Chapter 4: Natalia
Seron and Larry stayed in their dorm room until lunchtime.
For about two hours, Seron lost himself in reading.
Larry sat next to him and borrowed the books he had finished—
‘The Frozen Waters -Life in the North Sea-’
‘Impacts of the Advent of Electricity’
‘Chronicles of the Kingdom of Iks -Light and Shadow in the Mountain Kingdom-’
‘Secrets of the National Assembly Building’
‘The Rose Manor Serial Murders’
“Hmm… They all look like a pain to read.”
Larry surrendered, resorting to sit-ups instead.
“Four! Five! Six! Army!”
Then he went on to finish back exercises. Afterwards—
“Here. Some sugar’ll keep you energized.”
He grabbed tea from the dormitory cafeteria and gave some to Seron. Then—
“Maybe if I tried this… No, that’ll leave it open.”
He pored over the chessboard alone and tried out all sorts of moves. Finally—
“It’s about time, Seron.”
“Huh? …Ah. Thanks, Larry. Let’s get going.”
It was lunchtime. They headed over to the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was a little late to open. The drama club and the orchestra club members were already lined up.
Some—but not all—of the students had brought their own lunches. Empress Portman of the orchestra was nowhere to be seen, and nor was Natalia.
Finally, at the very end of the line was one member of the chorus club.
“Huh? Are you by yourself?”
Larry was first to speak to Meg. He had been waiting for Seron to make the first move, but he had spotted Seron frozen still at the sight of her and had no choice but to act.
Meg turned nervously. But she nodded the moment she recognized them.
“Yes, I am. The other three members of our chorus club had brought their own lunch boxes with them today for lunch. I wanted to also bring my own lunch box today for lunch, but my mother was feeling very below the weather this morning and so I could not bring my own lunch. I am saved that there is a cafeteria in the dormitory.”
Again, Larry waited for Seron. Again, Seron said absolutely nothing.
“Miss Strauski, right? Would you like to have lunch with us? We’re not with the drama club or the orchestra, so it might be a good idea to stick together.”
“Thank you. I am saved. You see, today is my first day that I am eating food at the dormitory cafeteria. So I do not know how it is that I am supposed to buy the food here.”
“Then we’d be happy to help you out. Right, Seron?”
“Huh? Er… right.”
Larry was internally desperate to hear Seron give a more enthusiastic answer, but he could not make a show of it.
Meg, oblivious to their plight, lined up right behind Larry.
Larry thought to switch places with Seron, but at that moment the line began to move. They followed the drama club and the orchestra towards the counter.
Today, students had a choice between steamed chicken sandwiches with boiled vegetables and mayonnaise, and fish and chips with vinegar and tartar sauce. They could also get a side of salad. Students could choose to have both menus if they wished.
Seron chose the sandwich, and Larry chose both.
“Hm… Which menu shall I eat for lunch?”
Meg thought long and hard before finally settling on the sandwich.
The moment the sandwich was placed on Meg’s tray, Seron’s expressionless face lit up. Larry understood a second later.
Seron was happy to be eating the same menu as the girl he liked. Larry smiled. Then he wondered if Seron and Meg would ever be able to talk to one another on their own.
After that, they filled their mugs with tea from a large pot and added sugar and honey. Then they finally reached the record sheet.
“Then you write your student number here and sign it. And you’re good to go! They’ll total up your bill for you later. It won’t be that expensive—about the same as or a little cheaper than the main cafeteria.”
Larry signed the sheet and handed the pen to Seron. Seron signed the sheet.
“Here you are.”
He handed the pen to Meg. That was the extent of their interaction.
The drama club was sitting close to the counters. The orchestra sat beside them.
“Let’s get a bit of distance, eh?”
Larry and the others sat apart from the others—in fact, they were almost all the way at the end of the large cafeteria.
Meg sat near the middle of the long table. Larry quickly sat diagonally from her and practically forced Seron to sit directly across from her.
“All right. Let’s eat up and get some energy for the afternoon!” Larry said, and lifted up a silent prayer.
It was Hepburn family tradition to pray for the war dead, regardless of affiliation. As usual, Seron took his time and waited for Larry to finish.
Meg also clasped her hands before her chest.
“May peace be upon the royal family, the people, and the land of the setting sun.” She recited quietly in Bezelese.
Their meal began. And about ten seconds later,
“Mind if I join you guys?”
They heard a female voice from overhead. Unusually for a girl’s, the voice was brusque and blunt. The student almost talked like a boy. Seron and Larry looked up. Meg turned.
Standing there was the incredible violinist from earlier, Natalia Steinbeck. On her tray was both a sandwich and a plate of fish and chips.
Natalia met Meg’s gaze and smiled.
“Hey there, Vocal Star. —May I?”
“Yes! Of course you may sit here.” Meg said, putting down her sandwich and wiping her hands on a napkin. Then she pulled out the chair next to hers for Natalia, whose hands were full. “Please sit down right here.”
Natalia took a seat and first turned to Meg on her left.
“Lemme introduce myself again. The name’s Natalia Steinbeck. I’m a third-year. FYI, you can just call me ‘Nat’.”
“My name is Strauski Megmica. I am a person from Sou Be-Il, and so my family name Strauski comes before my own name Megmica. I am also a third-year student like you. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Steinbeck.”
“C’mon, Megmica. You don’t need to sound so formal.”
“I do not have very much confidence in my casual Roxchean speaking.”
“I see. Sorry you gotta listen to my lazy-ass Roxchean. It’s just how I roll. Anyway, let’s dig in.”
Natalia grabbed her sandwich and finally turned her attention to the boys across the table.
“Hey, what’re you waiting for? You can feast your eyes after you feast on lunch.”
“Back there, you were really awesome.” Larry said with his usual smile. “Really. Good going, Natalia.”
“You think so? I see you’ve grown into quite the outgoing young man since the last time I saw you, Larry Hepburn.”
Larry’s jaw dropped.
Seron stopped mid-bite and looked at Larry.
“Huh? Wait… er… have we met before?”
Natalia dipped several fries into her tartar sauce and stuffed them into her mouth. Then—
“You got it.”
“Err… were we in the same class last year?”
“So you did forget me, Mr. Crybaby Hepburn. You and I went to the same kindergarten, and we were in the same class in primary school until third year.”
“Oh my goodness! You two people were childhood friends with each other?”
Meg seemed to be enjoying the situation, but Larry’s face had frozen. A tomato slice slowly slid from the sandwich in his hands and finally fell to his plate.
Looking like a new recruit who had just been dropped in the middle of a minefield, Larry stammered.
“No way… Lia…? You’re Lia?”
“S’right. It’s been one heck of a long time since the last time anyone called me that. —So you never knew my full name?”
Seron finally turned his gaze from the frozen Larry to Natalia.
“I’m Seron Maxwell. Yes, from the Maxwell family. I’ve been friends with Larry since first year. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Natalia from the Steinbeck family.”
“Ah, so you’re almost a celeb too.”
“Er… What does this mean?” Meg asked curiously. “I do not know the meanings of the names of you two. If it is all right with you two, will you tell me the meanings?”
“Megmica. The ebony-haired gent across from you is the son of the woman who runs Maxwell Frozen Foods.”
“Maxwell… Frozen Foods?”
“Yeah. Ever see those red frozen food packages in the foodstuffs corner at the department store?”
“Ah! Yes, I have seen them! My mother often buys those packages and warms them up in our oven for us to eat for meals. She says, ‘everything is very convenient in Roxche’. I understand it now!” Meg exclaimed excitedly and looked straight ahead.
There sat Seron, looking completely indifferent but desperately trying to hide his elation.
“Just now I learned one more new thing about Roxche, Mr. Maxwell.”
She addressed Seron by name for the first time, wearing a smile.
“Er… I… thanks.” Seron replied without so much as blinking. He exhaled and desperately calmed himself down.
Then with his right hand he gestured at the girl sitting next to Meg.
“Natalia’s parents are Roxche’s most famous musician couple.”
“Oh? Er… could it possibly be? Five years ago, in Sfrestus the capital of Sou Be-Il! The musician family’s husband and wife who play many instruments for the king and royal family?”
Meg’s Roxchean began degenerating, but she managed to get her meaning across. Seron nodded.
“That’s how it is. I guess you could say my folks’re celebrities.” Natalia said. “I’m talking to you too, Larry. You listening?”
She cast Larry a dirty look. Larry was still frozen.
“No, well… Feels like I’ve heard something like that before…” He muttered, falling into thought again.
“Blondie here and me,” Natalia explained, “we were next-door-neighbors. Our manors were right next to each other’s. We used to walk to kindergarten and school holding hands every day until second year of primary school.”
“Oh my goodness. How lovely!”
“Larry used to be a tiny kid back then. Still is, compared to me. For a military brat who wanted to be a soldier, he was a pretty big crybaby. I was worried. Not for him—for Roxche.”
“Sh-shut up! That was years ago!” Larry finally burst out.
“Ah, you’re still alive.” Natalia chuckled. “Who’d have thought we’d meet again in secondary school? Anyway, I just wish you’d at least remembered the name of the world-class musician who used to play for you for free. You still keeping up?”
Larry was silent. His muscled shoulders shrank and he quietly began to finish the rest of his fries.
“Then I see that you play the violin in the orchestra music club. It is very wonderful.” Said Meg.
“You and the president didn’t seem to be on very friendly terms.” Seron noted. He quickly frowned, wondering if he shouldn’t have said anything, but Natalia did not seem offended in the least.
“Well, yeah. Actually, it’s all my fault.”
“Why?” Said Meg.
Seron was also surprised. His hand stopped with the mug of tea still in his grip.
“Hm? Ah, lemme explain.” Natalia said, quickly finishing off the rest of her sandwich. “It’s not like I don’t like music, but I don’t want to have a career in it. I’d rather do my own thing than run around like my folks. I play violin, but I actually prefer piano and guitar—I’m only in the orchestra club to keep my folks happy. But SC Portman noticed the instant I joined the club that I wasn’t doing my best. And that’s how it’s been ever since. SC Portman’s not just a prissy lady—she’s got an eye for talent. She practices every single day to stay sharp. It’s people like her that should be pro musicians.”
Natalia waited for Meg and Seron’s reactions and added, “Don’t tell her, all right?”. Then she looked straight ahead.
“You too, Shortie. It’s our little secret.”
“As if I’d tell! And who’re you calling ‘Shortie’?”
“Don’t sweat the details. You’re short, but you’re still a man, right?” Natalia grinned, reaching over to Larry’s plate and taking his untouched fish. She brought it straight to her own mouth.
“Hey! What the heck?!”
“Sorry. Go get some more if you’re still hungry.”
“Dammit… You’ll get fat if you stuff yourself!” Larry threatened, taking to his feet with fists trembling. But Natalia was unfazed.
“Don’t worry. For some reason, I never gain weight no matter how much I eat. I’m a tall girl, and playing the violin takes a lot of energy.”
“My goodness. That makes me feel very envious.” Meg chimed in. Natalia grinned.
“Anyway, good choice with the song back there.”
Meg was surprised, but she quickly smiled.
“Thank you very much! And your accompaniment was splendid as well. I am not very skilled at musical instruments, so I was moved very much.”
“What do you mean when you say it was a good choice, Natalia Steinbeck?” Larry asked, taking a seat. Seron looked at her and waited for an answer.
Natalia cast Larry a glance and answered his question.
“The lyrics to ‘Memories of the Four Seasons’ were written for pronunciation practice.”
“What’s that now?”
“The song’s famous, but not a lot of people know this. When Roxchean was first developed over a hundred years ago, the linguists who created it got together to write these lyrics to help practice. The lyrics to ‘Memories of the Four Seasons’ were written for non-speakers in the first place.”
The boys nodded in understanding. Meg clasped her hands together.
“That is right! A senior-classman in the chorus club taught me this fact. She graduated last year from secondary school. She told me, ‘This is a good song to start with’, so I sang this song many, many times! It helped me learn Roxchean very much. If with other songs… my Roxchean pronunciation is unskilled still. But when everyone in the chorus club sings together with me, I can hide my voice in their voices. On the stage I will have no problems, I think.”
“I see. That makes a lot of sense.” Larry nodded enthusiastically.
“SC Portman doesn’t know a thing about vocals. You put her in her place good.”
“Do you think that perhaps I offended her?”
“Nope. Don’t sweat it.”
“Then I will not sweat anything.” Meg smiled. “I had no choice but to come to the cafeteria by myself, and I wondered what I should do at all. But I am very happy now because we can laugh very much and talk like this. Please take good care of me from now on, everyone.” She said with a bow.
“You got it. We’re friends now.”
“Me too. And Seron too, right?”
“Er… yeah. Me too.” Seron smiled awkwardly.
“Thank you very much!” Meg beamed. Seron gulped nervously.
“I’ll go get some tea.” Larry said, getting out of his seat. “I’ll grab a pot for all of us. —Let’s go, Natalia.”
Natalia was still eating her fish. Larry was stretching the limits of plausibility by inviting her, but he decided to take the risk.
Natalia swallowed the rest of her fish, licked her fingertips, and elegantly stood from her seat.
It was just two people at the table now.
Seron silently focused on his sandwich—
—and finished it before he knew it.
Seron found himself looking up. Meg noticed his gaze and returned it, waiting for him to say something.
They looked into each other’s eyes.
For two whole seconds his mind went completely blank. But he quickly recovered—
“Err… how’d you do in art class?”
He sounded as monotonous as ever, but Seron managed to at least say something.
“Yes, well… My grade was not very good, but it was not as bad as I had expected it would be. Lillia—er, my friend—helped me very much.”
In contrast, Meg had warmed up since the conversation with Natalia. She was opening up more than before.
“What about your grade, Mr. Maxwell?”
“Huh? Er… I… yeah. It wasn’t bad. Top marks.”
“Oh my goodness! That is marvelous!”
“I—no, sorry. I wasn’t trying to show off—”
“That is not a problem, Mr. Maxwell! You are—”
“Could you… maybe not call me ‘Mr. Maxwell’? I mean, we’re in the same year and all…”
“I understand! So… er…”
“Just Seron is fine.”
“I… I am not used to speaking to boys without honorifics yet… But I will do my best, Seron!”
“Yeah. Please.” Seron replied.
“Then that is what I will do.” Meg nodded. “And… well, I was really born one year before you. When we came to Roxche, I did not come to school for some time. If I were in Sou Be-Il, I would be like a fourth-year student. But no, this is not very important! I only wanted to inform you.”
Seron put his brain into full throttle to continue the conversation.
“…I have a little sister named Leena. She’s a smart kid.” He finally said.
For a moment, Meg was confused.
Then she realized that Seron was looking for a common conversation topic.
“I have two little brothers! My brothers are both in primary school, and they are both very popular people!”
“Hm? Things are looking real nice over there.”
“Don’t get in their way.”
On their way back from getting the pot of tea, Larry and Natalia spotted Meg and Seron engage in a conversation about their respective siblings.
“Don’t bother them, Lia. I’ll never forgive you if you do.”
Larry was dead serious. Natalia made an amused face.
“Oh? It’s been a long time since you called me that.”
“Who cares? Just don’t get in their way.”
“…Don’t worry. That’s not my style.”