Chapter 7: Cana
The 28th day of the ninth month.
It was lunchtime at the cafeteria.
“Is something the matter…?” Stella asked Larry.
Spread between them was a delicious homemade lunch. Omelette with plenty of ground beef—Larry’s favorite—along with boiled broccoli salad, bread, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
“Huh? Oh, it’s nothing,” Larry replied. But Stella was not fooled.
“No. You’re…acting strange, SC Hepburn. Yesterday too,” she said, “you look…tired. And a little sad.”
Larry’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe,” he paused, then opened his mouth, “Stella.”
“About the 31st. The first day back after the weekend.”
“What is it?”
“I have something to take care of at lunchtime, so we won’t be able to eat together.”
“So you don’t need to make me anything. Don’t push yourself, okay?”
“But in exchange, could you give me some time after school that day?”
“…I…have to go straight home.”
“Just for a little while. It won’t take longer than one of those days when classes end a little late. And if your family gets worried, I’ll give your grandfather a call and apologize. Or we can go apologize to him together. How’s that?”
“That…sounds fine,” Stella said with a nod.
“Thanks. Then let’s meet after class on the 31st, under the same tree as before.”
Seron watched as Larry scratched his right ear, then the back of his head.
“All right. Depending on tomorrow’s results, we’ll take action on the 31st,” he said to Natalia, Meg, and Nick, who were sitting with him.
“Do you think it will work?” Asked Nick. Natalia and Meg looked at Seron.
“I believe in SC Linus.”
* * *
The next day. Very early in the morning of the 29th.
Because it was the weekend, the school was deserted that day. Seron walked out the quiet gates and left the campus empty-handed.
About an hour later, he returned through the quiet gates, entering the campus with a newspaper in hand.
He stepped into a telephone booth in the dormitory building lobby and called Jenny Jones.
“We’re good to go, Jenny. SC Linus really did it.”
In a corner of the newspaper in Seron’s hand was a small article.
‘3305 Whitfield Competition Winner Announced: Linus F.’
His family name had been shortened to an initial, but Linus had indeed made it.
The name of the prize-winning wristwatch was also featured in the article.
* * *
The 31st day of the ninth month.
It was lunchtime on the first day of school that week.
Seron quickly finished his lunch alone and headed to the newspaper club office.
“Come on in.”
Larry and Jenny were sitting in side. A large piece of paper was spread on the table before them. A black-and-white newspaper for posting on the wall.
Seron stood over the paper with his hands on the table and read its contents in one go.
Then, he looked up.
“Thanks. I got so pumped up I decided to print 50 copies this time. I can’t wait for class to end.”
* * *
Breaktime, before the last class of the day. In the hallway.
“Sorry, got some business to take care of. Put in a good word with SC Portman for me,” Natalia said to her orchestra club friends.
“Put in a good word…” “…with SC Portman?!” Her friends complained as Natalia set off for class.
At around the same time, in a different hallway.
“I am very sorry. There is a job that can never be missed today, so I wish to rest from practice,” Meg pleaded, bowing to her chorus club senior-classmen.
“We understand. Don’t worry about it,” they replied.
At the same time, in another hallway.
“President,” Nick called, stopping Arthur Sears in the hall. He and Sophia Ulericks both turned.
“Hey there, Nick. What is it?”
“I’m afraid I will have to miss practice today. I have business to attend to at the newspaper club.”
* * *
After school. It was clear.
Students swarming in droves toward the gates.
But a certain part of the campus was separated from the massive flow.
The grounds behind the school building were grassy with flower beds dotting the area. And standing prominently over it all was a massive oak tree with green branches.
Jenny had once called it a legendary tree, which guaranteed that any confession made under its branches would be reciprocated.
A student walked over to the tree.
Sixth-year Linus Francis, his frame so large that his tie looked unnaturally thin, and his face so gentle it did not fit the rest of his body.
He was carrying his bag, which also looked disproportionately small, and a cloth bag containing a change of clothes. On this right wrist was a watch.
He looked as powerless as a man facing the gallows.
When he found no one under the tree, he looked around.
Then he leaned against the trunk and waited nervously.
Larry Hepburn was keeping a watchful eye on Linus as the latter leaned against the tree.
He was watching from very close by.
“He is there…”
Meg, Seron, Jenny, Natalia, and Nick were also watching as Linus leaned against the tree.
They were watching him from a distance, through their binoculars.
“I must say I am getting rather used to this kind of activity,” Nick remarked. The five students were each holding binoculars, pressed against the office window as they watched Linus.
This time, the three girls were half-kneeling on a soft rug under the window with their elbows on the windowsill. Seron and Nick stood behind them.
Mounted on a tripod to Jenny’s right was a camera equipped with a long telephoto lens pointing at the tree. Jenny was holding the cable release.
She took a shot and wound the film.
“We didn’t give Larry a script,” Natalia said, “is he gonna be all right? He’s not gonna run off at the big moment?”
“Actually, he gave me a telephone call yesterday afternoon,” Nick answered, “he asked me the secret to giving a good performance. So I gave him an answer.”
“What did you answer him with?” Asked Meg.
“‘You must be bold’.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“Nick, you’re the one who lied to get SC Gorilla out there, right?” Asked Natalia.
“Indeed I am.”
“What’d you tell him to get him to skip technical school? He looks like he’s about to faint.”
Nick flashed an elegant smile.
“I’m afraid I cannot say. It would be a shame if our friendship were to be ruined over such a trivial matter.”
“Scary,” Natalia said with a grin, “so now the rest is up to Larry.”
“It’s gonna be all right,” said Seron, “Larry’s not going to run.”
Just as Jenny smiled at Seron’s remark—
<What’s going on…?>
Linus’s anxious voice filled the newspaper club members’ ears. He had a deep but frail voice.
The voice was coming from the speakers on the table behind the club members. The speakers were hooked up to a tube amp, whose tubes were glowing a dull orange.
A long cable was connected to the amp. It ran out the office window, towards the tree, before it disappeared into the ground.
At the end of the cable was a microphone sealed in a buried box.
“Sounds great. The marvels of civilization, eh.” Natalia commented.
“Obviously,” Jenny replied, “it was tough planting the cable and the microphone over lunch break.”
“And thanks to your efforts, we will be privy to the truth of the situation. Thank you, Jenny. Your efforts are much—”
“There! Our star has arrived!” He cried.
Everyone stared hard into their binoculars.
Through their lenses they saw Stella’s petite form, next to the building behind Linus and the tree. Linus was facing away from her.
Stella did not seem to have noticed Linus. She walked briskly to the tree.
Larry heard her footsteps.
With leather gloves on his hands, he tightened his grip on the rope.
<Ah! Why are you—>
Stella’s voice filled the office.
Stella had drawn close to the tree and noticed the boy leaning against it.
Linus’s cry of shock followed.
Jenny smirked. “Now let’s see what you’re made of, Sir Hepburn.”
“Wh-what are you doing here?!” Stella demanded as Linus flinched.
“…Er…I…” Linus could not manage a proper word. Instead he shook his head slightly and held his bag in front of him with trembling hands.
Stella quickly looked around.
“Y-you have to go, now!”
“Please, you have to leave!” Stella said, and reached into her bag.
She pulled out her wristwatch.
As Linus watched, she put the watch around her left wrist.
“Please, you have to do as I say! You can’t be here!”
Then came a third voice.
“Whoa there, calm down!”
The voice had come from above.
Stella and Linus looked up in unison. The first thing they saw were the branches of the oak tree and its splendid foliage.
Larry had been hiding inside. A rope came down from the branches, its end touching the ground.
Larry rappelled down the rope.
Larry appeared before the surprised couple, dressed in camouflage gear.
He was wearing a Confederation Army uniform with a pair of combat boots. He also wore a hat and a camouflage scarf over his face.
The rope was wrapped around his waist and thighs, fixed to metal carabiners. The rope passed through the carabiners and slowed his descent.
Pulling the scarf off his face and unclipping the rope, Larry greeted Stella and Linus.
“Hey there! The name’s Larry. Larry Hepburn.”
Larry landed safely between the large boy and the tiny girl.
<Hey there! The name’s Larry. Larry Hepburn.>
And he threw out a line straight from a radio drama.
Natalia could not keep her composure, her hand over her stomach as she trembled in barely-suppressed fits of laughter.
Jenny continued to take more photos. “Going good so far.”
“He will do a fine job, so long as he remembers my advice,” Nick said with a smile.
“Do your best, Larry!” Meg cheered.
“Wh-what are you—”
Larry looked at both Linus and Stella.
“You want to know why I’m wearing this? Obviously, I’m dressed for combat!”
Back in the office, Natalia finally burst out laughing. But as Larry could not hear her, he continued.
“Stella!” He cried without warning.
“I’m going to save you!”
With his gloved hand, Larry pointed an accusing finger at Linus. It was bad manners from anyone’s perspective, but he continued regardless.
“I started hearing these weird rumors after we started going out.”
As Stella and Linus stood in silence, Larry continued his monologue.
“I heard that a senior-classman named Linus Francis was bothering you. So I asked some good friends of mine to investigate, and it turned out the rumors were true. We have eyewitness accounts from people who saw you with this guy in deserted places on campus.”
“Er…I…” Linus stammered, shrinking.
“You were stalking Stella!” Larry accused, finally lowering his hand.
Linus flinched. But Larry’s onslaught was not yet finished.
“Granted, Stella is really cute! But SC Linus! You took advantage of how shy she was and followed her around when people weren’t nearby! The reason she asked me out this term and asked me to hang out with her as much as possible on campus was because she wanted to avoid you! Not because she was in love with me!”
“Can’t breathe…someone save me…” Natalia wheezed, almost in tears, but because Larry could not see her he continued without stopping.
“This is unforgivable! A real man doesn’t coerce or stalk girls!”
“Have I made myself clear? Don’t ever bother Stella again! I’ll deal with you personally if you get near her! I realize it’s wrong of me to use my military training to hurt a civilian, but I’m willing to make an exception when it’s against someone who hurts a woman! Do you have anything to say for yourself, SC Linus?”
Larry was firing on all cylinders. Linus was struck dumb. But Stella managed to speak up.
“What is it, Stella?”
But Larry intentionally cut her off.
“Don’t worry, Stella. I’ll protect you.”
“What? But I—”
Stella was beginning to panic. But Larry—
“I’ll make sure you don’t regret choosing me.”
Larry narrowed his eyes, for once telling the truth. Then he suddenly raised his voice.
“That’s all I have to say, SC Linus! Leave Stella alone, and don’t get near her on campus until the day you graduate! She’s got bodyguards off-campus and me on campus to protect her. Don’t you forget that!”
Though Linus had shrank back with his head bowed, and looked like he was on the verge of tears, he refused to run.
“I…” he said, finally opening his mouth, “I…I can’t…”
Stella was looking at Linus. Linus was looking down.
And as a result, both missed the sad look in Larry’s eyes.
“Good on you,” Jenny whispered, taking a photo of his face.
“Which one are you talking to?” Asked Seron.
“Is that even a question?” Jenny snapped, before mouthing, ‘both’.
“Man, this is killing me…” Natalia snickered as she finally came back to life. Five binoculars turned in the same direction for a glimpse of Larry’s heroics.
“What? Do you realize what you’re saying, SC Linus?!” Roared Larry, who knew exactly what he was doing. He took one intimidating step after another towards Linus. “Fine by me! I wanted to back down here for honor’s sake, but you leave me with no choice!”
Larry reached out. Linus was two heads taller than him and his arms were thicker, but Larry was not daunted in the least.
“I’m taking you to the faculty office, stalker! Don’t blame me if I break an arm or two!”
“NOOOOO!” Stella shrieked, shoving Larry.
“Whoa!” “Ah!” “Eek!” “Oh!” “Wow.”
The club members in the office flinched.
Larry flew through the air and landed on his back.
Creating a new Roxchean exclamation for pain, Larry rolled and hit the tree trunk back-first. His hat went flying. Finally, his head hit the tree with a resounding noise and his body slumped forward on reflex.
He fell on the grass and stopped moving.
“That an act too?” Natalia wondered. From the office Larry looked like a giant frog.
“I don’t seem to recall teaching him that particular technique. Although I am quite tempted to adopt it for my last fight scene,” Nick remarked.
Linus was first to break the silence.
“Er…I…what do I do…?”
He was clearly bewildered at the sight of Stella shoving the belligerent boy.
“Ow, that hurt…”
Larry slowly rose. He rolled over to his side and leaned against the tree.
Stella stammered, finally lowering her hands.
Larry looked up.
And he looked at Stella, his sky-blue eyes shining.
Several seconds later, he broke into a grin with blades of grass in his blond hair and dirt on his face.
Stella did not understand.
“Wh-what do you mean…?”
“Good job, Stella. You win,” Larry replied.
“You’re a really strong person. You beat me.”
Meanwhile, in the office.
“Why’s he still in that pose?” Natalia wondered.
“It makes sense,” Seron replied, “you can’t look at a star unless you’re looking up.”
“Wow! It is very romantic, Seron! It is very cool!” Meg exclaimed.
Seron’s thoughts came grinding to a halt.
Stella slowly stepped forward, towards Larry.
Larry looked up at her.
“I knew from the start.”
“That you weren’t in love with me.”
Stella was silent.
“And I found out after doing some investigation that the guy you really like is standing over there. SC Linus. And that he feels the same about you.”
Stella and Linus’s eyes met. They both looked away.
“They’re trying to figure out who spilled the beans. It’s written on their faces,” Natalia remarked.
“We figured it out ourselves, though,” Jenny said proudly.
<So all that stuff I said was a lie!> Larry said, <specifically…er…now where did I start lying?>
“C’mon, get a grip, Larry! When else are you gonna get to shine?” Natalia jeered.
“Er…so…basically I was lying when I said you were stalking Stella, SC Linus. I’m really sorry!”
Stella was silent, but Linus stepped forward to be next to her. He gave Larry an awkward look.
Larry looked at the two wristwatches before him. One on the left wrist and the other on the right.
“You two must’ve met not long after Stella started school here. And you fell in love. Probably because you both love watches. Right?”
Stella nodded silently.
“So I was right. Yeah. You love watches, Stella, and SC Linus, you like watches enough to make some of your own.”
Shock spread over Linus’s face. Larry answered the unspoken question.
“I’m really sorry, SC Linus. I tailed you after class and found out you were attending Balfour Technical School.”
“I see…” Linus said, finally breaking his silence. Larry continued.
“You love each other enough to want to pledge your futures together. But there weren’t many places you could see each other. Off-campus is out of the question, and even on campus, people would spread rumors if they saw you together. Which is what really happened. And—”
<And you had a good reason for not wanting to be found out.>
Larry’s calm explanation filled the office.
Nick, still holding his binoculars to his eyes, quietly repeated what he had told he others several days earlier.
“The Francis family was founded by the brother of the current Whitfield CEO after the family feud split them apart. In other words, the Francis family and the Whitfield family were originally one.”
“You two were second cousins. Stella’s grandfather and SC Linus’s grandfather were brothers, but they had a such a bad falling-out that SC Linus’s grandfather even changed his name. And they’re still on bad terms. They don’t even contact each other, let alone meet in person. That was the reality you two were facing.”
Larry looked at Stella, who wore a completely new expression. She had a determined, powerful gaze.
Linus stood beside her, also looking at Larry.
“You met by coincidence at this school. And you were free to see each other in secret here. But if your families were to find out, well…honestly, I can’t even imagine, but…er…it couldn’t be good. I think.”
“Damn that Larry! Can’t you set up a microphone on this end, chief?! This guy’s butchering his delivery!” Natalia fumed.
“It is finally the starting,” Meg said, trying to calm her down.
<SC Linus. You love watches, and you want to become a watchmaker someday. And you love Whitfield watches, I bet. So everything fit together. Marrying Stella and joining Whitfield Watchmakers. It was a goal worth aiming for.>
“Indeed,” Nick nodded, “if not for one problem.”
<But the family feud still isn’t over. Even with your skill, you would never pass the Whitfield Academy entrance exam because of your background. So there was only one way forward.>
Seron, who had finally come back to life, whispered along with Larry’s voice.
“Winning the Whitfield Competition.”
<I don’t know which of you came up with the idea, but it’s a great one. Whitfield will have no choice but to hire you if you win. So you submitted a custom-made wristwatch for the competition. You must’ve made one last year, but it didn’t work out. So you worked even harder this time.>
Only Larry’s voice came through the speakers, but the newspaper club’s lenses showed Stella and Linus as well. They were listening to Larry under the tree, facing away from each other.
<But then there was more trouble. The second-year girls started talking about how you two were meeting in secret. At this rate, your families might find out—and if they found out this term before the Whitfield Competition ended, Whitfield might disqualify SC Linus by force. So—>
Larry continued, looking straight at Stella.
“So you chose me.”
Stella was silent.
“We happened to meet in the hallway after summer break ended. That’s when you heard that I’m from a noble family, and that I’m unpopular and don’t have a girlfriend. The perfect target. So you asked me out and told the entire school and your family that I was your boyfriend.”
Stella did not say a word.
“You weren’t in love with me. It was all an act to show the school that you were dating someone who wasn’t SC Linus.”
Stella still did not speak.
“And now, you don’t have to put on an act anymore.”
Slowly, Larry rose.
He approached Stella and Linus.
When he heard his name, Linus’s gaze wavered.
“You’re not the one who thought of this plan, are you?”
Larry nodded at Linus’s silent answer and turned to Stella.
“It was you, Stella. Excuse me.”
Larry quickly grabbed Stella’s left arm.
Stella did not have time to react. Larry gently twisted her wrist to bring the face of her watch into view.
“I knew it.”
His eyes scanned the letters on the face.
“‘My dearest Cana’…” he muttered, letting go of Stella’s arm. “This looks like a Whitfield watch, but it’s not, is it? It’s a one-of-a-kind watch made for Stella alone. It’s a reminder that even if you’re far apart, your hearts are always together.”
Back in the office—
“You told him that part, right Seron?” Jenny asked.
“Yeah,” Seron nodded.
“So…well, er…I didn’t know I had that in me. Looks like hard work pays off after all!”
“Hm? Don’t tell me I got something wrong?”
“No…” Stella shook her head. “I’m sorry. Everything you said…is true.”
Larry could not say a word.
“Aww, there, there.” Natalia said from the office.
“SC Linus. Congratulations on winning the Whitfield Competition!” Larry said, turning.
“Huh? Oh…er…thank you. But how did you—”
“I knew it as soon as I read the article. You’re the only one who would have sent in a watch called ‘Cana’.”
“I see…you must know someone who’s very good at Bezelese.”
“That’s right. Anyway, now you can take a job at Whitfield with your head held high!”
“I…I can’t say for sure.”
“Huh? Why not?” Larry asked. He noticed that Stella still looked sad.
“It’s true that I won the competition. But I had to falsify a lot of information when I submitted my watch. My address, my contact information, my birthday, everything. I couldn’t let them find out that I was a Francis. If the Whitfield family makes up their mind to stop me from joining their company…they might make it so that this competition never happened to begin with.”
“I see…so Seron was right. I’m impressed.”
“N-nothing! Don’t worry about that! We just need to get the word out. We’ll make one big announcement about you and Stella, about your families, and all that hard work you put into developing your talent! That way Whitfield won’t be able to cut you out without getting a whole lot of angry questions getting directed their way!”
For several seconds, Stella and Linus were silent.
But finally, Stella spoke.
“Did you forget?” Larry replied, “our school’s full of kids from all sorts of rich families.”
Larry’s statement filled the office.
“All right, that’s the cue!” Jenny said with a clap, taking one last photo, “the goods are on the table! Get out there and make some waves! Move out!”
Jenny pointed at the coffee table, laden with a stack of 50 large sheets of paper and rolls of tape.
The four remaining newspaper club members rushed out of the office, with the rolled-up newspapers under their arms and rolls of tape in their hands.
“Do your best work, Seron!” Meg said with a smile.
Seron rushed to the grounds behind the school on his own, towards the oak tree.
Jenny remained alone in the office.
“I knew it,” she said with a grin, “the first headliner of the year is a love story.”
“When we tell the students, word will spread to the parents too. And maybe your grandfathers will change their minds when they see how much everyone is cheering you two on. They’ll realize soon enough that stubbornly clinging to the past won’t benefit anyone.”
Stella and Linus were still in shock. That was when Seron approached.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Larry.”
Passing by Stella and Linus, Seron stopped beside Larry and said one word.
He pulled out a sheet of paper from under his arm, handed it to Larry, and ran off.
“Thanks, buddy!” Larry replied, and opened up the paper.
The poster-sized piece of paper featured photographs, articles, and a large headline.
Larry spread out the newspaper and held it out for Stella and Linus to see.
‘Linus Francis Clinches Victory in Whitfield Competition’, said the eye-catching headline. Below was an article covering the truth of the incident in easy-to-read font.
And though Jenny had written the article, there was no sign of conspiracy theories or anything of the like.
Below was another article entitled, ‘Linus Francis and Stella Whitfield’s Star-Crossed Love’. It covered the story behind their relationship in detail.
The article covered the story behind the Whitfield and Francis families and the fact that Stella and Linus were forced to hide their relationship for over a year, and claimed that Linus’s victory in the Whitfield Competition solved all their problems. The article seemed to suggest the problem had already been solved.
Another interesting point was that the article also covered Larry. ‘Third-year wristwatch aficionado Larry Hepburn, who happened to learn their secret, assisted the beleaguered couple by playing the part of Stella’s boyfriend until the competition results were announced’, the article claimed, though it was all a lie Jenny had cooked up.
‘Congratulations, SC Linus. Stella. I knew you could do it. It was an honor to lend a hand,’ said an excerpt from a fake interview with Larry.
Wide-eyed, Stella and Linus read the articles about themselves. They were both stunned into silence.
But finally, Stella turned.
“Does this mean that we have a future together after all?”
Larry, who knew very well that he was not included in that future, responded—without a smile, but in a reassuring voice.
“You bet! See? I told you you wouldn’t regret choosing me.”
“No guarantee it’s gonna work out all hunky-dory, though,” Jenny mumbled, listening to his voice over the speakers, “you can make all the fuss in the world, but if the adults decide to screw saving face and really go all-out, it’s not gonna work. The rest is up to luck. Damn it, Seron. You knew all that but didn’t tell Larry.”
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” Natalia cried.
“These are the newspaper club wall newspapers! They are moving articles!” Meg called.
“May I? Excuse me, miss. How would you like to have a read? We’re covering a very romantic story this issue,” Nick advertised.
“…Is this a little crooked?” Seron wondered.
In all, they posted over 40 copies of the newspaper around the campus. The newspapers began to cause a stir among the students and staff who had not yet left.
“I suppose there’s no sense in taking down a proper newspaper…”
Not a single one was taken down.
* * *
The 1st day of the tenth month.
By the next day, even more students had read the newspapers, and the story spread like wildfire throughout the school.
“Larry! Is this for real?”
Larry’s classmates surrounded him at the lockers between classes.
“‘Course it is! The newspaper doesn’t lie.”
“Figures. I knew something was fishy when I heard a girl actually liked you at all.”
“Whaaaat. Come on, man. Anyway, the important thing here is that SC Linus is a swell guy who’s gonna manage Whitfield someday!”
In the faculty office, the teachers were talking over tea. First came the topic of Linus’s award. Then—
“Come to think of it, what should we do about giving the newspaper club official status?”
“Well, they’ve published a newspaper and filled the membership requirement. We don’t have any reason to refuse them.”
“I suppose. But they need a supervisor, don’t they?”
“That’s going to be a problem. Who’d want to work with a troublemaker like Jones?”
“We could always leave it to someone who’s not around right now.”
“What are we, children? But you do have a point.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Mr. Murdoch’s coming back this month. It’ll be perfect.”
Larry ran into Seron in the hall during the next break.
“Hey buddy! How’re things in your classes?”
“Not bad at all. Word is getting out and people are cheering on Stella and SC Linus. It’s fulfilling, seeing people read our work and talk about the story we cover.”
“Sure is! Everyone said I put on a really good performance!”
“…You really did great.”
“Did you hear some of the newspapers we put up got stolen?”
“Wow. Jenny must be pleased.”
“Yeah. She’s grinning and putting up more copies she printed today. We’ll talk more after school, yeah? I’m eating in the classroom today so I can tell more people about what an awesome job I did.”
“Actually—I was going to leave a note about it—the librarian asked me to help out after school today. I don’t think I can make it to the office. Could you tell Jenny for me?”
“Sure thing. And I’ll contact you again if we get word from the happy couple.”
“All right. Looking forward to good news.”
Seron watched Larry depart.
“The happy couple, huh,” he mumbled, recalling the wristwatch couple.
Seron looked up from his watch.
“Oh, hello there Seron.”
His eyes met Meg’s. Seron flinched.
“I am sorry. Are you surprised?”
“N-no! I’m all right! Hey there.”
“Hello. Everything is doing very well! It is very good,” Meg said, smiling as brightly as though she were one half of the happy couple.
It was only then that Seron noticed the other girl standing next to Meg.
“Hey Seron. Remember me? We’re in Roxchean class together this term.”
Seron nodded. “Schultz. I remember.”
Meg leapt in.
“Lillia took the art class last term with us as well! After it, we are best friends! Lillia, you already know but I will again introduce you. This is Seron Maxwell, and he is in the newspaper club with us.”
Lillia turned, looking neither particularly pleased nor displeased.
“I read the paper. It was really interesting.”
“Thanks. I’m sure the others will be happy to hear that.”
“Take good care of Meg, will you? She can be a bit of a ditz sometimes.”
“Ah! That is mean, Lillia! I am older than you!”
Meg’s voice stirred up determination in Seron. He would take care of her. He would even give his life for her sake.
“Of course. If someone tries to stab Megmica, I’ll take the blow in her stead. Will that work?”
Lillia’s eyes widened. Then,
She burst into laughter. Meg chuckled as well.
“I’m surprised. You’re such a clown, Seron.”
“Seron is more often serious.”
Unable to figure out what was so funny about what he had said, Seron decided to put on a smile.
* * *
After school, Larry went to the newspaper club office.
“Look who’s here. The man of the hour,” Jenny said, welcoming him in. She was drinking tea on the sofa.
“You’re here early. What happened to class?”
“Ditched afternoon classes.”
“Are your grades gonna be all right?”
“You’re worrying about my grades? I don’t know if I should laugh or get mad.”
“…Anyway,” Larry said, taking a seat, “any new info?”
“About the Whitfields.”
That was when Larry noticed two empty teacups on the table.
“Are you a detective, Larry?”
“Even a five-year-old could figure it out. Stella and SC Linus, right?”
“So you are a detective. Yes. It was them.”
“What’d they say?”
“Let’s wait for Seron.”
“He’s busy at the library today.”
“Oh. Okay then, I’ll tell you. To start with the most important part—”
Larry held his breath.
“—Linus Francis is probably going to get that Whitfield position.”
“ALL RIGHT!” Larry cheered, pumping his fists. Jenny continued unfazed at his reaction.
“They went straight to the Whitfield family after our little performance. SC Linus told the Whitfields everything, revealed that he was the competition winner, and that he was dating Stella. They showed our newspaper to the family and told them that the whole school knew already. The Whitfields were pretty surprised when they heard who SC Linus was, too. In the end, Stella’s grandfather thought for a long time and asked SC Linus, ‘does this mean you are willing to abandon your family for Stella?’.”
“And what’d he say?”
“He said, ‘yes, as long as you feed me bananas every day’.”
“Jenfie! I’m being serious here!”
“Fine, fine. He actually said, ‘there’s nothing I want more than to become a watchmaker and spend my life with Stella. I can give up anything for my dream’.”
“Man, that is so cool! And what happened?”
“Back to what I said before. He’s been granted admission to Whitfield. Now it’s up to him to accept.”
“Sweet! Sweet! I’m so happy for them! Now Stella’ll find happiness!” Larry cheered. But Jenny gave him a cold look.
“How’d you figure out Stella wasn’t in love with you?”
“I didn’t tell you, did I? I couldn’t say it before because Seron was around, but I could see it in her eyes.”
“Yeah. I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t in love with me. She didn’t have the eyes of someone who’s really deeply and desperately in love. I can tell, you know, since I see someone with eyes like that all the time.”
“Hmph. You’re too nice and stupid for your own good.”
“I know I’m stupid, but you’re the one who’s to nice for her own good.”
“You mobilized the newspaper club to help.”
“I…was doing it to get a good story.”
“You gave your all when SC Sophia asked for help, too.”
“You’re really nice when it comes to other people’s love stories,” Larry remarked with a grin.
Jenny’s eyes widened, then narrowed in rage.
“Shut up! Argh! See if I help with any of your crushes!”
“Hah hah! Sure, whatever. But—”
“Make sure to give Seron a hand.”
“…Dunno how much I can help, but I’m not going to get in the way.”
“The past few days were really interesting. I think it really gave me a chance to reconsider my possibilities,” Larry said, recalling his mother’s advice.
“Like your possibilities as a ladies’ man?”
Jenny nodded dubiously, then looked up.
“Almost forgot. There’s something I’m supposed to give you,” she said, getting up. She went to the desk, picked up a small wooden box, and returned to sit across from Larry.
The box resembled a jewelry case or a music box, with a polished wooden finish.
There was a buckle for securing the lid shut, but otherwise the box was unmarked.
“It’s from Stella and the gorilla. They wanted to give this to you.”
“What is it?” Larry wondered, pulling the box over.
“They didn’t give me anything else. Stella said she tried to write a note but couldn’t think of anything, so she’s just giving you this.”
“I see…can I open it?”
“Why’re you asking me permission? I’m curious too, so hurry up and open it. It’s not gonna explode.”
“All right. Wonder what’s inside.”
“My guess is…a sliced-up banana.”
“Enough with the bananas already.”
Larry unclasped the buckle and slowly opened the lid.
He still could not tell what was inside, because the contents were covered with a beige cloth. Larry pulled it off.
He froze, his blue eyes narrowing and locked on the contents of the box. Jenny waited.
Finally, Larry reached in and slowly, very slowly took out his present.
It was a wristwatch.
Around the small cushion in the box was a large, sturdy wristwatch.
It had a black case and a rotating bezel marked off in minutes. On the black face were the words ‘Whitfield-Farkas’, and the hands were finished with luminous paint.
“A Whitfield military-use wristwatch…” Larry gasped, pulling out the cushion.
He held the watch by the end of the strap, holding it just above eye-level.
The time and date had been set to perfection. The second hand whirred smoothly around the face.
“Stella…” Larry whispered, looking up at the watch with a smile.
“Hey,” Jenny said, looking at the watch and Larry’s eyes, “look at the back.”
Larry turned the watch over.
Like all the other models, the word ‘ARMY’, a serial number, and a military standard code were engraved on the back.
But above the mainstays were words exclusive to this one watch. The words had been engraved by hand.
‘To Sir Hepburn’.
Without a word, Larry put the watch around his left wrist.
He tightened the strap and shook his arm, sensing the weight on his wrist.
“We didn’t talk much…but she was a good girl. I…I think I might have liked her a little…”
Larry trailed off, his eyes narrowing in a smile as he gazed lovingly at his new watch.
“I can’t speak for you, but it’s a general rule of thumb that first love never works out,” Jenny advised quietly.
“Maybe you’re right. My job is done.”
“Yeah,” Larry replied. His teary gaze went from the watch to Jenny as he added, “know what a knight’s supposed to do in the grand finale? After he protects everyone, he rides off into the sunset.”
Jenny got up and headed to the desk once more. She picked up her rangefinder and took out a single color film from the drawer.
She opened the camera, loaded the film, and wound it up as she returned to the sofa.
Then she pointed the lens at Larry.
“What’re you doing?” Larry asked.
“It’s the grand finale, so I’m taking a photo of you,” Jenny replied, “gimme a nice bright smile, Sir Hepburn.”
Larry put on an embarrassed grin. Jenny focused through the viewfinder and slowly put pressure in her index finger.
No one else was around to hear the click of the camera.