Chapter 3: Lawrence
“All right, let’s go.”
“W-wait a moment, Jenny.”
Jenny and Nick were the first out the gates.
Jenny pedaled with surprising speed considering her size, blasting off as though launched by a rocket. Nick followed, his long hair aflutter.
Kurtz and Litner followed by car. The car was originally a military-use vehicle, but had been converted for civilian use. They left the roof open so they could jump out at the first sign of trouble.
“You mean we. Now take us someplace nice, driver.”
Though Natalia was clinging to him from behind, Larry did not look happy in the least. Once the motorcycle was warmed up, he set off. He stopped at the gates and looked in both directions before turning.
There were two people left.
“Let’s get going.”
“Yes. Let’s go!”
Seron and Meg departed, seen off by the Ruf couple.
“Would you mind if we went to the right?”
“I will leave the road to you, Seron. It is not to brag about, but I learned the Roxchean phrase ‘bad with directions’ very early.”
They turned right.
Side-by-side they cycled down the empty road across the pastures.
In the Capital District, bicycles could not be ridden side-by-side on the roads. But there was no one to get mad at them here. Seron decided that he would move out of the way if a car came by, and rode on Meg’s left side on the right side of the road.
“It feels very good. It is the first time cycling since I came to Roxche. In elementary school I often went to play with my friends at their homes. It reminds me of that time.”
Seron’s pedaling grew stronger when he saw the smile on Meg’s face. Only when he came close to overtaking her did he slow down.
Some time passed.
“How should we do this?” Seron asked, still pedaling.
“Now that I think to it, you are right. We cannot be cycling for long. I would have taken photos of the villa from far, but I forgot to take photos.”
The villa was far behind them already.
“We can shoot the villa anytime. Let’s suggest things we want to take pictures of, then we’ll stop.”
“I understand. I will take photos of you later, Seron. Please take photos of me as well.”
As Seron wondered how he would get his hands on photographs that were sure to become club property, the bicycles passed several manors.
“Seron, that house is very beautiful. I want to take photographs of that house!”
About 10 meters ahead, on the right side of the gently-sloping hill, stood a home much smaller and cozier than the opulent villas they had passed.
“This looks like a house in a children’s novel. It is beautiful. Let’s hurry and shoot it.”
They stopped in front of the house. Meg quickly set up the kickstand and opened her bag, taking out her photometer and camera.
She did as Jenny taught, adjusting the exposure and looking through the viewfinder with her right eye.
She saw the gardens and their beautiful flowers, as well as the green gates.
Click. Meg snapped a photo.
As Seron waited, he glimpsed a figure moving in the garden. A man. He crossed the garden without so much as casting them a glance.
“I think there’s someone here, Megmica. We should ask permission first—then maybe we could even get some close-ups.”
“Ah, that is true. Is this way called ‘stalking’? Anyway, it is not good.”
Meg put away her camera without taking another photo.
“Good morning.” Seron called out.
“Yes? Who is it?”
A calm woman’s voice answered.
The owner of the voice soon came over to the gate from beside the flower beds.
The prim old woman had to have been over 80 years old. Her long white hair was tied neatly.
Seron bowed his head.
“Excuse us, ma’am. We’re secondary school students staying at a friend’s villa in the neighborhood. My name is Seron Maxwell, and this here is Strauski Megmica from Sou Be-Il. We’re classmates.”
The woman smiled kindly at Seron.
“It’s a pleasure. I’m Hannah Lawrence. I’ve been living in this village for a very long time.”
Seron explained to Hannah that he and Meg were practicing with their cameras and asked if they could take photographs of her beautiful house and garden.
“By all means, do come in. I don’t mind at all.”
Seron and Meg parked their bicycles outside the gate.
“Thank you.” “Thank you, ma’am.”
Hannah held the green gate open for them. They stepped inside.
The garden was filled with more than enough flowers to match the garden at Jenny’s villa. There were purple gentianas, white gardenias, blue lavenders, and many others blooming in colorful harmony. The garden exuded a tranquil beauty.
“Wow. It is very beautiful.”
“My, my. Thank you very much. Your Roxchean is very good, Megmica.”
“Ah! Thank you very much, Mrs. Lawrence.”
Meg, Hannah, and Seron talked as they headed toward the center of the garden. There stood the man Seron had spotted earlier.
The man seemed to be in his fifties. He was balding, wore blue work overalls and was skinny in build. Nicely put, he seemed to be a pleasant man. Less so, he seemed frail.
“This here is Mr. Hampleton, my gardener. He works magic with the flowers here.” Hannah introduced him to Meg and Seron. They greeted him.
When Hannah explained that she invited Meg and Seron because they wanted to take photos of the garden, Hampleton grinned.
“I’m flattered. I’ll be inside polishing my tools.” He said, and gathered all his tools on a hand cart before wheeling it away.
“Were you in the middle of something? We’re sorry to interrupt.” Seron apologized, but Hannah did not seem to mind.
Thanking her again, Meg and Seron began taking photos of the garden. They adjusted the exposure, the shutter speed, and the angle just as Jenny had taught them.
They photographed the flowers, the house, and both at the same time. Meg took to photography like fish to a water, taking many more photos than Seron did. Sometimes she shot Seron as well. But he did not take a single photograph of her.
“I shouldn’t bother her when she’s so busy taking her own photos. Yeah.” Seron convinced himself.
About when Meg had exhausted an entire roll of film, Hannah returned to the garden.
“Megmica? Seron? Would you care for some tea?” She asked, carrying out a white teapot and three cups.
As Meg and Seron thanked her, Hannah led them to the garden table. They all took a seat.
Hannah served them rose hip tea from her own garden. A fragrant aroma permeated the air. Thanking her again, Seron and Meg drank their tea. Hannah was happy to hear they liked it.
“Where are you coming from, then?” She asked.
“The capital, ma’am.” Seron replied. In Roxchean, the word ‘capital’ referred to the Capital District, not the capital city of a member state. There was no need to add a descriptor.
“My goodness!” Hannah exclaimed. “I lived in the capital about 20 years ago because of my late husband’s work. Such nostalgic times. Have you heard of Sears Patisserie on Ninth Street in the east? It has a very long history, you know.”
Seron and Meg exchanged glances. Seron gestured, yielding the explanation to Meg. Meg smiled.
“Yes! We have! The son is our senior-classman at our school!”
“How lovely. Sears Patisserie always made the most scrumptious sachertorte.”
“Yes! It is the best cake in all the world! It is true! It tastes most amazing on the side with whipped cream, with no sugar! It is the most delicious!”
“Absolutely. If a Westerner agrees with me, it must be true.”
Meg and Hannah launched into a discussion about cakes, completely ignoring Seron for some time.
Seron enjoyed his solitude, however, winding back his film and appreciating the voice of the girl he loved.
At the same time—
“Wonder what they’re doing right about now.”
“Huh? —Oh, Seron? Who knows.”
“Pessimistic of you.”
“It’s fine. He’s better off taking it slow with Megmica. If we rush him, he might die of shock.”
“I see. Anyway, can’t you go any faster? Or is this a silent jab at my weight?”
“Motorbikes are better off taking it slow too.”
The motorcycle continued its leisurely ride down the country road.
At the same time—
“You’ll get my shadow in the frame if you shoot from there! Did you set the focus? What about the exposure? Tuck in your arms! Don’t let the camera hang from your hands!”
“Please, Jenny. Are you channeling Ms. Krantz now?”
The last two members of the newspaper club were on the plains. Their subject: a lone sheep focused on its task of grazing.
And about 50 meters away—
“Just out of curiosity, how did you know about my boyfriend?”
“Logic and common sense. You’ve been dressing up after work hours lately. So I was right, eh? Congratulations.”
“Hope this one lasts longer.”
“Please, I’ll sue you for harassment.”
The car carrying Kurtz and Litner and their friendly banter hummed quietly.
* * *
As they moved on to their second cup of tea, Meg and Hannah began to discuss flowers.
Hannah explained that, after losing her husband, she had begun to live a life of peaceful solitude among the flowers.
“It is a wonderful life! I, too, want to someday raise my garden like this. Now I live in an apartment building so I admire homes with gardens inside them. I want to try and live in a home like your house.”
He had a house like this one, Seron thought to himself, but he did not say anything.
“But I couldn’t have managed such a lovely garden on my own. Mr. Hampleton is such a talented man.” Hannah said.
“The flowerpots at the gate and the walls are beautiful as well. I can see many flowers from the road, so I think they will make the eyes of people who go back and forward very happy.”
“Thank you, Megmica. But something has been troubling me recently.”
“Oh? What has been?”
“My flowerpots keep falling whenever cars pass by. At first I thought it was the wind, but…”
Hannah trailed off sadly. Seron finally broke his silence.
“Was someone tipping them over intentionally?”
“Yes. I think some of the village youths might be knocking them over with sticks for fun.”
“How mean! That is very bad! People who do not treat flowers as treasures are bad people!” Meg said indignantly, rising to her feet. Seron blanked out in surprise. Hannah smiled.
“Thank you, Megmica. Thank you for getting angry on my behalf.”
“Oh. I am sorry, Mrs. Lawrence. I was just very mad.”
Meg took a seat again. She took her teacup in both hands and drained it in one go.
“But it makes me so happy to meet such kind young people like you, Megmica.”
“Yes! And people who do bad things will have bad things happen to them returned. In Roxchean, they say ‘what goes around comes around’.”
Hannah chuckled. “Absolutely. Everyone must pay their dues in time.”
* * *
Meg and Seron enjoyed their tea break, but they could not linger too long. They finally left Hannah Lawrence’s home.
“Come back anytime.” Hannah said, seeing them off. Meg turned around several times as she pedaled away, waving back at Hannah.
Once Hannah’s house was out of sight—
“I believe wonderful meetings are in many different places. Meetings which are coincidence but wonderful.” Meg said.
Seron agreed, casting her a sidelong gaze.
Afterwards, Meg and Seron biked slowly around the village and took mostly landscape photos.
There was a holstein cow on the pasture. Meg looked at it through her viewfinder from across the road.
“Seron, please try to stand over there. I will take a photo together with the cow behind.”
“Please more to the right side. Oh, I am sorry. To the right that I see. Yes! Please stop there. And will you hold up your left arm? Open your hand please.”
“Like this? Why?”
“Because it looks that you are holding back that cow with one hand! Please do not move from that.”
Though he guessed that Jenny might consider this a waste of film, Seron did exactly as Meg instructed.