Born on the 3rd day of the third month of the year 3290. 15 years old. A third-year student at the 4th Capital Secondary School in the Capital District of the Roxcheanuk Confederation. His hometown is far from school, so he lives in the dorms.
Born on the 14th day of the second month of the year 3289. 16 years old. A third-year student. She is from the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa. ‘Strauski’ is her family name. Because she started school a year after moving to Roxche, she is a year older than her classmates. A member of the chorus club.
Born on the 12th day of the fifth month of the year 3290. 15 years old. A third-year student. He is from military family with a very long history, and trains daily to become a soldier himself. Seron’s best friend.
Born on the 8th day of the sixth month of the year 3290. 15 years old. A third-year student. Her parents are famous musicians. Part of the orchestra club, and is skilled with musical instruments.
Born on the 4th day of the fourth month of the year 3290. 15 years old. A third-year student. He has an androgynous appearance and is not part of any clubs. He and Seron are acquainted.
Born on the 17th day of the first month of the year 3290. 15 years old. A third-year student. She is the daughter of one of Roxche’s richest people. President of the newspaper club.
Daytime, a certain location. The year 3305 of the World Calendar.
Why did it have to be him?
Years ago, I met him.
He looked so very unreliable.
He looked so very kind.
How did it come to this?
did it come to this?
No matter how things are—
I can’t deny the truth.
I love him.
Chapter 1: Arthur
The 9th day of the seventh month, the year 3305 of the World Calendar.
The Roxcheanuk Confederation—also known as Roxche—composed the eastern half of the only continent in the world.
Roxche’s capital was known simply as the Capital District. Near the northwestern edge of this area was the 4th Capital Secondary School. And on that campus was a building that housed the school’s newspaper club.
The newspaper club boasted the most luxurious room in the entire school.
The clubroom was about half the size of a classroom, was furnished with sofas, tables, chairs, and desks, and had a kitchen with a hot plate. There was even an adjacent darkroom.
A cool northerly breeze wafted in through the open window and shook the lace curtains that people with an eye for textiles would recognize as astronomically expensive. The sky was a clear blue that day.
Sitting all alone on the sofa in the large room was a petite 15-year-old girl with red hair. Jenny Jones, the president of the newspaper club.
“Looks like I’ll be busy for quite a while.” She said, downing her tea in one go.
Five empty teacups were on the coffee table between the two sofas. A sixth joined them.
“Let’s get started!”
Jenny sat up and leapt clear over the coffee table. Sitting at a desk, she pulled out a brand-new notebook from the shelf. With a fountain pen she wrote, ‘3305 Newspaper Club Activities’ on the cover. Then she opened it to a page with grids.
In neat handwriting she began to make her plans.
‘Summer camp: Highlight of club activities. Hold at vacation home and drill spirit of journalism into members. Teach members to use camera and darkroom. To do ASAP.’
‘Camping: Separate event from summer camp. Maybe at a campsite near the Kurz Sea? Larry might make himself very useful. Take note.’
‘Regular publication: Goal for fall term is 2 issues a month. Leave individual articles to members, but Strauski Megmica’s Bezelese might work for a separate corner on Bezelese lessons.’
‘Photography exhibit: Put members’ photos on display. Will make photography club pay for insulting my photos. Willing to assimilate them into newspaper club.’
‘School festival: Participate at all costs. Six members are enough, but the more the merrier. Maybe make the newspaper club the biggest club in school?’
‘Police: Almost forgot. Agreed to cooperate with Theodore Hartnett, but it doesn’t really matter when. Don’t try too hard. The cop forgot to tell us his real name. Oh well.’
Jenny’s fountain pen stopped. She grinned.
She pushed back her chair and took to her feet.
“I’m gonna do this! I’ll get all this done!”
Jenny strode over to the telephone, grabbed the receiver, and turned the dial.
A moment later.
“Hi, it’s me! It’s been a while. Yeah, I’m just fine. I was wondering if the vacation home in Ercho Village is vacant for the summer. I want to bring my friends. Really? I want a reservation! Six guests, including me.” Jenny chattered into the receiver.
* * *
Just as the president of the new-and-improved newspaper club took action—
“It is I, the Black Knight! In darkness do I live; in darkness do I kill!”
A boy in school-issue sweats swept forward inside a large gymnasium on the same campus.
It was the third day of the drama club’s practice camp, which also involved the orchestra club and the chorus club.
The gymnasium at the edge of campus was enveloped in a cool breeze.
There was a line of tape running down the center of the gym. It marked the boundary of the stage, upon which several drama club members were standing.
One of them, however, was not a member of the drama club.
He had long, light brown hair and handsome features. The boy was Nicholas Browning, who could easily pass for a girl in looks alone.
“I shall strike down all who stand in my way!” He cried, his slender arms stretched out theatrically. Each time he turned, his long hair cascaded across his back.
In front of the stage were drama club members in sweats with scripts in hand. Behind them were members of the orchestra club, clad in uniform and seated on standby. And to their right were the four chorus club members, also in uniform and also seated.
“He’s so cool!”
Most of the students there were girls; and most were captivated by Nick’s performance. When he moved to stage right, heads turned. When he moved to stage left, heads turned again.
But in the orchestra was one of the few who weren’t enraptured.
She was a bespectacled girl with long brown hair tied up in a ponytail.
“So beautiful it’s a curse.” She said under her breath as she recalled their conversation the previous day. Her violin rested on her lap.
“Did you say something, Nat?” Asked a classmate next to her.
Natalia Steinbeck turned to her friend with a look so plain it was almost cold.
“I did. I was wondering who was prettier—me or the knight?”
The girl burst into laughter. So did Natalia.
In one of the chairs to the right of the orchestra was another girl who was watching, but not captivated by Nick’s performance.
She had a fair complexion and had long, sleek black hair tied into pigtails.
“Yes. He was again cool yesterday.” She said to her senior-classmen.
She was responding to their endless praises for Nick by referring to the performance he had showcased in the basement the previous day.
“Hm? He sure is.”
But the senior-classmen did not think too much about what she meant, as they assumed she had simply gotten ‘today’ and ‘yesterday’ mixed up.
The pigtailed girl was from the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa—also known as Sou Be-Il—which took up the western half of the continent. Her name was Strauski Megmica. In Sou Be-Il, the family name came before the given name.
“It is a very wonderful thing to know many people while doing my club activities.”
Her senior-classmen nodded absently again. Megmica was referring in part to the newspaper club, which she had just joined, but the meaning did not carry across completely.
“It is a wonderful thing.” Meg repeated to herself.
Two boys watched Meg from the other side of the gymnasium.
Two boys who were not part of the drama, orchestra, or chorus clubs.
One of them wore school-issue sweats with a green T-shirt underneath. He was short in stature but muscular and fit. His blonde hair was cropped short, and he had sky-blue eyes. In addition, his cheek was still swollen from the previous day.
“Someday, I’ll make her your girlfriend. You’ll be the happiest couple in the world. Prepare yourself, Seron.” He boasted to the other boy while no one else was in earshot.
“I… well… sure, but…”
The other boy was also in school-issue sweats. He had black hair and grey eyes.
The boy named Seron Maxwell replied nervously.
“Please, Larry. Just make sure you don’t blurt out how I feel about her out of the blue.”
Larry Hepburn grinned.
“I won’t. Don’t worry about it, buddy. That’s your job, no two ways about it. And now that you’re both in the newspaper club, you’ll have more chances than ever!”
Seron stood stiffly, deep in thought.
Seron met Larry’s gaze, awestruck.
“I… I’m the luckiest guy in the world. The God of Fortune is looking down on me, I know it. I must be the happiest person in this entire school.”
It was Larry’s turn to fall silent. He looked up at the ceiling, then at the floor. Then he looked back at Seron.
“…Seron Maxwell. Are you happy with that?”
“Yeah. Before the camp, I couldn’t even talk to Megmica.”
“Right… but if you let yourself be satisfied here, you’re not gonna make any progress.”
“But I can relish this feeling for the time being. That’s reason enough to be happy.”
“I… I see…” Larry nodded dubiously, looking away. “Man, I really want to step in.” He said to himself. “Wish he’d just tell her outright…”
Next to the makeshift stage stood a boy who carefully scrutinized Nick’s performance.
“He’s making quite an impact… I’d better do my best too.”
He was a bespectacled boy in school-issue sweats embroidered with the name ‘Sears’. He was a fifth-year student, which made him one of the oldest students in the gymnasium. Arthur Sears, the president of the drama club.
He was tall and fit. His black hair was parted down the middle and almost went down to his eyebrows.
Arthur’s square-rimmed glasses distorted his face because they had very thick lenses. He looked like an honest young man who might be suited to working at a bank. But he also seemed a little soft-spoken.
“You’re more than a match, Arthur. You can do it.” Encouraged the girl next to him.
She was also in school-issue sweats. Hers were embroidered with the name ‘Ulericks’.
Fellow fifth-year student Sophia Ulericks was the vice-president of the drama club. She had back-length light brown hair held back with a headband. She was freckled, and unlike Arthur seemed to be very outgoing.
Both were holding scripts.
The play they were to put on was a classic tale of good versus evil. It was a well-known story in Roxche.
The story took place in the Middle Ages. In the tale, a young king disguised himself and left on a journey with several friends in order to broaden his horizons. Along the way, he encountered a corrupt and greedy lord and rescued the peasants who suffered under his rule.
Nick’s character, the Black Knight, was hired by the lord. He was a skilled mercenary who fought for the thrill of battle.
The Black Knight gave the king and his friends no end of trouble, but eventually he fought a one-on-one gun duel with the king and was grievously injured. He realized the king’s true identity then, but revealed it to no one and disappeared.
The tale had been adapted into radio dramas and stage plays many times over, and had even become a series. The noble Black Knight was a particularly popular character because he ultimately became one of the king’s allies.
In this performance, Arthur played the lead as the young king, and Sophia played a major supporting character—a brave village girl who appealed to the young king about the peasants’ plight.
Nick’s performance continued under the gaze of the students.
“Only in battle does my soul breathe and my blood boil. Only in battle do I find life. I live for naught else. I am permitted naught but victory! You are brave to raise your blade at me; I acknowledge your valor. And with that same veneration, I shall send you to the depths of hell. You’d best have an epitaph prepared, for I am the Black Knight!” Nick finished, his performance thick with belligerence.
“Excellent! Great show, Nick. That tone was perfect!” Cheered an equally resounding voice.
The voice belonged to a woman in her thirties, dressed in a set of non-school-issue sweats. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail. She was Leni Krantz, the supervisor of the drama club.
“Just a few things before we move on, Nick. When you show up to cut down the villagers, try and move a little faster. Everything in the middle was good. And about the last part, when you strike your pose… give yourself half a beat between ‘for I’ and ‘am the Black Knight’. What you did just now doesn’t place enough emphasis on his identity. I want you to seriously try to rival the leading man. Good work.” Ms. Krantz said, waving around a rolled-up script. She was even more pumped up than usual, as if she were making up for the previous day’s missed practice.
Nick nodded earnestly. “I understand, Ms. Krantz. Shall I try again?”
“Not right now. Just keep it in mind for next time. Let’s move on, everyone! The king and the village girl in the sunset! King, village girl, you two are up. We’ll go without music this time.”
“Let’s go, Sophia.” Arthur said, handing his script to a female student. Sophia did the same.
They took center stage after Nick stepped off. With deep breaths they prepared themselves for the scene—a gallant look rose to Arthur’s eyes, and Sophia suddenly seemed more frail.
“All right. Let’s begin!”
Sophia was looking up at Arthur with her hands clasped over her chest, as though in prayer. He was the first to speak.
“I know that he is a dangerous foe, my lady.”
Then it was Sophia’s turn.
“But I can’t let you get hurt on our account—” She cut herself off. “Sorry, that was the wrong line.”
“It’s ‘the villagers and I are grateful’.” Arthur said, returning to his usual soft-spoken self.
“I expect better from our vice-president. Our mercenary is giving us a run for our money! But you had some great chemistry going back there.” Ms. Krantz pointed out.
Sophia bowed deeply.
“Right, ma’am! I’ll do better this time!”
She looked up and met Arthur’s kind, bespectacled gaze.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, Sophia. You’re a much better actor than I am.”
Sophia was silent.
“What is it?”
“No, nothing… I’m okay now.”
After that, Arthur and Sophia ran through the very long scene without making a single mistake. Ms. Krantz was beaming.
“Excellent! I knew you could do it!”
* * *
Practice went on, and they soon reached the climax of the story.
The orchestra’s performance seemed to shake the gymnasium as the drama club poured out their hearts. Nick continued to elegantly weave across the stage.
They went through the scene where the king’s companion fell to an injury. The scene where the Black Knight lost the duel and departed. And finally, the scene where the king said his goodbyes to the villagers.
The chorus club’s haunting voices danced with the music, casting a perfect tone for the finale.
In the meantime, Seron and Larry were busy opening windows to ventilate the gymnasium or running over to the supply room to get large kettles of water for the thirsty students.
“Yep. I’m definitely sleepy. What about you, Seron?”
“Me too. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.”
Having been questioned into the night at the Sou Be-Il embassy the previous day, Larry and Seron occasionally yawned loudly out of earshot.
The sun began to tilt, and eventually beams of light flooded into the windows and bounced blinding sunlight against the floor.
“Great show, everyone! That’s all for today.” Ms. Krantz announced the end of practice. “Sorry I kept you so long. We’ll be working hard tomorrow too, so make sure to sleep off all that fatigue!”
The orchestra club took their instruments to their usual haunt, music room 1. The chorus club went to music room 2.
Nick was busy cleaning up props, and Seron and Larry were mopping the floor. They did not have time to say goodbye to Natalia and Meg.
“Oh. They’re leaving.” Larry groaned mid-mop when he spotted the chorus club leave.
But Seron sounded surprisingly calm. “It’s all right. There’s always tomorrow.”
After mopping the sweat-stained floor and the windows, Seron and Larry stood behind Nick and the other drama club members.
“Thank you, Ms. Krantz!”
Day 3 of the practice camp came to an end.
The sky was clear that evening. The drama club was waking in a haphazard line to the dormitory building on the other side of campus. The campus was usually bustling with students during the term, but there was no one around now.
Because practice had ended so late, the cafeteria was already open.
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Dinner’s gonna taste better than usual, I can feel it.” Larry said, holding four empty kettles in his arms.
“Yeah. I wonder what they’re serving now.” Seron nodded, pushing a cart full of mugs.
“I’m quite excited for dinner. So far, the dormitory cafeteria has lived up to its reputation.” Nick added, holding his script.
A pair of eyes were watching them.
The eyes belonged to a freckled fifth-year student wearing a headband.
“I’m happy with either meat or vegetables—”
Seron noticed the gaze just a few meters ahead, and looked at the fifth-year—Sophia.
“What’s up, Seron?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
But all he saw was light brown, back-length hair.
* * *
Seron and the others went straight to the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was large enough to seat hundreds of students at once. Long tables were lined up in orderly rows in the rectangular space, which was large enough to serve as a banquet hall in a hotel. There were two serving counters, but one was closed for the summer.
For dinner, students had a choice between the meatloaf special and pot-au-feu with heaps of meat and vegetables.
“Yes! They’re both meat!” Larry cheered, getting himself a thick slice of meatloaf and a veritable mountain of pot-au-feu.
Seron elected for the pot-au-feu, and Nick the meatloaf. The boys each collected a cup of tea, bread, and fruit and took their seats.
Many of the girls were brimming with anticipation, clearly hoping to sit near Seron and Nick. But—
“Done! Let’s eat!”
Larry’s loud voice reminded them of his presence and shattered their fantasies, and many angry forks stabbed into chunks of meat and potatoes.
Seron was none the wiser.
“Yeah. Let’s eat.”
Nick, though more perceptive, did not point it out.
“Yes. Dinner looks delicious.”
After dinner, the drama club dispersed for the day.
Some played pool or foosball in the dormitory common room. Some called their families from the phone booths in the lobby. Some returned to their rooms. Some delved into their scripts in preparation for the next day. And others went straight to the baths to wash off their sweat.
Outside, it was a typical summer evening. The sky beyond the five-story apartments around the campus was turning orange.
“Nah. Let’s let the food digest a bit before we go.”
Seron and Larry did not head straight for the baths, instead deciding to take a short break in their room.
“Then I’ll join you at the baths later. I need some time to prepare.”
They said goodbye to Nick, who was staying on another floor, and returned to their room.
Seron and Larry’s room was on the third floor. From the window they had a great view of the field. The sun was slowly setting over the many buildings of the Capital District.
Because the room was built to house two, it was larger than the regular ones. It was furnished with two dressers, two desks and chairs, and two beds with wooden frames. There was also a sofa that could be converted into yet another bed.
Seron’s belongings included a large leather suitcase and a paper shopping bag from the department store, still containing the books he had bought. Larry had brought in a green Confederation Army duffel bag, which was large enough to fit a person, along with a backpack.
Larry took a seat on the sofa.
“That was great. I’m stuffed. I bet I’ll fall right asleep if I lie down now.”
Seron took off his sweatshirt and hung it up neatly.
“Me too. It was a really busy day. And who knew we’d end up joining the newspaper club? I’d have laughed if you told me this time yesterday that I would.”
Stripped down to his T-shirt, Seron pulled out a chair and sat down. He remembered what had happened earlier that day and stared at his right hand.
Larry looked at Seron, who was as expressionless as ever.
“It’s incredible. Now you’re in the same club as Megmica. You can see her anytime even after summer break. You should try and sound happier, buddy.”
“Yeah… I know. But…”
“Now I’m even less motivated to ask her out. I was thinking about asking her before the practice camp ended. And if she turned me down, I would just give up. But now…”
“Ah… I see. No need to finish that sentence. You’re happy being around her. You don’t want to risk that time you have. I understand. I won’t say a word to her about this. Not even if they killed me or tortured me.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Larry.” Seron smiled.
Larry fell deep into thought.
Neither Seron nor Larry spoke for quite a while. Time passed in silence.
Suddenly, Seron stood and took out a white cloth bag from his suitcase. His name and student number were printed on the bag.
The white bag was a laundry bag given to dormitory students. Students could put shirts, underwear, and other pieces of clothing into the bags and leave them with the matrons, who would send the clothes to a laundromat service. The clean clothing would be placed back into the bags and returned to the dorms the next day.
“Do you have anything that needs washing, Larry? I’m going to drop off my laundry. They might close the window at night during the summer. We’ll probably get them back tomorrow evening.”
“Huh? Oh, some shirts and underwear.”
“Do you mind putting them in my bag? We’ll be able to tell them apart?”
“No worries. I’ve got my name written on all my clothes, down to the last sock. Sometimes in training camp you get people who steal socks when they run out of their own.”
Larry leapt off the sofa and stuck his hand inside his duffel bag. He drew a cloth bag similar to Seron’s, but labeled ‘ARMY’ instead.
Seron put the bag into his own laundry bag.
“All right. I’ll be right back. Tell Nick to wait for us if he comes over.”
He left the room, closing the door behind him. Seron’s footsteps disappeared down the hall.
Larry stood in the middle of the room, his arms crossed.
“I just hope he doesn’t end up graduating without asking her out. In that case, I might be better off telling Megmica about him instead… But if she’s going to turn him down, it might be better for Seron to just spend time with her and have fun as friends. Cato always said a girl can throw away her boyfriend and act as if nothing had ever happened… But if that happens, Seron’s going to spend the next three years crying with that blank face of his. Hmm…”
Larry paced back and forth as he ruminated on his dilemma.
“Is that some new type of training?”
“It makes him look like a bear in a zoo.”
Seron and Nick came back to the room together.
The dormitory baths were massive.
They were built to be bigger than even hotel baths in order to let as many students use the facilities as possible while making them wait as little as possible. Rows of faucets were installed against the walls, and several large tubs drew elegant arcs along their edges. A white porcelain sculpture of a chiseled hero was pouring water from the turtle atop its shoulders.
Seron and Nick wrapped towels around their waists and stepped out of the change room. Larry followed after them a little later.
Seron and Nick were both on the slender side, but neither were particularly skinny.
Nick had his hair done up. It never showed when he was clothed, but he was all lean muscle, like a marathon runner.
“You work out, Nick? Looks like you’ve been doing whatever it is for a while.” Larry remarked curiously. Though short, Larry was muscular. He had a great interest in bodybuilding.
“Yes. I perform on stage.”
“You call that working out?”
“On the contrary, it takes quite a bit of energy. Care to give it a try?”
“No thanks. What’s that you’ve got with you?”
Larry was pointing at a large wooden basket in Nick’s right hand. Three metallic bottles were nestled inside.
“My usual hair-care products. My hair simply won’t listen to me unless I go all the way.”
“If you were in the military, they’d have shaved you bald. Tradition says any strand longer than a rifle bullet gets the razor.”
“I do plan to cut it short should I ever enlist.”
“Great! Why wait? I’ll bring you the papers tomorrow. The Confederation Army wants you!”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. I haven’t yet decided on a career path. I think we should turn this around and have you grow out your hair, Larry. To be honest, I’m quite envious of your beautiful blond hair.”
“The ancestors in our old portraits used to wear ‘em really long. But I’m not really a braids man.”
“What about you, Seron? Do you plan to grow out your hair?”
“No. I’m going to get it cut when it grows out a little longer. Although I’m not too keen on going back to my old buzzcut.”
They sat on wooden bath chairs in front of the empty faucets along the wall. There had been no other clothes in the change room, which meant the bath was empty. Seron, Larry, and Nick had the entire bath to themselves. They washed up at the faucets and then sat in one of the massive baths.
“That hits the spot.”
“It certainly does.”
Larry, Seron, and Nick sighed.
For some time, they simply sat soaking in the water.
On occasion they wiped the sweat from their faces with the towels they had on their heads. Time passed.
“I’m quite jealous that you have constant access to these baths, Seron.” Nick said.
“Agreed.” Larry nodded.
“Not many people know this,” Seron said, “but even non-dormitory students can use the baths during the school year.”
“Oh? That’s a pleasant surprise. I suppose I should try it out next term.”
“I had no idea.”
“Sometimes people from sports clubs come to use the baths after practice. But the problem is… as big as this place is, it’s still really crowded during the mornings and evenings. You can’t really take your time because there’s always a lineup.”
“I’ll retract my statement, then. I need a very long time to wash my hair.”
“Me too. Although a bath beats a shower anytime.”
“Excuse me for a minute.” Said Nick. “I think I should wash my hair.”
He stood from the bath, took his basket, and headed for the rows of shower booths. He turned on the water and began to gingerly lather his long hair.
“What do you say to some training, Seron?” Larry asked, taking to his feet. Seron shook his head.
“I don’t think I can today.”
“You’ll never become a great soldier like that, buddy!”
“It’s okay. I know you’ll be great enough for the both of us. Roxche’s future is in your hands, Larry.”
“Looks like I’ve got no choice. …One! Two! Three! Army!”
One energetic boy began to loudly do push-ups on the tiled floor.
One long-haired boy hummed to himself as he washed his hair in the distance.
And one boy who loved to soak in the bath blankly gazed into the air.
The porcelain sculpture said nothing as it poured water into the bath.
“Is anyone here?”
A new voice joined them.
The owner of the voice sat down at a nearby faucet the moment he entered, making it hard to tell who he was.
“Is that SC Arthur?” Seron wondered.
“Sounds like him. Hup! Hup! Hup!” Larry agreed, and lowered his voice so as not to be a nuisance.
Eventually, the newcomer finished washing up and came over to Seron and Larry. He was tall, and his black hair was swept back.
He was almost as well-built as Larry.
“Hello, SC Arthur. You look very different without your glasses.” Seron said. Arthur did not look as soft-spoken when his hair was slicked back and his glasses gone.
“That’s what everyone tells me. But I’m so nearsighted that I can’t go without them. I recognized you by your voice, Seron, but I can’t see your face at all.” Arthur said, as laid-back as ever, and sat where Nick had been earlier. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling.
Once Larry had done 100 push-ups, he returned to the bathtub massaging his arms.
“Hey there, SC Arthur.”
“Ah, so you were Larry. I wanted to ask you during the day, but why is your face swollen? Are you all right?”
“Oh… er… I got into a bit of a scuffle. But don’t worry—it was outside of school.”
“I see. If you two are here, I guess our Black Knight must be around too.”
“Yes. He’s washing his hair at the showers.” Seron replied.
“He was very good today. I was impressed.”
“You and SC Sophia were awesome, too.” Larry said. “I don’t know anything about theater, but you two looked like totally different people up there.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure Sophia will be too.” Arthur replied with a smile. That was when Nick returned.
“Oh? SC Arthur.”
He had a towel wrapped around his waist, and also his head. His long hair was concealed completely.
Nick also seemed completely different now. Now that his long hair was concealed, he looked very masculine. The towel on his head cast an odd silhouette.
“Er… Nick, is that you?” Arthur squinted.
“What’s with the hair? Is that how things work in your hometown?” Larry asked. Nick brought over a bath chair from the faucets and responded.
“The fibers of the wet towel stimulate your brain cells and make you smarter. Would you care to try, Larry?”
“Thanks for the info, but if I get smart Seron’s ‘teaching really well to idiots’ skill’s gonna get rusty. No, seriously though.”
“I do this to keep my head warm long enough that the treatment will permeate into my hair.”
“Heh. No need for me to try, then.”
Larry lost interest completely and sat waist-deep in the bath. He looked at Arthur. So did Nick.
“Did you come alone, SC Arthur?”
“Yeah. The other guys are hanging out with the girls in the common room. They were playing a game where one person recites a long line, then another person tries to repeat it without making a mistake. It’s one of the drama club’s traditions.”
“It must be quite lively with all the girls in the club.” Nick remarked. Arthur chuckled.
“You’re welcome to join, Nick. Join the guys as the girls beat us in majority votes all the time. If nothing else, I guarantee you that you’ll start questioning the wisdom of democracy.”
“I can already imagine. I’m afraid I’ll have to decline, SC Arthur. It must be difficult for you.”
“It’s not too bad. Sophia pulls her weight and then some.” Arthur sighed. “Sometimes, I wonder how things would have been if Sophia had been president.”
Seron stared in blank silence. Larry did the same, looking more worried.
“You’re a great president, SC Arthur.” Larry said.
Nick nodded. “I agree.”
“Thanks, guys. I can’t stop being the president now, so I want to do my best with the job I have. I practically stole away Sophia’s position, so I have to work even harder for her sake.”
“Hm? What do you mean?” Larry asked. Seron and Nick quietly waited for the answer.
“The drama club presidency alternates between gender every year. If a boy is the president one year, a girl has to be president the next. It’s the opposite with the vice-presidency.”
“Wow.” Larry gasped.
“Was last year’s president male?” Asked Nick. Arthur pushed back his bangs and nodded.
“Yeah. At least, until he dropped out of school around the end of the year.”
Everyone was quiet.
Low grades were the most common cause of dropouts in secondary school, whether because of difficulties in class or being held back two years in a row, which automatically resulted in expulsion. The second most common cause—which was not very common at all—was misbehavior or delinquency.
Either cause would disqualify a student from moving on to university, which would have presumably been the student’s reason for coming to secondary school in the first place. So students had every reason to avoid such things.
“May we ask why?” Nick inquired cautiously. Arthur noticed the mood and waved his hands.
“Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything bad. SC Joshua left for a very good reason. The Confederation Theater Troupe recognized his skills and scouted him. He chose to take the stage as a young newcomer with a bright future instead of going on to university. SC Joshua’s the eldest son of a family that runs a famous electronics company. The family was completely against their talented heir pursuing a different path in life, but he managed to convince them otherwise. I hear he’s taking on more prominent roles now. Sophia and I went to watch him the other day, and he was practically a star.”
“That sounds incredible.”
“I had no idea we had a senior-classman like him.”
Nick and Seron remarked in turn.
“Cool.” Larry said. Arthur nodded.
“Definitely. He was brave to make such an important decision. I love theatre too, but if someone asked me if I wanted to be an actor, I could say ‘no’ with confidence. I plan to go to university, then go to graduate school and major in business management so I can help out my family. That’s the whole reason I came to this school.”
“Your family runs a traditional patisserie, right?” Asked Larry. “My mother loves your family’s cakes. She serves it all the time at parties. When I was little, my favorite part was eating the very edges.”
“Thanks. And I hope we’ll have her continued patronage. Anyway, when SC Joshua left, the then-vice-president stepped up as president for the rest of the year. It was unprecedented, but since we had just gone through a female president, we had to pick a male president for this year. I was the only boy in fifth year this year, so I was chosen to take over.”
“I see.” Seron nodded.
“Then SC Sophia was meant to be this year’s president?” Asked Nick.
“That’s right. When I first met her not long after joining the drama club, I was really impressed. She was a great actress, she was good at memorizing—and remembering—her lines, and she was always motivated. By third year, we took it for granted that she’d become president eventually. Even the more envious of the girls supported her. And Sophia did her best to learn by helping SC Joshua and our previous president.” Arthur said. He was growing more and more talkative, perhaps out of nostalgia. “SC Joshua being scouted was an honor for him and the drama club, but because of that Sophia was forced to take the vice-presidency instead. She never complained about it, and I did my best with my job, but sometimes I wonder if this is really all right. I know I’m never going to get a black-and-white answer, so all I can do is try my hardest with what I have. And I want to reflect as much of Sophia’s opinions as possible when I make decisions as the president.”
Seron, Larry, and Nick were silent.
They became painfully aware of the sound of water gushing from the porcelain sculpture.
“S-sorry, guys.” Arthur said quickly, trying to raise their spirits. “I didn’t mean to get you all down like that. It’s just that I can’t really talk about this stuff with the drama club. Don’t worry about it. Thanks for helping out with practice. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
Arthur stood and left as the others bid him good night. He walked away.
“Must be tough, huh.” Larry said pensively.
Seron gravely nodded. “I’m sure we’ll have to make a lot of big decisions in fifth year, too.”
“Although in your case, you’ve got a big decision coming before that.” Larry commented.
“Oh? And what might that be?”
“Nothing for you to worry about, Nick.”
“There you go again, Larry. Please, aren’t we fellow members of the newspaper club?”
“Oh yeah, that was today. I’m gonna forget I’m in a club if I don’t write it down somewhere.”
“Perhaps we should compose a club theme song to sing together every morning?” Nick chuckled.
Larry pointed a finger at Nick’s head. “Nick. That towel treatment of yours is sucking the brainpower out of you.”
“Ah, I’d almost forgotten about my hair. Thank you, Larry.”
Nick stood and walked back to the showers.
“The army wants you!” Larry called after him. Nick waved lightly.
“We’re only in third year.” Said Seron. “It’s okay. I have time.”
“You sure about that?”
Seron gave Larry a very serious look.
“Yeah. Probably. I’m sure. Definitely.”
Larry thought for a moment. Then,
“Seron. Don’t tell me…”
“Are you feeling faint ‘cause you stayed in the bath for too long?”
Just as Seron cooled off in a tepid shower—
“I’m running out of time…”
A fifth-year girl was muttering to herself alone at the desk in her dormitory room. She had her elbows on the desk and was leaning her forehead against her clasped hands.
The only light in the room came from a small nightstand. The moon was not yet out and it was still dark outside, the world lit only by lights from nearby apartment buildings.
The girl wore a headband and had a freckled face.
Sophia Ulericks, the vice-president of the drama club, closed her eyes and fell into thought.
“Okay! I’ll do this! I’m going to tell Arthur!” She jumped to her feet, renewing her determination.
“Tell him what?” Asked her roommate, walking in with a towel over her hair.
Sophia screamed loud enough for her headband to go flying.