Chapter 8: Bridget
The moment Kenneth’s words reached the office, several things happened at once.
“Mph!” Larry cringed as he watched through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter. Then he stuck his hands in his jacket.
Nick chuckled to himself, unable to hide his amusement, but no one noticed.
Natalia spewed chunks of macaron across the floor.
Jenny simply grinned.
Meg also said nothing, her face locked in a droll expression with her mouth agape. Thankfully no one was looking in her direction.
<Still as nice as ever,> Bridget replied mechanically, neither angry nor surprised.
Kenneth and Bridget’s conversation under the oak tree continued.
<Were you expecting compliments? Would ‘slut’ have been more to your liking?>
<I’m used to all your insults now.>
<Good for you. At least you aren’t sick of them, like I am with your face. Get to the point. Why’d you call me all the way out here?>
<You always ignore me when I try to talk to you inside.>
<Because everyone and their mother knows what a slut you are. If you have even a sliver of guilt somewhere in there, don’t talk to me on campus.>
<What the heck did I do to deserve you?>
<That’s my line. Our family doesn’t sell jewelry cheap enough to go with your third-rate dresses.>
<Don’t bring family into this, Kenneth.>
<Shut your hole. If you can’t think before you talk, don’t even open that mouth of yours.>
<Oh, are you giving me the silent treatment now? What a joke. Now my fiancée’s gone mute.>
<What do you want to hear?>
<Shut up, you whore.>
Inside the office.
“He’s just as bad as she is!” Natalia exclaimed.
“Which one do you think we must side with for the greatest merit?” Nick wondered amusedly.
“It cannot be this… It cannot be…” Meg shook her head, looking about ready to burst into tears.
“C’mon, Mr. Hero. It’s about time for you to show up,” Jenny whispered under her breath.
“It’s time,” Larry muttered, taking another photo.
<What a waste of time. I’m outta here,> Kenneth said, turning.
But a voice stopped him from very far away. Everyone in the office soon heard the sound of footsteps running across the snow.
Meg’s teary eyes blinked at the familiar voice.
“Whoa!” “Hm?” Natalia and Nick were taken by surprise as well.
As they watched, a figure in a coat approached Kenneth and Bridget.
Bridget and Kenneth were visibly shocked by Seron’s entrance.
<Good afternoon, SC Kenneth. SC Bridget,> Seron said, positioning himself near the two students so his voice would be captured on the microphones.
“Why is Seron there?!” Meg asked out loud.
“Ah! Shoulda noticed when he took his coat with him!” “He pulled one over us, I see.” Natalia and Nick seemed to feel a mix of defeat and triumph. Meg alone remained oblivious.
“Wh-what will he do?” She wondered, hanging from the windowsill.
“I wonder.” “Wow, it’s Seron.”
Jenny and Larry’s reactions were clearly feigned, but the others were too busy focusing on the conversation by the tree to notice.
<It’s nice to meet you. My name is Seron Maxwell—I’m a fourth-year. How are you?>
<Pleasure. The name’s Kenneth Einsworth, sixth-year. I’m feeling all right. You?>
“Pleasantries? Now? What a couple of losers,” Natalia commented.
<I’m having an important conversation with Bridget right now,> said Kenneth in a cold voice, <could you leave us alone?>
Meg nodded furiously. “Yes! Seron is a side role! Why is he interrupting?!” She cried, though Seron could not possibly hear her, “someone please, bring Seron back!”
“How?” Natalia asked.
“Even if with sleeping mind powers!”
“Don’t have any of those. You, Nick?”
“I’m afraid I’m not hiding anything else up my sleeve.”
Seron and Kenneth’s conversation continued.
<Oh? What might you have been discussing, SC Kenneth?>
<What are you, deaf? It’s none of your business.>
<I suppose I must be interrupting something.>
That was when Bridget spoke.
<Maybe we should hear him out. It might be important.>
“No, Seron is interrupting!” Meg cried. The conversation continued.
<Don’t bother. I told you to shut your hole, you little whore,> Kenneth spat, his attitude towards Bridget unchanging.
Larry’s eyes went wide. “You’re incredible, Seron…”
“Seriously…” Jenny mumbled, taking note of the timecode on the recorder.
“What is happening? Is SC Kenneth a bad person? Is Seron confused out of his mind? What is happening?”
In spite of her questions, Meg was the most confused person in the room. And as though in response—
<SC Kenneth,> Seron said, <that’s enough.>
<What’d you say?> Kenneth threatened, turning.
Seron calmly repeated himself.
<That’s enough, SC Kenneth. I don’t think you need to go that far.>
From the silence over the speakers and the gestures beyond the binoculars it was clear that Kenneth’s breath was caught in his throat.
“What?” “Hm?” Natalia and Nick’s eyebrows shot up.
“Oh?” Meg regained some semblance of calm in her surprise.
<What are you talking about?>
<You know exactly what I’m talking about, SC Kenneth.>
<Please don’t play dumb.>
<It’s too cold out here. What do you say to going inside and continuing the discussion over tea at a place no one can listen in on you?>
<…Where?> Kenneth finally asked.
<The newspaper club office.>
<You’re coming too, Bridget. We’re going to settle this once and for all.>
Seron strode over the snow. He was followed by Kenneth, who was followed by Bridget. The three students headed to the building housing the office, their footsteps growing distant over the speakers.
“What’s going on here, chief?” Natalia asked, turning.
Rather than respond, Jenny pressed the stop button and began to rewind the tape.
“You don’t seem very surprised by this turn of events, Jenny,” Nick said with a smile.
“Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting that,” Jenny said sarcastically.
“Seron’s right, though,” Larry said, collapsing and putting away the tripod and the camera, “it’ll be better to talk someplace warm.”
“You too, Larry! You and Jenny are up to something!” Natalia accused.
“Sorry,” Larry replied. And he turned.
“Hm? What? Why? How?” Meg was still lost.
“Megmica,” said Larry, “Seron’s going to bring them over now.”
“Pardon? Yes. Yes.”
“So please don’t jump on them even if you get angry. Please.”
“It’s okay. Seron’s going to answer any questions you might have, Megmica. He’ll solve everything. So please trust Seron and wait until he finishes. Please.”
Overwhelmed by a mix of expectation, rage, and confusion, Meg remained silent.
The door opened.
Kenneth and Bridget sat side-by-side on one of the sofas. Bridget placed her bag on the empty seat on her right side.
Seron sat across the coffee table from them.
“Take a seat,” Larry urged Meg. She did as he asked and sat next to Seron.
“I’ll be out in a sec.”
Jenny emerged from the darkroom next door and sat in the chair, on the right side from Seron’s perspective.
“We’d better sit back.” “Don’t decide for us, Larry. You’re totally right, though.” “Indeed. Allow me to sit at the very back.”
Larry, Natalia, and Nick also brought chairs over to sit behind Jenny.
Larry brewed more tea to serve the guests. Natalia reluctantly volunteered her macarons.
Nick, left with nothing to do, quietly swept the floor with a broomstick.
When Larry served him tea, Kenneth finally broke his stubborn silence to briefly thank him.
Bridget, on the other hand, smiled as elegantly and proudly as ever.
“I’m so glad I get to savor this tea again.”
She did not even try to hide the fact that she had visited the office in the past.
“What do you mean, ‘again’?” Kenneth inquired, turning. Bridget hid nothing from him.
“Exactly what it sounds like. I’ve been here before. I made a request to the newspaper club.”
“I told them that my fiancé is a piece of trash who is verbally abusing me and that I needed a recording of his abuse to use as leverage in breaking off our engagement. Only the newspaper club is capable of that, with all their experience.”
Kenneth’s handsome face was frozen stiff.
Bridget kept her eyes on him and continued mercilessly and triumphantly.
“Surprised? You were just showering me with insults back there by the tree. That’s right. The newspaper club set up microphones around it and made a recording of the whole thing. That was why I called you out today.”
Kenneth was silent.
“Playing dumb now, are we? Don’t bother. I’m sick of this. I’d rather die than marry you, but I’m not interested in suicide. I am going to live my own life.”
Larry looked at Seron in front of him, and beyond, Meg and her trembling fists.
‘Thank goodness I warned her not to lash out,’ Larry thought, but naturally he did not say a word. That was when someone tapped him on the back.
“Here’s your reward,” Natalia said, stuffing a macaron into his mouth.
“I see,” said Kenneth, “so you got me, is that what you want to say?” He looked around at the others.
His gaze met those of the sad pigtailed girl and the boy with the blank face.
“That’s right, you little dog, you,” Bridget said, “whoops! It looks like someone’s rubbing off on me.”
Kenneth’s laugh was an unnatural one, almost creepy to behold against his handsome face.
“What’s so funny?”
“What about this is not funny, you little whore?”
‘Oh! He’s fighting back!’ Larry thought, chewing on the macaron in his mouth.
When he turned, he spotted a bespectacled girl and a girlish boy waiting with bated breath for the rest of the exchange.
‘Oh man, these two are so messed up,’ he sighed inwardly, but said nothing.
“I know everything, Bridget. I know you’re wagging your tail at every prettyboy you see on campus. You take them out on dates until you get bored and throw them away. You even kiss them in the hallways for everyone to see.”
“Not even trying to deny it, eh? Fine. In fact, now it’s easier for me to settle things. I don’t want to marry you either. Good on you for making that recording—now I don’t have to hold back.”
“Oh? Going to insult me to death like a third-rate lawyer now?”
“No need. Because a picture’s worth a thousand words.”
Kenneth pulled a photograph out of his pocket. And he placed it on the coffee table before Bridget.
The club members recognized the photo at a glance. It was the one Jenny had taken of Bridget kissing Seron.
“What is this?” Bridget howled.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” Kenneth said. It was a cold question.
Bridget went silent. Kenneth pushed her further.
“Thanks to this photo now I know that you’re at least capable of kissing people—you’ve never kissed me, after all. I could give you the photo if you’d like. To your parents, too, and even the entire staff at Armitage Dresses.”
Bridget did not respond.
“You know who took this photo? Obviously you must’ve figured it out by now. It was Jenny here, president of the newspaper club.”
Bridget still said nothing.
“You’re not the only one who came to the newspaper club. I asked them to get me evidence that you were cheating. And it looks like they completed both our requests perfectly.”
Bridget maintained her silence.
“What’re we waiting for? Just send out all this evidence for the whole world to see. I don’t want to marry you, and you don’t want to marry me. This photo and the recording will convince both our parents.”
It almost sounded as though Kenneth had surrendered completely.
“…Yeah. you’re right,” Bridget finally replied, putting on a bold smile.
“Glad you agree. I can’t wait to start my life over.”
“That’s my line.”
“Tomorrow’s the weekend. You and I will both have to prepare to fight our parents to the death.”
“Hmph.” Bridget snorted and drained her cup of tea in one go. Then, “this tea’s as good as ever. Thanks for all your help, newspaper club. Now please give me the tape.”
Kenneth also smiled. “You’re something else, you know that? Keep up the good work, newspaper club. Dig up more truths for the world to see.” It was hard to tell if he was being serious or sarcastic.
That was when Seron finally broke his silence.
Kenneth and Bridget seemed to be just about ready to leave, but Seron’s gaze refused to let them go.
“Please don’t end the conversation yet.”
“Larry, more tea,” Seron said.
“Sure.” Larry got up.
“We’re done here, Seron,” Bridget said, annoyed, “if you want compensation, I can give you as much as you’d like later. A kiss, even.”
Meg seemed to grit her teeth at that statement.
“No, SC Bridget. I brought the two of you here to speak to you, but you didn’t give me the chance to say anything. You two simply came to a conclusion on your own.”
Kenneth nodded. “That’s true, I suppose. But we’ve come to an agreement. Any more of this will only be a waste of your time. As you can see, we’re both pieces of trash. Feel free to mock us or even publish a paper on this case if that strikes your fancy. If we manage to break up—we will, by the way—you’re the first people we’ll come to. Because we’re both very grateful to you,” he said.
Meg’s expression darkened.
Larry served them more tea.
“After we received your requests—” Seron began. Having been completely ignored, Kenneth and Bridget sighed and reached for their cups of tea again. “The newspaper club fell into confusion. You had each asked us to investigate the other in the span of two days. So I began to consider the possibilities.”
Seron paused and raised his right hand, the back of his hand pointed at Kenneth and Bridget. And raising his thumb, he went over the possibilities that Jenny had outlined before.
“The first possibility was that SC Kenneth was lying, and was using SC Bridget as a scapegoat to escape the engagement.”
Then he put up his index finger.
“The second possibility. SC Bridget was lying, and was using SC Kenneth as a scapegoat to escape the engagement.”
Finally, his middle finger.
“Third. Both were telling the truth, hiding their own faults while scapegoating the other to escape the engagement.”
“And now you know the truth,” Kenneth said.
“Lying wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It doesn’t matter anymore, though,” Bridget spat as though it were someone else’s business.
Meg cast Seron a sad glance.
That was when Seron put up his ring finger.
Because his pinky was still folded the ring finger could not be unfolded completely, left to point in a different direction.
“The fourth possibility was,” Seron said, his voice filling the office, “that both were lying.”
In the silent office Seron continued to explain.
“Yes. There was a fourth possibility, that you were both lying,” he said, putting down his hand, “in other words, SC Kenneth falsely claimed that SC Bridget was cheating, while SC Bridget behaved to create such an image of herself. SC Bridget falsely claimed that SC Kenneth was verbally abusing her, while SC Kenneth behaved to create such an image of himself.”
For what, the others wondered, silently urging Seron to continue.
“You were working together to break off your engagement. You may not have been cheating or verbally abusing the other, but you didn’t want to marry. Unfortunately, you simply didn’t have the power to overrule your parents, who have been planning this marriage for two decades,” Seron said, “you tried to think of ways to convince them. And eventually you came to a horrifying conclusion. All you had to do was show them that you were not the model son or daughter they thought you were. You could convince your parents that the other party was someone so depraved that they could not possibly marry you to them. It was a sad, socially suicidal tactic.”
No one said a word. Seron continued.
“I don’t know when you came up with this plan. But you agreed to it and put it into motion. And you carried it out with frightening determination. First, SC Bridget began enticing boys in order to circulate the rumors about herself. She even took them out on dates and kissed them on campus.
“Then it was SC Kenneth’s turn. But unfortunately, the nature of his story meant that he needed someone to testify to his verbal abuse. Which is why you two came to the newspaper club, which was capable of procuring something as expensive as a recorder. You came to us almost at the same time so you could fabricate the photograph too. That your visits were on consecutive days was not a coincidence.”
Seron took a breath and took a sip of tea to wet his dry throat.
“In the end, we at the newspaper club carried out both of your requests. You both got your evidence, and managed to achieve your goal.”
“Th-then…” Meg began, “earlier, the two people’s argument was…”
“An act. They were trying very hard to cover up how happy they were.”
Meg could not continue. Seron turned to the couple.
Kenneth looked away.
Bridget met Seron’s gaze with a glare sharp enough to kill.
“Well?” Asked Seron. “Am I wrong?”
Neither Bridget nor Kenneth responded. Natalia spoke instead.
“Hold on. How’d you end up at that conclusion? Give us the rundown while our two senior-classmen go look for their missing vocal cords.”
Sensing Meg’s gaze on his left side, Seron turned to Natalia and Nick on his right. “Let’s go back to the 8th. SC Bridget kissed me out of nowhere at the central staircase. At first I was very confused and assumed that she was just a beautiful but strange girl.”
‘That is cold, Seron!’ Larry laughed internally, but he naturally kept silent.
“Then on the 11th, the first day back after the weekend, SC Kenneth came to the club with his request. I wasn’t there, so I heard about it on the next day—the 12th. I knew that SC Bridget was the one who had kissed me, so I almost fell for the claim that she was a cheating fiancée.”
“Understandable,” Natalia remarked.
“There was a specific reason that SC Kenneth came in on the day after a weekend. Because he knew that I—the guy who Bridget kissed—would be away at an RA meeting.”
“Of course,” Nick said with a nod.
“And then SC Bridget came with her request. I’m sorry I have to put it this way, SC Bridget, but I was obviously suspicious that the girl who kissed me out of the blue came asking for evidence of her fiancé’s harassment to use as leverage to break up with him. That was when I began to suspect that you were both lying. And I began to search for answers.”
“That’s pure evil! Expected nothing less from our Seron.”
“Is that a compliment or an insult, Lia? And aren’t you the one who said people should be more suspicious?”
“In other words,” said Nick, “from the very beginning you were operating on the assumption that both were lying? You should have told us.”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t have concrete evidence, and I thought I might find more evidence the more I looked into it. And two days later, I had a breakthrough. I invited Larry to my dorm room and got his report. The newspaper club found mountains of testimony about SC Bridget’s infidelity, which struck me as odd. It was too easy.”
“It was too easy?” Meg repeated.
“Yeah. If it was that easy to get so many eyewitness accounts in only two days, it wouldn’t have been so hard to get a photograph of the moment. Which is why I began to wonder why someone known for being so clever would go to the trouble of asking our club to get this evidence.”
“So I came up with a theory. That SC Bridget was pretending to cheat, hoping to get a photograph taken.”
“So I decided to contact SC Bridget and meet her after school. I put a letter into her locker and asked her to meet met in a classroom on the fifth floor of the new building, which would be deserted. I was sure SC Bridget would agree to meet me if she really were intent on creating as much evidence as possible. And that’s exactly what she did.”
“Then Seron, you did these things on purpose!” Meg cried. Seron apologized for no apparent reason and continued.
“I knew that you and Jenny were planning to tail SC Bridget with a camera, Megmica. And I checked that you made it to the girls’ bathroom by the classroom.”
“Seriously? How’d I not notice?” Jenny spat.
Larry glanced at Kenneth and Bridget, who had not said a word for some time.
From their silence it almost seemed as if they were gone, but in reality they were still very much present in the office.
Kenneth had the look of a dead man; on the other hand, Bridget was glaring daggers at Seron with rage apparent on her beautiful face.
A chill ran down Larry’s spine.
“So I went into the classroom. I didn’t have anything in particular to say. All I had to do was act the part of a excited boy who’d come back for more after the last kiss. When Megmica charged in I got worried for a moment—”
Meg became visibly angry, but Seron continued.
“But as I expected, SC Bridget kissed me in the presence of two cameras, and our top camerawoman captured the moment perfectly. That was when I became convinced that SC Bridget was only pretending to cheat.”
Natalia and Nick nodded in understanding.
“Then it was time to think about SC Kenneth. I couldn’t completely set aside the possibility that SC Kenneth was verbally abusing his fiancée. But yesterday Megmica gave me the evidence I needed.”
“Pardon? Evidence from me?”
“Yeah. You got angry at me and said that I kissed SC Bridget twice.”
“Oh, of course I did say this. But…it is truth, yes?”
“It is. By coincidence you spotted the kiss on the central staircase from the empty hallway.”
“The rest of the club was floored when they heard, because they had no idea I was the boy SC Kenneth had claimed to see kissing Bridget on the 8th.”
“Then we have to think—from where did SC Kenneth witness the moment?” Seron asked. Natalia was quick to answer.
“We talked ‘bout this yesterday. You can’t see from the stairs so he must’ve seen you from the grounds.”
But Seron shook his head.
“He couldn’t have. Not in that snowfall.”
“Now that you mention it, we had a big snowstorm then. Man, with all this crazy weather I can barely remember what happened when,” Natalia groaned.
“Indeed. It does seem quite unlikely,” Nick agreed.
“Hm? Then what is the thing that SC Kenneth saw?” Meg wondered. Seron had her answer.
“He didn’t see a thing.”
“SC Kenneth didn’t see SC Bridget kiss me on the 8th. He couldn’t have.”
“Then how did he know this?”
“SC Bridget must have told him that she kissed a fourth-year named Seron Maxwell at the central staircase on the 8th.”
Meg was silent.
“They probably hadn’t expected another witness to the scene. So SC Kenneth gave us the objective facts when he came to us with the request, without taking perspective into account.”
Though Seron could easily turn to the two senior-classmen for confirmation, he did not. He simply continued to explain his thought processes for Meg and the club members.
“Once I realized that they were in cahoots, I managed to solidify my theory. Then came today—the day we would record evidence of SC Kenneth’s verbal abuse.”
Seron looked at Meg, Natalia, and Nick in order.
“I’m really sorry I didn’t let you know sooner, but I told Larry and Jenny all this at lunchtime. And I told them that I would intervene once SC Kenneth and SC Bridget’s conversation began.”
“I knew it!” Natalia exclaimed.
“I was sure that SC Kenneth would come out with guns blazing, acting like he was abusing SC Bridget. They needed that recording, after all. That and the photograph. I considered the possibility that SC Kenneth wouldn’t say anything incriminating, but—”
“That’s exactly what he did,” Larry continued, taking out his flashlight and flicking it on and off.
“I told Larry ahead of time to signal me once SC Kenneth’s abuse began. I was watching the whole thing with a pair of binoculars from the building across the way.”
“What?! Larry, you sneak!” “Impressive.” Natalia and Nick remarked, both smiling.
“My plan was to approach them and bring them both to the office. That was when SC Kenneth slipped up. He verbally abused SC Bridget in my presence. —Jenny?”
Jenny got up and went to the recorder. She rewound the tape to the timecode she had noted down and pressed play.
Kenneth’s voice filled the room.
<Don’t bother. I told you to shut your hole, you little whore—>
Jenny stopped the recording and took a seat again. She did not look pleased.
“That all you get to do today, chief?” Natalia teased.
“Not another word, Natalia.”
Seron, the man of the hour, continued.
“As we clarified when SC Bridget first came to us with her request, a verbal abuser doesn’t carry out the abuse when a third party is present. In public, they try to act the part of a good person. That’s the scary thing about it—no one will believe the victim’s claims. Which was why it was strange to hear SC Kenneth say something so harsh to SC Bridget when I was standing right there. It was the last piece of evidence I needed.”
The unhappily engaged couple said absolutely nothing. Seron continued.
“Well, SC Kenneth? SC Bridget? Am I wrong?”
Seron’s question was the same as the one from earlier. But this time he got a response.
“What will you do if you turn out to be right?”
It was Kenneth. He was looking sadly at Seron.
“In that case,” Seron replied, “I would humbly advise you to put a stop to this terrible plan.” He looked directly at the senior-classmen before him. “I understand clearly that the two of you wish to end your engagement. And that you would do anything to achieve your goal. But as I said earlier, this is suicide. I don’t want to simply let you go through with this. I’m sure your parents will believe your claims if you show them the evidence we collected. But it will cause them incredible grief, and news of your dishonorably broken engagement will spread no matter how much they want to sweep it under the rug. Your reputations will be dragged through the mud.”
Kenneth was silent.
“Hah hah hah!”
But Bridget laughed. She laughed so very elegantly.
Holding her head high, she spoke without a moment’s hesitation.
“I don’t care.”