Chapter 2: Sophia
The 10th day of the seventh month.
Morning dawned on the fourth day of the practice camp.
It was another clear day swept by a pleasant northerly breeze.
Seron, Larry, and Nick had gone to bed early the previous night, and sat together at the cafeteria table for breakfast in school-issue sweats. Then they headed to the gymnasium with the rest of the drama club.
A little later, Natalia and Meg showed up in uniform and greeted them offhand.
Seron’s face was blank with joy.
The drama club and Ms. Krantz were even more passionate than before. The orchestra club and the chorus club matched their drive, creating beautiful music and filling the gymnasium with energy.
“Gotta do our job.”
“It’s fun watching them, though.”
Larry and Seron ran around doing odd jobs like opening windows, bringing in tea, and carrying heavy objects.
“The orchestra and chorus club can go ahead for lunch.” Said Ms. Krantz. “See you in the afternoon.”
Because of the way practice was scheduled, the orchestra club and the chorus club got to leave early. The drama club got together to discuss the placement of set pieces.
The orchestra members put away their instruments or left them in the gym and headed off to enjoy their lunch. Word had spread about the delicious cafeteria food; fewer students had brought their own lunches this time, and more joined the group headed for the dormitory building.
“We’ll see you later, Megmica.” The three girls from the chorus club waved as they went to music room 2 to eat their lunches.
“Let’s go ahead, then.”
Behind Meg was Natalia, standing tall like a bodyguard. The chorus girls thought well of her after her actions on the first day of practice.
“Oh, one second.” Natalia said, pointing at the two helpers closing the gymnasium window— specifically, at Larry.
Larry soon noticed her and pointed at himself as if in confirmation. Natalia gestured back in acknowledgement.
Larry jogged over to Natalia and Meg.
“Hey Megmica. What do you want, Lia?” He said, using Natalia’s childhood nickname.
“We’ll go ahead to the clubroom with everyone’s lunches, so you and Seron and Nick can come straight over once you’re done here.”
“Right. Is Jenny in today?”
“Yeah. She called me yesterday saying she’s got something big to announce as president. Gotta do what the boss says, y’know.”
“Come to think of it, you’re vice president now, aren’t you Lia?”
“Sure am. Feel free to add a ‘Madame’ in front of the name.”
“‘Madame Lia’? Sounds like a fortune teller.”
“True. Lunch menu’s up to me. Don’t care ‘bout you, but does Seron not eat anything? Any allergies?”
“Probably not, but if you get me both lunches I can let Seron pick first. Oh, but don’t trouble yourself with both if one of the meals have soup or broth. It’d be a pain to carry over.”
“Right. See ya.”
Natalia and Meg left the gymnasium, the former with a wave and the latter with a bow.
Larry went over to Seron, who was still closing windows.
And as for Sophia, who had been watching the entire exchange,
“Sophia! Hello? Are you still with us?”
She was scolded by Ms. Krantz, who had been addressing the entire club.
* * *
That day, around noon.
A brown-haired girl by the lengthy name of ‘Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz’ returned home carrying a leather suitcase and many large paper bags full of souvenirs.
“I’m home. —Not like anyone’s in, but oh well. Gonna take my time and enjoy the rest of my summer.” She said to herself, setting down her luggage in the hallway.
She brushed her teeth in the bathroom, washed her hands, and went to the kitchen. From the fridge she pulled out an unopened bottle of orange juice, twisted off the cap, and poured it into a cup. She drank it without even sitting down.
Lillia looked up at the blackboard on the wall before her. The family’s schedule was crammed tightly into every corner in white letters.
“Maybe I should call Meg… But I’m back so much earlier than I planned…”
She thought for a moment.
“Forget it. I’ll see her on the 14th anyway.”
Just as Lillia unpacked at home, the drama club disbanded for lunch.
The club members hurried over to the cafeteria in the dormitory building.
“Apparently Jenny’s on campus again today. Looks like she has a lot of time on her hands.”
“Do you think she might be cross with us if we don’t call her ‘president’?”
“Who knows? Either way, please don’t let anyone call me ‘treasurer’.”
Larry, Nick, and Seron headed for the newspaper club office. All three were in school-issue sweats.
They stepped into the building, walked through the empty hallways, and arrived at the door.
“We’re here.” Larry said, knocking.
The heard Jenny’s voice from inside. “Password? The planet explodes if you get it wrong.”
“I don’t know.”
“Hm. ‘I don’t know’… I guess that works as the new password. All right, Megmica. You can let them in.”
Meg unlocked the door from inside.
“Welcome in, everyone.” She beamed radiantly.
“Ah. Thanks, Megmica.” Larry grinned back.
“Thank you for the kind welcome.” Nick nodded with a smile.
“Thanks.” Seron said tersely, his expression blank even as he internally told himself that he was the happiest man in all of Roxche.
When they stepped into the luxurious room, they found Jenny standing before them. And in front of her—
“‘Cause we’re the newspaper club— always seeking truth and justice—”
Natalia sat on a chair, her long legs crossed. She strummed an off-kilter melody on a large guitar and sang stylishly along with a set of off-kilter lyrics.
“And so— the chosen six are gathered—”
“Wh-what is that supposed to be, Lia?” Larry was incredulous. Natalia stopped.
“Our club song, genius. Nothing like a good tune to get some good ol’ team spirit going. As you can see, I’m busy composing the melody and the lyrics.” Natalia chuckled, playing a riff.
Larry narrowed his eyes and, without turning, addressed Nick behind him.
“You’ve got a fellow patient here. And if she’s actually performing the song in public, I think her symptoms are worse than yours.”
“My, my. This is troubling. Perhaps we’ll feel better about this if all six of us were infected.”
“Nah. Who’s gonna speak the truth if everyone loses their minds? This is supposed to be a newspaper club.”
Natalia placed her guitar on the desk. “Don’t just stand there, boys. The sofa’s free. Let’s eat.”
On the coffee table were lunches for everyone from the cafeteria. There were eight bags in total, one for each student and extras for Larry and Natalia, who were big eaters.
“Thanks for getting our food, too. Who should we pay?” Seron asked, taking the center seat like he had done the previous day.
“Don’t sweat it. It’s my treat. The menu was pea soup with bread or bacon and lettuce club sandwiches, but I settled for sandwiches for everyone. No complaints, hear? I’ll be happy to take your sandwich if you don’t want it.” Said Natalia.
“Lia… you’re gonna turn into a tree trunk at this rate.” Larry said snidely, knowing that Natalia never gained weight no matter how much she ate.
“That might be something worth writing about, don’t you agree?”
“If that happens, I’ll give Larry a piggyback ride. Show him the view from up here, y’know?”
Nick and Natalia also took a seat.
“Do you want any help, Megmica?” Jenny asked, turning to the kitchenette.
“I am all right, Jenny. Thank you. I am just now finished.” Meg replied, walking over to the others with a platter laden with six different teacups. She carefully placed each cup of tea on the table before finally taking a seat herself.
Once Jenny was seated, she and the others thanked Natalia for the sandwiches. They prayed before their meals and dug in.
The bacon and lettuce were still crisp. The sandwiches were also packed with fresh tomato slices and cheese.
“This is great.” Jenny said, flattening her sandwich and taking big bites from the edges.
“Do you come out to school just for the cafeteria food?” Larry asked, picking up a flower-print teacup.
“Mm mmm.” Jenny denied the accusation with her mouth still shut.
“It is a wonderful thing to be able to eat together with everyone like this.” Meg said between bites. She was wrestling with her sandwich, but seemed to be enjoying it.
Seron said nothing, but thought very hard to himself, ‘even centipedes would taste delicious as long as I’m with Megmica!’
Jenny was the first to finish her sandwich. She took sips of tea as she began her announcement.
“All right, let me explain a few things while you eat. You guys are gonna learn some new skills for the club. First comes photography. I’ll give each of you a camera one of these days so you can practice. You’ll have to develop and print the pictures yourselves. You’re also going to learn how to write newspaper articles and how to cover stories. We won’t have time during lunch, so I want you to meet back in here in the evening. This is an order from the president.”
“Sure, as long as practice doesn’t run late like yesterday.”
“I understand. I will do so too as well. Everyone worried for my sake afterwards, so it is now not good to return home late.”
Natalia and Meg spoke up.
Seron, Larry, and Nick agreed.
“Hm… so much for being president.” Jenny groaned.
Once lunch break was over—
“We’ll come back if practice ends on time. We still have loads of photos to develop.”
The newspaper club sans Jenny left for the gymnasium. Natalia placed her guitar in a wooden case and left it in the club office.
“I’ll bring in a couple of flutes tomorrow. Both alto and soprano.”
“Awesome. Sing us a song while you play, Lia.” Larry joked. Meg burst out laughing.
* * *
Like morning, afternoon practice was heated. Time passed quickly.
Seron and Larry went to buy more nails for the set pieces.
When they returned, the Black Knight conceded defeat and disappeared. Meg and the chorus club sang a heartfelt melody to match the scene.
“Too bad we missed most of that.” Larry said.
“We always have tomorrow.” Seron replied.
Evening drew near.
“We’ll finish early today to make up for yesterday, everyone.” Said Ms. Krantz. “Good work! Excellent job!”
Practice ended earlier than usual.
“Man, now we have to go to the newspaper club.” Larry joked.
“The Goddess of Fortune is smiling upon us.” Seron said with a completely straight face.
Most students practically skipped out of the the gymnasium, celebrating the early dismissal. On the other hand, Seron, Larry, Meg, and Natalia stood by the doors waiting for Nick.
When they peered inside, they saw Arthur and Nick exchanging opinions on the performance, making all sorts of gestures.
“Looks like our Black Knight’s really into his role.” Natalia remarked.
“The king played by SC Arthur was very cool also.” Meg said. Seron’s eye twitched.
That was when someone came up to them.
“Could I talk to you?”
When they turned, they saw the freckled, headband-wearing vice-president Sophia. She had left with the rest of the drama club, but now she was back alone. The newspaper club was surprised to see her.
“Is something the matter?” Seron spoke for everyone. Sophia replied plainly.
“I need to talk to you. Do you have time?”
“Yes. But are you asking me alone?”
“All of you. The four of you, who aren’t in the drama club. It’s a little complicated.”
“I see.” Seron nodded. When he glanced back, he saw Nick and Arthur walking over, having finished their conversation. “Actually, we’re headed somewhere together. Would you mind coming with us?”
No sooner had he finished speaking than Sophia replied,
“The newspaper club?”
“Huh? H-how did you know?”
“I saw Jenny on campus this morning. And I figured you’d joined when all of you went somewhere else for lunch. It looks like you’ve gotten close.” Sophia said with a smile. The newspaper club was pleasantly surprised.
“Apologies for keeping you waiting.” Nick said. He was surprised when he spotted Sophia among the group.
“Nick is a member as well.” Said Seron. “Would you mind if he came along?”
“Not at all.”
The five students and the surprising guest headed to the club office without a word.
Seron knocked on the door.
“Password?” Said Jenny’s voice. Larry replied immediately,
“Do you have our keys yet?”
“Hold on a sec.”
Jenny opened the door. She was startled to see Sophia with the others.
“Huh?” She shot Seron an unpleasant glare. “A new member already? I expected no less from a pretty boy.”
“No, Jenny. SC Sophia says there’s something she’d like to discuss with us. Would you mind?”
“Does this have something to do with the newspaper club?” Jenny asked.
“Yes. I need your help. Remember how the newspaper club uncovered Ms. Julia Evans’s shotgun wedding two years ago, even when the vice-principal tried to make sure word didn’t get out? I was so glad you did—otherwise we never would have been able to congratulate Ms. Evans. I need you to dig up information like you did back then.”
Seron and the others were quite surprised to hear this.
“…All right. Come in.”
Jenny grinned took a step back, gesturing for Sophia to come inside.
Seven students sat in the club office.
Jenny sat on a chair, and the others on sofas with the boys on one and the girls on the other. Sophia sat in the middle, across from Seron.
Cups of steaming-hot tea sat on the coffee table. Sophia was taken aback to see such expensive cups.
“Is it… really okay for me to use this?”
Jenny took up her pen and notepad. “Don’t worry about it. Now, what would you like to have us investigate?”
Sophia took a deep breath. A serious look rose to her eyes.
“I want you to find something for me on campus.”
“Oh? Like what?” Jenny inquired, leaning forward. The others listened quietly.
“I know this might sound strange, but I don’t actually know what it is I’m looking for.”
“If you know what this is, tell me straight out. Okay?” Sophia hesitated, then, and continued. “Arthur used a term I’ve never heard of.” She said, averting her gaze.
Jenny took down every detail like a seasoned investigator. “We won’t laugh or anything, no matter how strange it might be. So what was this term he used?”
Sophia must have made up her mind. She returned to her usual self and confessed,
“The ‘50th bee’.”
The club members furrowed their brows.
“The ‘50th bee’. That’s the term. It was about ten days ago…” Sophia began. “It was still exam season, so we didn’t have practice that day. I was on my way home, heading to the gates. It was as crowded as ever. And I spotted Arthur walking about two meters ahead. He was talking with a boy I’ve never met.”
“I see. I see.” Jenny nodded along, furiously taking notes.
“They sounded like they were having fun, and it was so crowded I decided not to talk to him and kept walking. But that’s when I overheard them. The friend said, ‘come to think of it, what are you gonna do about the “50th bee”?’ Arthur didn’t sound any different when he replied. ‘Hm… it’s too early.’ The friend suddenly got serious then. ‘Get a hold of yourself. We’re fifth-years now—you’d want to sell your own parents for the ‘50th bee’, wouldn’t you?’ Then Arthur just said, ‘…you’re right. I’ll try. Sorry to make you worry.’ He sounded so faint then.”
Seron and the others on the sofas could not respond.
Jenny stopped taking notes. She looked like she had taken a bite out of a chocolate bar she had thought was a hamburger.
“That’s it. They went in different directions at the gates, and I didn’t talk to Arthur then.” Sophia concluded.
“SC Sophia… just making sure, is there any chance that you heard wrong?” Jenny asked.
“No. I know what I heard.”
“Really?” Jenny was unconvinced.
“I don’t think SC Sophia is misremembering. She’s good at memorizing dialogue.” Seron said, the eyes of six students—including the girl he loved—on him. “Let’s get the facts straight, SC Sophia. SC Arthur wants to get his hands on something called the 50th bee before he graduates. And judging from the context, the 50th bee is somewhere in this school.”
“Yeah. That’s what I think.”
“And you want to find this 50th bee for SC Arthur, am I correct?”
“Yeah…” Sophia nodded. She picked up her tea and took a sip.
Seron noticed that Sophia and the other girls seemed to be very interested in the subject. And he realized that his suspicions were correct.
Looking around at each of the members, Seron asked, “does anyone know what the 50th bee might be? I think ‘bee’ in this case means the insect.”
No one answered.
Unsurprised, he looked at Sophia.
“To be honest, I don’t know what this term means either. I’ve never heard of anything like it. SC Arthur must have used a term that only his close friends would understand.”
“Yeah… I expected as much. I thought maybe it was a term all the boys might know.”
“Have you asked around the drama club?”
“This is the first I’ve told anyone about the 50th bee.”
Larry, who had been listening quietly, suddenly spoke up.
“SC Sophia, why are you trying to get this 50th bee for SC Arthur anyway?”
Sophia could not answer such a direct question.
“Ugh. Talk about dense.” Jenny rolled her eyes. No one else responded.
“No, well… I… I was just curious.” Larry stammered, looking to Nick for answers.
Nick noticed his gaze, but looked away as though avoiding the question.
Finally, Larry turned to Meg.
She looked quite troubled.
“Ahem. Sorry, SC Sophia. We have an idiot in the group.” Natalia said with a straight face.
“Hold it. Look. I admit I’m an idiot, so please tell me what’s going on here.” Larry pleaded.
For some reason, the rest of the newspaper club kept silent in thought. Several seconds passed.
Sophia was the one to break the silence.
“It’s because I love him.”
“Huh? Wait, what?” Larry asked in confusion.
“You’re hopeless. SC Sophia deserves a whole lotta gratitude right now.”
“That’s right. Maybe you should train more than just your muscles sometimes.”
Natalia and Jenny scolded Larry in turn.
“Right. Sorry. Er… I’m sorry, SC Sophia.” Larry said, shrinking back.
“It’s all right. I was going to tell you guys anyway.” Sophia replied kindly. “It wouldn’t be right to just ask you to do this for me without telling you why. But please don’t tell anyone else. Please.”
“Of course. We will protect your secret and do our utmost to assist you. Isn’t that right, president?” Nick said.
“Definitely. Like our club motto says, ‘accept all requests, and research the rest’.” Jenny replied.
“That’s the first I’ve heard.” Natalia commented. Jenny did not lose a second in responding.
“‘Mottos are meant to be made on the spot’.”
“Is that one of our mottos too?”
“I’m counting on you.” Sophia smiled. That was when Meg jumped in.
Meg clasped her hands tightly over Sophia’s, trembling with excitement.
“It is cool! It is amazing! I will cheer for your love! I will cheer, I promise! I will pray that your love will become—er, come true!”
“Th-thank you, Megmica.”
Meg let go of Sophia’s hands and began gesticulating in a way very foreign to Roxche, and probably even Sou Be-Il.
“We will find them! We will find all the 50th’s bee! I’m sure there will be big caves in the ground! Perhaps it is the newest kind of bee only in our school no one knows yet! You will be resting easy, SC Sophia! We are very good at finding underground things!”
Meg’s Roxchean began degenerating.
Sophia’s eyes widened in confusion. Nick quickly stepped in.
“There’s no need for a possessive between ‘50th’ and ‘bee’, Megmica. And the word ‘bee’ refers to the buzzing insect that flies around collecting pollen.”
Meg was shocked.
“Pardon? Do not bees in Roxche make large caves under the grounds? If there are 50 bees, I thought they would make big holes under the grounds and crawl in lines.”
As Meg reeled in confusion, Natalia tilted her head.
“I think you’re talking about ants, Megmica. They’re totally different. Did you learn the terms wrong?”
“Huh? Er… hm? This is…”
“Guys.” Jenny finally spoke up with a twirl of her pen, knowing they were getting nowhere. “In Bezelese, they use the same word to refer to both bees and ants. They’re both hymenopteras, and other than the wings, they have similar body structures. So in Bezelese, ‘flying bees’ are what we know as bees, and ‘crawling bees’ are ants. Usually people omit the first part, so you generally have to use context to figure out which insect they’re talking about.”
“Yes! That is true!” Meg exclaimed. “Thank you, Jenny. Now I know differences. ‘Ant’. My new Roxchean word for today.”
“Fascinating. Looks like I still have a lot to learn.” Said Seron.
“Anyway, let’s get back to the point.” Jenny said. “SC Sophia, you want to help SC Arthur because you’re in love with him, right? You want him to acknowledge you. So you’re trying to find this ‘50th bee’ that he so desperately wants.”
“Yeah. I know this might be a little underhanded, but I think I might be able to tell him how I feel then. Or maybe not, but I have to try.”
“If you’ve come so far as to talk to us, you must be desperate.”
“Yeah. As long as I can tell him before the practice camp ends… by the last day…”
“I see. Then we have no time to lose. When does the camp end?” Asked Jenny. Nick answered.
“The camp lasts seven days, and today is the fourth day. We have tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that—three full days in total.”
“That’s right.” Sophia nodded. “But there won’t be much of a practice on the last day. Just one full rehearsal, then cleanup and lunch and an afterparty at the dormitory cafeteria. We’ll be dismissed before evening—by this time that day, at the latest.”
Larry scowled. “So we really only have two days…”
“It might be tough to figure out this 50th bee.” Said Natalia. “Me, Megmica, and Nick are tied up all day, and Seron and Larry probably can’t spare too much time. Jenny’s about our only free member.”
“Still.” Jenny slammed her notepad on her desk. “I am going to complete this request. Like our motto says, ‘assist all romantic endeavors’.”
Larry muttered something about getting yet another new motto. Jenny remained confident.
“This is going to be a challenge. But we’re gonna solve this by the last day of the training camp, SC Sophia. You can count on us!”
Meg rose to her feet and applauded.
“You said something very cool, Jenny! I will help also!”
“Thanks, Jenny. Megmica. Sorry this was so sudden.” Sophia said. Jenny grinned.
“The newspaper club will never let its fans down.”
“Then let’s get started right away.”
Sophia left the club office first and headed for the dormitories.
It was just about time for practice to end on a normal day.
“Me and Megmica should be leaving about now. So what do we do?” Asked Natalia. Jenny turned from her place by the door with her head held high.
“What else? We act!”
“Just go out there and do something. Nat, Megmica, Nick? I want you three here during lunch break. And Seron and Larry?”
Jenny pointed at the two, who had replied at the same time.
“I’m gonna need your full support from tomorrow on. The enemy will soon be upon us!”
“Sure, but who’s the enemy?” Larry asked dubiously.
Jenny did not miss a beat. “Love is war.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Lemme spell it out for you. Love makes people suffer. Sometimes it kills them. People can die for love. Please tell me your skull’s not thick enough for that to go over your head.”
Larry could not respond. He simply looked at Meg across the coffee table.
“Yes? What is the matter?”
“Could you translate that into Roxchean for me? Please.”
The newspaper club was dismissed.
“I want everyone to ask friends and family outside the school about this ‘50th bee’. Maybe it’s a popular phrase on radio or TV, or a new product of some kind. Larry, Nick, and I will try to ask SC Arthur discreetly if we can. But make sure to keep SC Sophia’s feelings a secret. Try not to discuss it outside the office. We’ll report back tomorrow at lunchtime.” Seron explained in place of Jenny, who was bursting with enthusiasm but not much else.
* * *
“Please excuse us first. —Ants crawl on the ground.”
“No need to see us off. Good luck with the investigation.”
“I’ll bring spare keys for everyone tomorrow.”
The girls left through the gates, saying goodbye.
Seron, Larry, and Nick returned to the dormitory cafeteria and sat down at a table far from the drama club.
“Come on, why do they have to sit so far away?” “Are we not good enough for them or something? Ugh!”
Some of the girls fumed, frustrated that they never had the chance to speak to them.
“Maybe they’re just shy. Don’t be so angry at them.” Sophia tried to calm them down.
“Or maybe… the three of them are dating?” One of the third-years speculated, to screams of both horror and excitement.
As frenzied voices echoed through the cafeteria, Larry cut a piece of roast chicken—that day’s dinner menu—with a knife.
“So how’re we gonna make this plan of ours work?” He asked, deliberately being vague. Seron sat across from him, and Nick to Seron’s right.
Seron had also ordered chicken. He chewed on a piece as he replied.
“Our first priority is to protect our client’s secret. We won’t hunt for information in the dorms. If you need the phone, use the one in the club office. And we can’t discuss the issue in our rooms—the baths go without saying—in case one of them happens to hear. You can usually hear people talking in their rooms from the hallway. It’s best to keep all this information to the office.”
“Of course.” Nick nodded, placing a piece of steamed bass on a mushroom. He had gotten the other menu.
“Should we not talk about it here, then?” Larry asked. Seron nodded.
“Yeah. This might sound stupid, but someone might have good enough eyesight to lip-read what we say. We have to be careful. We can’t let anyone know.” Seron said gravely. Larry nodded, knowing how personal this had become to Seron.
“All right. But you know, I was pretty surprised when Jenny decided to help out.”
Nick agreed. “Indeed. Our issue here isn’t particularly suitable for the papers, either.”
“Yeah.” Said Larry. “Wonder if there’s a story behind that. Maybe she had a bad experience with romance— Actually, let’s drop this.” Larry stopped himself, thinking of Seron.
“All I can say now is that we should do our best.” Seron said, unaffected. He popped a piece of steamed carrot into his mouth.