiah was enjoying teasing his best friend, Clarisse was feeling uneasy as the conversation stretches. After that last sentence, she finally fits all of the pieces together and to say that she was surprised was a huge understatement. It was as if a blue moon phenomenon occurred. As far as she knows, no one in the de Faunte family plays the clarinet except for Thomas and last she check, Thomas is a he not a she. It was rare for Stephen to promise something like that to a girl that is outside the de Faunte family; he rarely even makes promises like that to her so it was surprising to know that he did something like that. Unwillingly, her mind put all of the pieces together and she didn't like it.

"What are you talking about?" she asked curiously. There was still a chance her assumptions are wrong. And as expected, the boys just ignored her like they did a few minutes back; which was starting to get on her nerves.

"I could go there as a representative if you want. I'll leave my private jet behind so if you're done with whatever it is that you needed to do, you can just fly over there," Josiah said, now with an air of authority that he usually lets off when discussing in business meetings, "I'll tell the airport employees to give you the extreme VIP treatment too,"

Stephen couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at Josiah's words.

"Why do you need to go there?" he asked looking at Josiah in the eyes, sounding slightly protective to Clarisse's ears

"I want to see her," Josiah answered casually, not breaking eye contact either.

No words were exchanged after that. They just stared at each other's eyes for a while, not daring to blink. Clarisse glanced back and forth between the two. Some people might say that she is worried by the actions of her friends but honestly, she is not. She has seen them like this so many times that she lost count. It was one of those things she cannot understand with those two. They weren't really staring at each other with curses roaming their heads. This staring match is like a lie detector test, an understanding those two shares that sometimes made her feel left out.

And it's doing little to improve her temper that moment

The silence and the staring match was finally broken by Stephen with a smile on his face, "Thanks for the offer, Josh"

Josiah smiled as if saying 'you're welcome' but then the smile faded slowly as his expression turned slightly serious, "However, you need to tell her that you are not coming in advance,"

There is that word again.

"Who is this 'her' you kept on talking about?" Clarisse demanded

"I'll call her tomorrow," Stephen answered with a nod, again ignoring Clarisse much to her annoyance. She was nearing her boiling point now.

"Ignore me again and I'll throw both of you off this place," Clarisse said ominously with a threatening aura enveloping her like some sort of source energy as she stood up for emphasis. She is not going to let them ignore her again and she is getting an answer no matter what.

Stephen and Josiah immediately looked at each other, silently calculating the time it would take to run away from the wrath of the Thersvone heiress to be able to see the next sunrise. Stephen was about to explain a bit of the situation to her when someone knocked on the door. The aura in the room immediately dropped to normal, even Clarisse became suddenly calm and recollected at the sound of the knock.

Then after hearing another knock, Stephen finally stood up to open the door.

A servant stood there sheepishly, blushing madly for some reason. Josiah could only guess the servant wasn't expecting that Stephen would be the one who would answer the door. Typical.

"Master Stephen, Mistress Easter wants to see you…" the servant said in a shaky voice.

"Talk about being saved by the bell," Stephen thought. Though he was suddenly intrigued as to why his cousin Easter was there but for now he was just happy to have an excuse to get away. At least he won't have to face the wrath of Clarisse Thersvone. Glancing at Josiah he said, in a rather teasing tone, "Good luck buddy,"

"Wha -?" was all Josiah could say for a short period of time but he finally got his bearings. He hitched his thumb at Clarisse's direction and looked at Stephen, almost pleading as he asked, "I can tell her?"

Stephen walked to the door then glanced at his friends with his best mocking smile as he flatly answered, "No,"

"What?" both of them asked, eyes wide, almost pleading. Stephen chuckled as he started walking towards the door again while Josiah was already forming the right words to explain things to Clarisse.

"Step!" Clarisse protested as a last attempt to extract the information from him but it didn't seem to work because all Stephen could answer back is an amused chuckle.

Once Stephen was out of sight Clarisse turned her attention to Josiah, making the young man gulp and breaking into cold sweat.

"You are telling this to me no matter what," Clarisse said ominously

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