Things are getting busy for me now and my update schedule might be on the slow side for a while, but I'm going to keep going until this series and the finale are done.
Thanks, and enjoy.
Chapter 4: Seron’s Dream
The five students made their way through the worsening rain and returned to the gymnasium.
Seron went in with Larry and Nick, and Natalia and Meg followed separately.
Afternoon practice grew heated and even stricter. They stopped for a break halfway through and finally finished much later than the usual dismissal time.
The orchestra and the chorus club left ahead. Natalia and Meg gestured to Seron and Larry to do their best as they disappeared into the evening rain.
Once the drama club was dismissed, Seron and Larry hurried to the faculty office without Nick.
And on the way,
“I wonder what happened to Mr. Murdoch.”
“Hm. I was so happy about Megmica that I’d completely forgotten. I’m curious too. Maybe Jenny heard something from Mr. Hartnett?”
“Makes sense. I should ask her sometime.”
They entered the office.
Mr. Jobs from the social studies department was on duty. He was a man in his late thirties, who mainly taught geography.
Poor Mr. Jobs had been torn from his long summer vacation and back to work, left to read alone in the large office.
He was tall with a slender build and wore round glasses. Ever indifferent, he showed no qualms about Seron’s request.
“You want to use the library? Sure. But you won’t have a lot of time.”
“I’m not going to be reading inside, sir. I’d like to check out some of the books. There’s something I simply have to look into. I’d also like to borrow the encyclopedia set for one night. May I take them back to my dorm room?”
“Hm… You need the librarian’s permission to check out the encyclopedias, but there’s no one there right now. …Well, you’re an honor student. I suppose I could give you permission.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jobs!”
The library was a large building separate from the others, and was home to a massive number of books. Luckily for Seron and Larry, it was close to the dormitories and was connected to it by a roofed walkway.
The library was practically Seron’s second room. If he wasn’t in the dorms, he was bound to be here.
Seron and Larry stepped in through the door Mr. Jobs unlocked.
Seron knew where almost everything was. He quickly picked up the books he needed and loaded them into the cart Larry was pushing.
By the time he was done, two whole carts had been filled.
“That’s quite the load you’re taking along. Do be careful on the way back.” Mr. Jobs said as he locked up and left.
The carts were so heavy that Seron and Larry had to push one cart together across the walkway, then come back for the other. And once they were at the dormitory building, they were faced with the task of carrying the books all the way up to the third floor. Seron reached for the encyclopedias.
“Wait. I’ll take care of this.” Larry said. “I’ll carry the books upstairs, so you watch the carts.”
“You’ve got a long night ahead of you, buddy. You’ll need all your strength. I’m just doing what I can to help.”
“…All right. Thanks, Larry.”
“Just leave it to me!”
Larry hefted as many books as he could into his arms and slowly made his way up the stairs. Then he ran back to the cart and carried yet another armful of books upstairs.
Several repetitions later, Larry’s T-shirt was drenched.
“I’m still good to go!” He said nevertheless, putting on his usual smile.
Seron stood by the carts, watching Larry make the trip again and again.
Once the books were in their room, Seron and Larry took a quick bath and went to the cafeteria for dinner.
When they stepped inside, they spotted Nick eating next to Arthur—separate from the rest of the drama club. They were talking about something, gesturing often. Nick noticed Larry and Seron, but continued the conversation.
“Looks like he’s on a roll.” “We can leave SC Arthur to Nick.”
Larry and Seron remarked, sitting down even further from the rest of the club.
For dinner they had a choice between beefsteak patties with vegetables or spaghetti in white sauce. Seron and Larry elected for the latter.
“Seron, you’re gonna pull an all-nighter?”
“Got anything to chow down on overnight?”
“It’d be nice if I did.”
“Hold on a sec.”
“Be right back.”
Larry took off and grabbed two hot dog buns from the all-you-can-eat buns section. He also picked out two beefsteak patties and some vegetables, cheese, and seasonings from the salad bar.
Then he cut the buns in half, spread butter on the inside, and toasted them quickly before inserting the patties in halves and the vegetables.
“There. Here’s your Hepburn-style sandwiches!”
Larry carefully wrapped up the sandwiches in the bags the hot dog buns came in, separately from the cheese.
“Snack on these if you get hungry. Just put the cheese inside and warm ‘em up back here in the cafeteria.”
“Thanks, Larry. I really appreciate it.” Seron said, receiving the sandwiches. Larry grinned.
“That looks scrumptious. Have you got any for me?” Nick asked, approaching their table.
Seron and Larry looked up to see that Arthur was leaving the cafeteria. The other drama club members were nowhere to be seen.
“Anything?” Larry asked as Nick sat next to him.
Nick shook his head. “We had a wonderful conversation about theater.”
“I see.” Larry was disappointed. Seron remained as stoic as ever.
“But something did seem strange to me. Permit me to discuss this here, as the drama club is gone and this may be urgent.” Nick said, lowering his voice. Seron and Larry gave him their full attention. “Just now, the topic of my birthday happened to come up. So I took the chance to ask SC Arthur if he knew that SC Sophia’s birthday was the day after tomorrow.”
“Good going, Nick!” “And?”
“It seems that he was aware of the fact. ‘I want to do something for her, but I’m a bit too busy right now,’ he said to me. Not a particularly insightful answer. It seems the drama club is planning a celebration for her at the afterparty. In any case, I pursued the topic further and asked SC Arthur what he wanted for his own birthday—if he had something he truly wanted.”
“Yeah!” “What did he say?”
“Well, that was the curious part.” Nick said gravely.
“What do you mean?” Asked Seron.
“How would you two answer?” Nick asked.
“If I could ask for anything? A motorcycle or a car.”
“Books. Or a bookstore gift card.”
“Yes, that’s generally how people would answer that question.”
“Then you mean—”
“That’s right, Seron. SC Arthur began to speak faster, his attitude changing. ‘N-nothing,’ he said to me. And that was the end of it. I’d never seen him so flustered.”
“Hm…” Larry groaned.
Seron thought in silence.
“It couldn’t be…” Nick began.
Larry knew what he was thinking. “You want to say that your guess back in the office might have been right.”
“Yes. What do you think, Seron?”
“It’s looking more likely.”
“I see. Then what is our course of action?”
“Pray that I’ll find the answer in the library books tonight.”
“I understand. That’s all for my report.”
* * *
“All right. Let’s get started.”
Seron was sitting at his desk in the dorm room.
On the desk was a brand-new notebook and pens and pencils.
Around the desk were piles upon piles of books.
The encyclopedias had been spread all around the room because they were so heavy that they made the floor squeak underneath. There was also a T-shirt under each pile of books to keep them clean.
“Good luck!” Larry cheered, climbing into his bed and getting ready to sleep.
It wasn’t yet bedtime, but Larry pulled his sheets over himself.
“I’ll sleep early and get up early. Wake me up at sunrise.”
“Got it.” Seron replied. Larry closed his eyes and put a towel over his eyelids.
And with surprising promptness, he began to snore softly.
Seron turned back to his desk.
He opened up ‘Canoeing for Beginners’.
* * *
The twelfth day of the 7th month.
It was before dawn on the morning of the sixth day of the practice camp.
The first thing Larry saw when he opened his eyes was the ceiling, lit dimly by the morning sun.
The next thing he saw was the pile of books stacked near the foot of his bed.
The next thing he saw was Seron, sitting at the desk in the same position as the one Larry had seen him in the night before.
A thick book was spread on the desk before Seron. His hand quietly turned the page.
“Hey, Seron. I’m awake now…” Larry said, half-asleep.
“Morning already…?” Seron replied, slowly turning around.
The face that greeted Larry had red eyes with dark circles underneath. It was almost ghostlike.
“Hey… you all right, buddy?” Larry asked, completely awake. Seron lightly tilted his head and replied in a half-moan.
“I dunno. But that’s not important.”
“Wh-what in—? Is that you, Seron?”
That was the first thing Nick asked when he approached the table and Seron turned to look at him.
“Yeah… I think so. Morning.” Seron replied lethargically. Nick sat across from him.
“You certainly don’t appear to be the same Seron as the one I met yesterday. I’d heard you stayed up all through the night. Are you feeling all right?”
“My eyes hurt a bit… my throat feels kind of dry. I have a slight headache… but I’ll be fine once I have some food. Larry’s midnight snack was a big help too.” Seron replied, mechanically shoveling cereal into his mouth.
“Seron, you seem to my eyes more corpse than man. —Larry?” Nick turned, giving Larry a pointed look.
Larry shook his head.
“Gimme a break, Nick. I tried to stop him. More than once, too. I woke up at dawn, but Seron wouldn’t stop reading for hours after. He was glued to the books until just before we came down to the cafeteria.”
“…And did you find anything, Seron?”
“I made it through the encyclopedias and the rulebooks, but I didn’t find anything. But…”
“I still have more books to go. Biographies of famous athletes, international competition records, stuff like that to look over until afternoon. Sorry Larry, but you go to practice without me. I’ll join you in the afternoon…”
Nick gave up on trying to convince Seron. He stood without even touching his breakfast.
“Larry, may I have a word?”
“Sure. Take you time, Seron. And make sure to have some fruit too!”
Nick and Larry walked away from Seron, who continued to scoop food into his mouth. They stopped by the cafeteria wall and quietly whispered to one another.
“What a terrible state. He looks like a dead man walking. I wasn’t aware that Seron had a doppelganger.”
“I don’t think he took a single break overnight. He even had the sandwiches cold in our room.”
“This is too much. Staying up a single night should not tire anyone out to that extent. We must make him rest today.”
“You think I haven’t tried? I said I’d go to practice alone and he could get some sleep, but he won’t listen. He wouldn’t listen at all.”
“Then it seems that he is intent on continuing until the afternoon. Even if he finishes early, he may return to the library for more books. He could easily drive himself to unconsciousness.”
“Yeah… So this is what happens when a hardworking guy with a long attention span gets to work, huh.”
“This is no time to be impressed, Larry.” Nick sighed. “I have an idea.”
Nick’s green eyes looked into Larry’s blue eyes.
“After breakfast, we will take Seron to the newspaper club office, telling him we should report to Jenny before practice. We have no idea what he may do if we leave him in the dorm room with the books.”
“Right.” Larry nodded. “But what’re we supposed to do then? Seron’s gonna insist on coming back. We can’t exactly knock him out.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is a Dezer Pharmaceuticals first-aid kit in the office, yes? It should contain headache pills. We will have Seron take the medicine.”
“Huh? Yeah, that does put you right to sleep. But Seron would never take it in a million years.” Larry pointed out.
“That will not be a problem.” Nick said with an elegant smile. “We can simply break it apart and put it in his tea.”
* * *
“It was an emergency. We didn’t have a choice.” Larry sighed, looking up at the sky.
He was sitting on a bench on the rooftop of the building that housed the club office. The concrete floor was still wet in places.
Next to him was Nick, and three girls in uniform.
The newspaper club members sans Seron were eating lunch on the rooftop. The sky was a clear blue, and there was a gentle breeze in the air.
“You spiked his tea?! That’s pure evil, Nicholas Browning. I approve.” Natalia nodded. She had gobbled down her hot ham & cheese & truffle sandwich, and was opening up a second one.
“Thank you.” Nick replied. Larry sighed.
“What’s up, shortie?” Asked Natalia.
“I just… I’m such a loser. I’m supposed to be his friend. I should have stopped him before he went to far.”
“Like we didn’t know that.” Natalia agreed firmly.
“Heh heh heh…” Larry looked up at the sky with a bitter smile.
“Look, Larry Hepburn. You’re only 15. It’s okay as long as you don’t make the same mistake with your subordinates when you’re 25.”
“…Yeah! You’re right.” Larry grinned, and dug into his sandwich with gusto.
“If that is the case, is Seron now sleeping?” Meg asked. She had only taken a couple of bites of her food. Jenny, who had wolfed down her sandwich in the blink of an eye, answered.
“He crashed mid-sentence the second he had the tea. He’s probably still snoozing on the sofa.”
“I understand… it is a relief in any case.” Meg said weakly.
“I bet it’s real comfortable on that pricy sofa. I should try sometime.” Natalia commented.
Jenny thought for a moment. Then, “I could bring in a bed for the office. But then I’d have to expand the place.”
“Hey, we don’t need an expansion!” Larry cut in. “If we didn’t promise to keep everything a secret, we would have taken Seron to the infirmary by now.” He rolled up the empty paper bag from his first sandwich and reached for his second.
“Erm! Is it the fault of mine? Because I said to Seron, ‘do your best’? I pushed Seron so much?”
Larry froze. He could not bring himself to nod.
Instead, he quietly tightened his grip on the paper bag.
“Not at all, Megmica. Seron is diligent to begin with; I’m quite certain he would have taken this task upon himself regardless.”
“Yeah. No one ever tells someone, ‘that’s enough working hard’, y’know? Don’t let it get to you, Megmica. You gotta save your energy for chorus club; eat up, or you’ll end up like Seron!”
Nick and Natalia tried to encourage Meg.
Downcast, she returned to her sandwich.
“Anything?” Jenny asked. And she answered her own question before anyone else could. “I didn’t find a thing. No news so far.”
Everyone was silent. Jenny understood.
“I see. Looks like we might not be able to finish the mission in time. Nick, did you get any new info from the client?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t. We’ve both been completely focused on practice over the past two days—it’s a very important performance, and SC Arthur and SC Sophia have many more lines and scenes than I do.”
“I see. Could you tell her to come to the office after practice today?”
“Of course. I’ll make sure she comes, even if she has to have dinner late.”
“Thanks. I’m going to leave campus for a bit today.”
“Got it.” Larry nodded. “Leave the rest to us. Good luck.”
Natalia asked where Jenny was going. Nick responded.
“The Grand Theatre, where the Confederation Theatre Troupe is. Jenny made an appointment last night to interview the former drama club president there.”
“I get it! So that’s why you’re in uniform. Good going, president.” Natalia said, impressed.
“I’ll take care of Seron.” Said Larry. “I’m sure he’ll be up by dinnertime. I’ll explain the situation to him and make sure he gets something to eat.”
Quietly, Meg sat frozen with her gaze on her half-eaten sandwich. She looked up.
“Please excuse me! I will!”
“Huh? What is it, Megmica?”
“I will stay in the office, Larry. I will look over Seron. You are to help at the practice, Larry. You were so busy in the morning, you told me. So don’t be hooky. Ms. Krantz will say, ‘I can’t believe all two helpers are resting!’.”
Larry’s jaw hit the floor. Natalia, Nick, and Jenny maintained silence. Meg looked around at them all.
“Please leave it to me! I may look like this, but I have two younger brothers!” She declared.
“Er… well then…” Larry stammered looking around tentatively. “I guess… it’s up to you, Meg?”
No one objected.
After lunch break, Jenny set off with a large single-lens reflex camera.
Natalia, who had made a good impression on the rest of the chorus club, volunteered to explain the situation to them. And Meg headed to the office.
“Take good care of him, Megmica. If the blanket slips off, pull it back over him.”
“Please take care of Seron. Perhaps wipe his forehead if he begins sweating.”
“You don’t have to go that far. Just make sure to clock him over the head if he decides to get back to work again.”
Larry, Nick, and Natalia left for the gymnasium, each tossing her a piece of advice.
* * *
Meg opened the door.
And she quietly stepped inside.
Seron was asleep on the sofa.
Light seeped in through the white lace curtains, filling the office with a faint glow.
He was facing up, with a rolled-up blanket under his head and a pink blanket covering his body. It was slipping off. Meg closed the door, tiptoed her way over, and stared into Seron’s face.
The dark circles under his eyes had grown fainter, but were still visible. Meg sighed.
“I’m sorry, Seron. I know everyone was just trying to be nice, but I could see it in Larry’s eyes. It’s my fault.” She said, slowly taking a seat and pulling the blanket up to Seron’s chest. “So I’ll take care of you while you rest. Sleep well.”
Meg smiled at Seron’s sleeping face.
Then, she walked around the coffee table and sat at her usual seat on the opposite sofa with a long sigh.
When Meg stopped moving, the room was silent.
The ticking clock grew louder and louder, overlapping with the sound of Seron’s breathing.
“What a comfortable sound…”
Meg lost herself in the ambience—
She closed her eyes, and did not open them for a long time.
Meg was asleep.
* * *
“Here’s your tea, everyone! Grab a cup and get in line!”
The orchestra club was on break. Larry handed out empty cups to the members with a smile on his face.
Natalia reached out her hand.
“You call that customer service? Do I not deserve a smile just like the rest of the orchestra?”
“Never mind. Just take it already.”
That was when someone came up to them.
Larry and Natalia noticed simultaneously and shot her cautious looks.
“Have I done something illegal, now?”
Standing there was the golden-haired empress of the orchestra club, Lena Portman.
“N-not at all, SC Portman. Here’s your cup.”
Portman took the cup with an elegant hand.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
To Larry and Natalia’s surprise, Portman did not leave. In fact, she threw them a question.
“What’s it to you, SC Portman?”
SC Portman’s response floored them both.
“Megmica Strauski from the chorus club was absent, was she not? I heard she felt unwell and went to the infirmary.”
“That’s right.” Natalia said curiously. Larry frowned.
“I’ve seen you and Megmica together after practice over the past few days, Natalia.” Portman said plainly, crossing her arms. “You haven’t been keeping her out too late? She’s not ill, is she?”
“Don’t worry. She’s just feeling a bit anemic.” Natalia replied with a ready-made lie.
“I see. Then I suppose it’s all right.” Portman admitted. She shot Natalia a glare. “Natalia.”
“Tell her to take care of herself.”
“It would be a shame if such a lovely voice were to be harmed—it would be a loss for the entire school! Make sure you tell her.”
“Sure, SC Portman. I’ll tell her you’re worried sick.” Natalia grinned.
“Wh-! Natalia! You could stand to be less offensive!”
Larry gaped as Natalia continued her attack.
“There you go again, SC Portman. You could just admit that you like Megmica. Everyone knows your bowing gets prettier when we’re playing with the chorus club.”
“Not at all. That would be my talent shining through.”
“No one’s arguing your once-in-a-century genius, SC Portman—”
“E-enough! Just make sure you tell her what I said! Please!”
“Sure. —Oh right, since you’re probably going to invite her to your house party next time, I’ll tell her in advance for you. When do you suppose it’s gonna be?”
“Wha—? No! I will not!” Portman fumed, walking away in a huff.
“She’s an open book.” Natalia snickered, watching her leave.
“Man…” Larry sighed, finally breaking his silence. “Anyway, you think they’re gonna be okay?”
“Don’t worry, shortie. I doubt either of them would get up to anything.” Natalia said with a wink.
Larry met her gaze.
“I know that. That wasn’t what I meant.”
* * *
The alarm went off.
Meg looked up, her pigtails swishing. Her eyes opened. And the first thing she saw was Seron, who was slowly getting up.
“Oh, have you waken, Seron?”
But Seron did not answer. With his eyes still shut he slowly sat up and leaned against the back of the sofa. He stretched his legs forward, burying himself in the sofa and going still with his head on the sofa. When Meg realized that he was still asleep, she reached for the blanket that had fallen off him.
“…I can’t reach. I’m not as tall as Natalia.”
Because the coffee table was in the way, Meg had to walk around it to pick up the blanket. She stepped away from Seron and lightly shook it off. Then she quietly pulled the blanket over Seron, who still slept.
The seats to either side of him were empty.
“I will stay awake now. I will look over you well.” Meg whispered, taking a seat to his left.
And she looked to her right, at Seron’s profiled face.
A strand of hair had fallen over his left eye. Meg slowly reached out toward him.
And quietly, gingerly, she tucked the strand behind his ear.
The dark circles under Seron’s eye had lightened even more. They were almost gone.
“You’re so handsome, Seron. But you won’t be popular with the girls if you go around looking so exhausted.” Meg advised with a smile.
Like before, she whispered in a language Seron wouldn’t understand even if he were awake.
Meg slowly looked around the office.
And she let her gaze linger over every last detail.
She stared at the sofa she had been sitting on earlier, and the one she was sitting on now—the exorbitantly expensive 3-seaters that Jenny had brought in.
Then she looked at the guitar case on the floor and the two flute cases atop them.
Then at the closet and the beautiful photos of the flower beds Jenny had taken, displayed next to it.
At the desk and chair, absent of their occupant.
The glowing lace curtains.
And the slightly-open window and the clear blue sky beyond.
“What a strange feeling…”
Meg whispered to herself.
“Right now I’m sitting cross-river, thousands of kilometers from home. Looking up at the sky so far from the land where the princess lives. Even though the sky looks exactly the same here.”
The sound of a foreign language filled the club office.
“Every day, I stumble my way through in broken Roxchean. Every day, I eat delicious Roxchean food. And every day, I have so much fun. I’m sure I’ll miss it so much when I go back home someday. I’m sure I’ll look back on Seron and the newspaper club like I’ll look back on Lillia and the chorus club.”
Meg turned her gaze, then, from the sky to the younger boy sleeping next to her.
“…And I can’t believe I’m alone in a room with such a good-looking boy. The old me would be scandalized if she could see me now.” She said, and smiled.
The blanket slowly began to slip off of Seron again.
Meg leaned forward and caught the blanket before it touched the floor. She pulled it up to her chest and sat upright.
Seron fell to his left. His hair touched Meg’s slender shoulder.
Meg gasped, clutching the blanket in her hands. She felt something heavy on her right shoulder. Seron’s head.
Meg turned her head to her right and looked into Seron’s face. She asked in Roxchean,
“Er… Seron? Are you really awake now?”
There was no answer.
“Er… Do not make the older me angry?”
There was no answer.
“Er… I guess no one’s watching. And the old me certainly isn’t, either. I guess it’s all right.”
Meg’s eyes narrowed as she pulled the blanket over Seron’s chest with her left hand. She looked forward, letting Seron rest on her shoulder. The light spilling onto Natalia’s flutes slowly shifted away.
Time passed in silence. The minute hand began counting down to the next hour.
Seron trembled, exhaling.
Meg slowly turned and looked down at Seron’s face.
The dark circles were gone and the usual Seron Maxwell was back. But there was an upset look on his face. He was grimacing.
At times his face twitched and he sighed.
“Seron?” Meg called to him hesitantly.
Seron’s breathing grew harsh as though he were feverish, and his eyes were clearly moving rapidly under his eyelids. And suddenly, he twitched and sat upright. The blanket fell to the floor.
“…Are you all right, Seron? Is there a fever?”
Meg reached out towards his forehead—
Seron opened his eyes. His pupils shrank as light hit his grey eyes. Meg was quick to speak.
“Are you all right, Seron? It seemed like you were dreaming a nightmare.”
Seron slowly turned his head.
He was face-to-face with Meg, who was trying to look into his face.
“I’m okay.” He replied quickly. “Yeah. I’m fine.” He declared.
“Are you sure that you are fine? Please do not work too hard.” Meg smiled when she heard Seron’s cool voice. “Anyways, it is a relief. Were you not too cold in your sleep? Does your neck itch or your head ache?”
Seron raised a hand and wiped the sweat from his face.
“…Yeah. I’m fine. Thank you. I must have dozed off just now… what time is it?”
“It is almost the time for practice to end.” Meg replied.
Seron stared, wide-eyed. When his gaze fell on the wall clock, a grave expression rose to his face.
“No… I—this morning, I was supposed to—”
“No!” Meg cried suddenly. Seron fell silent.
Slowly, he turned his gaze from the clock to Meg.
Right next to him was Meg’s face, a hint of guilt in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak.
“I am sorry, Seron!”
“I was like a child to you, Seron. I leaned on you too much. I am sorry if you worked too hard because of me.”
“…No, don’t worry about it.”
“I am sorry.”
Meg suddenly grew solemn.
“But Seron, I wish to tell you one more thing. Please do not work so hard now. You worked too hard yesterday night. So no one woke you up because you fell asleep here.”
Seron was silent.
“You made everyone worry for you. So tell everyone that you are sorry to them. Please do.”
“…All right. I made everyone worry, huh. I’m sorry, Megmica.” Seron said, and hung his head. “I’ll apologize to the others too.”
Seron looked up. Meg was beaming.
“Are you not hungry, Seron? Are you not thirsty? We left over some lunch. I will brew the tea now!”
Seron washed his face at the sink.
“Here, please eat this.”
And he did as Meg told him, eating the now-cold hot sandwich.
“And please drink this.”
And he slowly sipped his tea.
Once he had finished his sandwich, Meg poured more tea for him.
“As expected, people should not work too hard. Do not work too hard. Please, Seron Maxwell, do not work too hard. Okay?”
After three repetitions of ‘do not work too hard’ and an affectionate call of his name—
“Oh, right… yes, of course.”
Seron suddenly found himself acting more polite.