Chapter 3: The Storm
Seconds passed by in cold silence, as though an ice age had come over the office.
The sound of the kettle Larry left on the stove and the second hand on the wall clock ticking away punctuated the air in a din.
“Hm? Why is everyone not speaking?” Meg asked, surprised, “is my Roxchean speaking very strange?”
The first one to defrost was Larry, who had recently undergone wintertime training.
“N-no, it’s fine. I think we all get what you’re trying to say.”
“Really? Thank goodness,” Meg breathed a sigh of relief. Next to thaw out was Natalia, who had taken in more calories than anyone else.
“Yes? What is it, Natalia?”
“You’re a brave soul.”
“Not a lot of people have the guts to ask something like that—in front of a bunch of people, at that. Mhm. It’s good to be brave!”
“Is it good?”
“Uh-huh! At least, I think so,” Natalia nodded, almost like an old man watching a grandchild grow up. But she did not answer Meg’s original question.
Next to speak was Nick, who had not actually been frozen. “I believe it would be best to ask the man himself, don’t you agree? Thankfully for us, he is right here in this office,” he said, tossing Meg and Seron an angelic smile.
“That is pure evil…” Larry muttered to himself.
Finally, Jenny—who had no reason to be frozen to begin with—turned. “That’d be for the best. Answer the question, Seron,” she said as though it were the most natural thing in the world, “I have a speech cooked up for today, so make it quick.”
“You’re all evil…” Larry breathed silently, but no one heard. Slowly, imperceptibly, he turned to look at his best friend.
Seron was like a statue. He didn’t blink, and it was impossible to tell if he was even breathing.
Larry glimpsed Jenny reach for her bag. She picked up her camera for a moment, but seemed to bring herself under control as she put it back down.
Larry and Jenny looked at Seron.
Natalia looked at Seron.
Nick looked at Seron.
Meg also looked at Seron.
Seron took a deep breath and finally said in Roxchean,
“Wh-whatever might you mean?”
Inwardly, Larry sighed and shook his head, but he did not let anything show.
Calmly, with a voice trained from years in the chorus club, Meg clarified—
“It was last year’s event, but the newbie sent me a letter. This letter wrote that Seron is in love with me. I must confirm these words no matter what.”
‘The newbie? Seriously?’ Larry wondered, incredulous, but said nothing. His trained gaze caught a hint of a grin playing at Jenny’s lips. ‘It was you, Jenfie!’ He quickly concluded, managing to keep himself from speaking.
“Hm. I see,” Seron replied, as monotonous as ever.
‘Just say it, buddy! Now’s your only chance!’ Larry pleaded inwardly. He tried to meet Seron’s gaze and sent him all the telepathic signals his brain could muster.
All eyes were on him. Seron finally responded with his usual poker face—
“I don’t know what the newbie’s talking about.”
“I understand!” Meg replied brightly with a sigh of relief, “everyone, and Seron, I am sorry. I have said something strange. I will end this talk with this.”
“Oh. That’s it?” Natalia inquired, not completely satisfied.
“I suppose if the parties involved have nothing more to say…” Nick said, as elegant as ever.
“As president, I have no objections.” Jenny said, putting extra emphasis on ‘president’.
Larry said nothing. Seron said nothing. They simply listened as Meg’s cheerful voice resounded through the office.
“But it is a relief that this is the newbie’s mistake.”
“Hm? Why’s that, Megmica?” Natalia asked. Meg’s answer was immediate.
“That is because, I cannot say ‘yes’ to a person who cannot confess in person himself. A confession is a thing to say and listen to in person. If this was not the newbie’s mistake I would dislike Seron.”
Four seconds later.
“I just remembered. I have to go buy something.”
Seron Maxwell slowly got to his feet and grabbed his coat off the wall. And without another word, he drifted out of the office like a phantom.
“Oh, er… Whoops! I gotta get something, too! I’ll come with you, Seron!”
Larry Hepburn struggled to gather his things before hurrying after him.
Four people were left in the office.
* * *
Seron was running under the frozen sky.
His unbuttoned coat flapping, he sprinted across the wet tiles.
Larry was following after him.
The after-school rush was over, and few students were left on the grounds.
“Hey, isn’t that SC Seron, the RA?” “Yeah. He’s really good at explaining things, don’tcha think?”
A pair of first-years spotted Seron and Larry.
“Yeah. Wonder why he’s running?”
“Didn’t you know, Paul? Apparently SC Seron runs laps around campus every day to get in shape!”
“Uh-huh. What about the other guy?”
“Must be a friend who wants to be like him. But SC Seron looks faster, though.”
“That makes sense! You’re really smart, Julio.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. But if you got any questions, I’d be happy to answer. We’re friends now!”
Without a glance at the budding friendship between Paul and Julio, Seron sprinted out the gates.
He passed the deserted intersection and ran down the snowy sidewalk. With the campus wall on his left he raced in a straight line toward the city center.
“Wait, Seron! You don’t need to run anymore! Stop!” Larry cried behind him.
Seron’s flight finally came to an end.
Face drenched in sweat and breath rising in white puffs from his mouth, Seron put his hands on his knees.
Larry stood next to him.
“You’ve gotten faster, buddy. Stamina’s gone up too.” He wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, and leaned down to look at Seron’s bowed face.
Seron wore a strange look.
Though he seemed as calm and collected as ever, his eyes alone were dead. As though he were a doll with grey marbles for eyes. He was not crying.
Larry looked up, gave Seron a hearty slap on the back, and asked in a casual tone, “so, where are we off to? What do you want to get, buddy?”
Seron remained quiet for some time, before finally responding in a muted voice.
“A time machine…”
“…I wouldn’t know where to get one of those around here. How ‘bout some soup instead? You know the soup stand in the shopping district?” Larry said, giving Seron a gentle push. Seron buttoned up his coat and took out his gloves from his pockets.
They walked down the wet, snowy sidewalk for some time in silence.
Eventually, Seron opened his mouth.
“I was going to tell her…” He muttered, looking ahead. There was no one else around to hear.
“I couldn’t say it in front of everyone. So I was going to wait until we were alone and tell her. I thought that would solve everything…”
“It’s okay, buddy. No one could think straight in a situation like that, you know?”
Larry cast a resentful gaze at the sky. The clouds passed by as quickly as ever.
“Look, Seron. You can’t cry over spilled milk. Don’t blame Je- I mean, the newbie.”
“I know. It’s not the newbie’s fault. It’s mine. I’m the one who couldn’t work up the courage to tell her, putting things off for months. So this is all my fault, and I’m the one who has to solve this situation.”
“Yeah! Think positive.”
“But she hates me now. It’s over. I’m done,” Seron said blankly, almost sounding like he was about to cry.
“I take back what I just said,” Larry said quietly.
They reached a large intersection. Next to the intersection was a park featuring an old decorative cannon.
Crossing a thin layer of snow, Seron approached the old cannon.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
As Larry watched curiously, Seron stuck his head into the muzzle of the century-old weapon.
“I’m finished, Larry. Just shoot me.”
His voice resounded through the barrel of the cannon.
“Sorry, Seron,” Larry said, “I still haven’t learned to use one of these babies yet.”
Seron, shoulders sagging, did not remove his head from the cannon. Larry shrugged. At that moment, it began to snow.
It was snowing so hard that if it had been warmer, they would have been instantly soaked to the bone. The snow piled up mercilessly on Seron and Larry’s heads and shoulders. The world, the cannon, and the two of them turned white.
“Looks like we’re in for a storm,” Larry muttered, looking up at the sky.
A snowflake landed on his eye and melted instantly.
* * *
Right after Seron and Larry left the office—
“Could’ve done their shopping earlier, those punks. The chief hasn’t given her speech,” Natalia said, picking up a cookie. “Oh well. More food for me.”
“I will eat too!” Meg cried, her slender arm reaching into the tin. “Hmph.”
She grabbed a handful of cookies and placed them on her lap. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she grabbed the cookies with her other hand and stuffed them into her mouth.
“One of your techniques, Nat?” Asked Nick. Natalia shook her head.
“I don’t eat like that.”
“Pardon. You’re not quite so reserved when it comes to eating.”
As Meg finished off her first handful of cookies, Jenny spoke.
“So the newbie wrote you a letter saying that stuff, huh. It’s certainly a surprising claim.”
“It is very surprising! I was very surprised! I was thinking for a long time, but it is finally solved so I am happy,” Meg replied nonchalantly.
“Say, Megmica?” Natalia asked, tone no different from usual.
“Yes! What is the matter?”
“What did the letter say, specifically? Mind letting us in on the details?”
“What I said is all,” Meg replied, but she soon explained the details.
“Hm.” Natalia fell into thought. She thought without eating a single cookie. In the meantime, Meg downed five.
Finally, Natalia turned to Meg with a smile.
“Y’know, maybe Seron didn’t mean what he said.”
“Maybe…maybe he does like you, Megmica. He’s hard to read, y’know. He mighta been too shy to speak up. Maybe you should go talk to him again in person.”
Nick and Jenny were floored. The former blinked rapidly, and the latter stared as though looking at an exotic animal. They had not expected Natalia to take Seron’s side.
Meg was also shocked, stunned into silence.
“Whaddaya say?” Natalia asked, looking Meg in the eye.
She stuttered, repeating the same sound.
“That a spell witches cast in Sou Be-Il?”
“I wished to say, ‘that is impossible’!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“My meaning is, that it is impossible that Seron is in love with me!” Meg declared, but Natalia grinned.
“You sure about that?”
“Let us suppose something!”
“Your Roxchean’s gotten better. Good for you.”
“Thank you! Let us suppose that this is a possibility. But I will not say it first! To be honest, isn’t it bad? Let us suppose that Seron is in love with me, but he cannot confess in person—”
Meg’s expression turned cold.
“—I cannot marry then! My future will be worrisome!” She declared, picking up another cookie and chewing on it rapidly.
“‘Marry’? Did I just hear ‘marry’, not ‘bury’?” Asked Natalia.
“Marry. To become a husband and a wife.”
“Oh, so why couldn’t you marry him?”
“It is simple. Thinking of our age, to date is to pledge our future together! There is no other way! There is nothing else.”
“Ah, I see where you are coming from,” Nick said, nodding.
“You sure about that, Megmica?” Asked Natalia. “It’s true a lot of people end up marrying whoever they were dating in secondary school, but a lot of other people break up and end up with someone else. Is it a custom over in the West to marry the first person you go out with? D’you know, chief?”
With no care for cultural differences in marriage, Meg continued.
“For my future husband, I wish for a clear, decisive person. I like a person who can say his opinions with his own mouth. I dislike people who ask me to notice from their attitudes! I cannot accept it!” Meg fumed. “…I am thirsty.”
She carefully brought her teacup to her lips and downed the tepid tea in one go. Then—
“I-I must show my face to the chorus club once in a while, or they may forget me. Please excuse me today!” She declared, and stood.
“All right,” said Jenny, “come back when you have the time.”
“Yes. Good day!”
Saying goodbye to the others, Meg grabbed her coat and marched out the door.
For about 20 seconds, the office was silent.
The first to finally speak—as though amused—was Nick.
“And now Megmica has fled on us. There’s never a dull day at the newspaper club.”
“What are you, the peanut gallery?” Natalia said, “gotta agree, though. Marriage, huh. I’ve never thought about that stuff. Maybe they do stuff differently in the West.”
“I didn’t think Seron would run off like that,” Jenny sighed with an incredulous look, crossing her legs precariously. She leaned back and stared into the ceiling. “Man…”
“Looks like your plan just went up in smoke.” “Indeed.”
Jenny looked down again.
“What are you talking about?”
“Now, now, don’t play dumb. You’re the one who got the newbie to write that letter.”
“There is no other possibility. I wouldn’t expect such a thing out of Larry, for instance.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jenny repeated herself. Natalia held out a cookie.
“Say ahh.” She pushed a sheep-shaped cookie toward Jenny’s mouth and continued. “So now you’re gonna play the villain alone? You’re being so selfless, chief. Here’s your reward.”
Without a word, Jenny took a bite out of the cookie. She picked up the fallen remainder from her skirt and munched on it as well.
“I wonder where Seron and Larry could be,” Nick mused, casting a glance out the window. It had started snowing earlier, painting the ground and the world pure white.
Natalia picked up yet another cookie. “I bet they’re out having soup.”
“Soup?” “Why?” Nick and Jenny asked simultaneously.
“There’s this nice soup stand in the area that Larry’s parents used to take him to whenever he cried.”
* * *
<So Strauski Megmica completely blew up at our handsome idiot Seron Maxwell. She completely lost her cool, all at the very first meeting of the year.>
<Even I wasn’t expecting her to ask Seron in front of us all. I had to pick up my jaw off the floor.>
<I mean, Seron probably would have managed somehow if it was just the two of them.>
<…Well, that’s certainly something big. I…I don’t know what to say, SC Jenny.>
<Huh? Oh, no. That’s not it, newbie.>
<What do you mean?>
<I’m just getting started. The big thing didn’t happen for a while after that.>
<We’ve still got a long way to go.>
<So things got awkward between poor, supposedly-rejected Seron Maxwell and our oblivious Strauski Megmica. They were both so busy they never really got to meet at the office, and they couldn’t say a word to each other at school.>
<The days went by in a flash, and before we knew it it was almost the end of the month.>
* * *
The 27th day of the first month.
An object called Seron Maxwell was sitting on the office sofa.
It sat at the edge of the seat, dressed in a school uniform, blankly looking up at the ceiling. Other than the occasional blink, it showed no signs of life.
Meanwhile, Larry, Natalia, and Nick sat around a desk with textbooks and notebooks open. From the darkroom came the muffled sounds of Jenny working on something.
Snow was falling softly outside the wet window. The cloud cover was so thick that the office lights all had to be turned on.
The year had not only come to a cold start, but a snowy one as well. As soon as temperatures rose enough for the snow to melt, it snowed yet again.
The Capital District had mild winters and low precipitation, which was one reason why the area was selected as the capital. But this year it was stricken by unusual weather patterns.
The world outside the window was covered in snow.
The grounds behind the building were buried to the point that it would be impossible to walk across. Even the legendary oak tree stood frozen.
The minute hand crept along the face of the clock and pointed at 4:33 in the afternoon.
Seron staggered to its feet.
“I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be fine on my own…” It trailed off weakly, floating out of the office. Because the hallways and the bathrooms were also heated, it did not take its coat.
Once Seron had gone, Natalia looked up from her homework—specifically, from the homework Nick was guiding her through—and turned to her fellow student.
“Do something about that dark, mopey, handsome creature from hell. You’re friends, right?”
“Find him some other pretty girl so he can forget Megmica. Or make him take some medicine that erases his memories.”
“Why don’t you do that?”
“Look, I may be pretty, but I can’t go out with Seron.”
“I was suggesting we feed him that obliviousness-inducing drug your brain seems to make on its own, Lia.”
“I was suggesting you grow out your hair and put on a dress and become his girlfriend.”
“Again, that’s your job. You were always great at pretending to be a girl.”
“That hurt, Larry. You broke my heart.”
“I’m surprised you knew that expression. Do you even know what it means?”
“Aha! If I took this case to court right now, I bet I’d win.”
Finally, Nick spoke up with an elegant smile. “There is nothing we can do in this particular case but sit back and watch, I’m afraid.”
Larry pursed his lips, but he eventually came around.
“Once a girl gets mad at you,” Natalia said, “it ain’t easy to change her mind. If a relationship doesn’t work out, we girls cut off the thing in one go. Apparently guys can’t, though.” She took out a round tin from her bag and grabbed a piece of chocolate from inside, tossing it into her mouth. “FYI, these chocolates are part of my soul. You can’t have any!”
“I don’t want any. And that is one cheap soul you’ve got.”
“You can’t judge a product by how much it costs in the store, Larry. One bit of this chocolate, and you’ll become as clean and pure as I am.”
“I don’t need any poison, thanks,” Larry declined, and stood. “Let’s take a break. Tea, anyone?”
As Larry departed, Nick spoke up.
“Come to think of it, have you heard that the date has been decided for the 13th day of the fourth month?”
“Pardon me. The spring dance party.”
A complicated expression rose to Larry’s eyes as he poured cold water into the kettle.
The spring dance party was an annual event held by secondary schools in and around the Capital District. In a way it was an educational event for young elites to learn to fraternize in high society.
Students had to be in their fourth year or higher to participate. In other words, the newspaper club members were now all eligible.
Because the party was hosted by the school, students could dress up in fancy clothes, stay out late with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and enjoy great food, music, and dances all with their parents’ implicit permission.
A condition for attendance, however, was to be registered with a date of the opposite sex at least 10 days before the dance.
Every year there were unfortunate students who failed to find a date, left to watch enviously as their friends attended the party—and a large proportion of them were fourth-years, for whom it would be their first year of being eligible to attend.
“Will you be attending with someone, Larry?” Asked Nick.
Larry meticulously wiped off every droplet of water from the kettle before putting it on the hot plate and turning on the switch. Then he replied, “if there’s a saintly girl out there who’d be willing to dance with me, yeah. But that’s not what you're getting at, is it?”
Larry returned to the desk and lowered his voice. “Look. I want Seron to go to the dance with Megmica as much as anybody. But he’s not in any shape to be asking her.”
“Indeed. So what shall we do? Presently Seron is but an empty husk. I recall gathering such husks as a child and decorating trees with them, but that certainly isn’t an option for us.”
It was hard to tell if Nick was worried or amused by the situation, but ultimately he seemed to feel a mix of both.
“There’s not much we can do,” Larry admitted, “but hope for a miracle.”
“If Megmica’d show up more often, they might be able to talk it out,” Natalia said, serious for once, “but she’s really giving the chorus club her all. Running away from us.”
That was when someone knocked on the door.
Seron was plodding back down the hallway when it spotted the open office door and Natalia’s head sticking out of it.
“Welcome back, Seron Maxwell. Right now we’re hosting a VIP by the name of Strauski for tea.”
Natalia did not often use such a tone of voice. But Seron was more affected by the content of her words.
Holding back the urge to turn tail and run off, Seron quickly strode to the door.
“Come right in,” Natalia said, making way—
“Hiya, Big Bro! It’s been a while!”
Twelve-year-old Strauski Kurt gave Seron a smile and a wave.
Seron stood with jaw on the ground, swaying like a metronome.
“I didn’t lie, did I?” Natalia said innocently.
“Nat…I see now. You were the devil.”
Strauki Kurt was one of Meg’s brothers. She had an even younger brother named Johan who was now 10 years old.
Kurt had started attending his sister’s school this year, coming to class with her in the morning by car. After class, he let Meg take the car and took the streetcar home.
He was still quite short, only at about Jenny’s height. Kurt had fair skin and dark eyes just like his sister, and black hair cut short.
He looked—and was—outgoing and playful.
The Strauski family had come to the school in 3305 to listen to Meg at the drama club’s fall performance. The entire newspaper club met them there.
“So this is the newspaper club! It’s just as ritzy as Big Sis said it was!” Kurt exclaimed in Roxchean from the sofa, eyes glinting.
Nick and the others were also on the sofas for tea. Jenny was at the darkroom door, also looking quite surprised.
Seron took a seat on the sofa, in the middle as always—but sitting directly across was not Megmica but her brother.
“How’s school going for you, Kurt?” Asked Larry.
“Great! I got lots of classes, the cafeteria food’s awesome, the uniforms are cool, and there’s lotsa kinds of people around,” Kurt replied with a grin. “Big Bro Larry! You gotta give me your military sciences superintendence! First-years can’t take any courses!”
Kurt’s dream was to join the Sou Be-Il Royal Army’s cavalry.
“All right! I’d be happy to help. I can lend you some of my old textbooks if you want to get a leg up on the others before second year,” Larry replied, smiling at the descendant of his ancestors’ enemies.
“Your Roxchean’s very good, Kurt. You sound like a native speaker,” Nick commented.
“Thanks! I got in trouble with the teacher for not using proper language, though. I use Roxchean at home too. But Big Sis and Mom don’t like it cause they wanna be comfortable at home. Dad and Johan don’t mind, though, so it’s boys versus girls at our house! Boys use Roxchean, girls use Bezelese!”
“You guys are a riot. Here, have some chocolate,” Natalia said, holding out her tin.
“Whoa! Thanks, Big Sis Nat! Can’t believe you’re allowed to bring snacks to class in secondary school This rocks!”
Kurt picked up two of the eight remaining pieces. Larry turned to Nick with a smile, shrugging, but Kurt did not understand the meaning behind his action.
“Good, good. Eat up, kiddo. So how’s your first month here been? Made any friends?”
“Hmm…not as many as I wanted. And I couldn’t pick a club either.”
“Oh? How many friends have you made so far?”
“Let’s see…I got addresses and numbers and promised to hang out with…”
Kurt reached into his slightly-large uniform jacket and pulled out a brand-new student agenda.
The 4th Capital Secondary School’s student agenda was expensive, as evidenced by the leather cover. Kurt flipped through the pages until he reached the address book.
“Wow!” “Not bad.” “Hm.”
Natalia, Larry, and Nick were floored. Jenny cast Kurt a discreet glance as she sipped on her tea. Seron, still as ghostly as ever, remained seated silently on the sofa.
“Not much, huh?” Kurt sighed.
“Are you kidding?” Larry retorted, “fifty-seven friends in your first month of secondary school! That’s a lot!”
“But there’s hundreds of first-years at school. Fifty-seven’s not much at all,” Kurt reasoned, confused.
“It’s certainly an incredible number,” said Nick, “even as a fourth-year, I don’t believe I have so many friends.”
“Something to be proud of, that’s for sure,” Natalia said with a nod. “So what’s your secret? They all guys? Or girls?”
“Why do you have to be so extreme, Lia?”
“Perhaps they’re all teachers.”
“No way, Nick!”
Kurt thought for a moment before responding.
“Hmm…about half and half—no, maybe a few more girls.”
“Whoo! You little ladykiller, you! I thought it’d be harder for you to get contact info from girls than guys—that’s what usually happens with first-years. So what’s your secret? Tell us all so that Roxche’s Least Popular Guy here can learn a thing or two,” Natalia said, pointing at Larry.
“Hey! It’s true, but you don’t have to rub it in,” Larry replied, “and I admit I’m kinda curious too. How’d you do it, Kurt?”
Kurt’s response was simple.
“Okay, so here’s what you do. Talk to the girl for a bit, and then thank her and make sure to say at the end, ‘I love you’! It’s that easy.”
Larry went silent, his eyes turning to dinner plates.
“Pfft!” Natalia, on the other hand, burst into laughter. “Ahahaha! Hahahaha! That is amazing! And totally impossible for Larry! Ahaha!”
As Natalia’s laughter continued in the background, Nick smiled. “That’s certainly impressive.”
“It’s nice that you can be honest about it,” said Jenny.
Seron silently drank tea.
Once she had recovered from her laughing fits, Natalia put her hands gravely on Kurt’s shoulders.
“But remember this, young man. If things go wrong, you may end up having to court every one of those girls. There will be tough times and challenges ahead.”
Though Natalia was positively gigantic in comparison to him, Kurt was not the least bit cowed.
“If that happens, I can just be happy with all of them!” He replied.
“Good answer, boy! I have nothing left to teach you.”
“No! I still have so much to learn, master!”
“Then head west, young man! Head west and learn all that the world has to offer.”
“But I just got back from the west a couple of weeks ago!”
“Then east it is! Now depart on your journey of manhood!”
Larry shook his head at Natalia and Kurt’s banter and poured Seron another cup of tea. Seron quietly gave him a word of thanks.
“By the way,” Kurt said, changing the subject, “er…”
He thought for a moment before turning to Jenny.
“My sister’s been acting strange recently, SC Jones. Do you by any chance know why?”
Natalia, Larry, and Nick waited in confusion. Seron, who was studying Bezelese, recognized the words ‘sister’ and ‘strange’ and flinched.
Jenny, who could understand Bezelese, replied, “you should ask in Roxchean if you want the answer. A question involving the newspaper club should be asked to the entire newspaper club.”
“Okay. Thank you,” Kurt replied politely, and switched to Roxchean. “So, er…my sister’s been acting real weird. D’you know why?”
Natalia, Larry, and Nick exchanged glances.
“Oh, so that’s what it was?” Natalia said, “I was sure you and Jenny were just plotting to throw me a surprise potluck.”
“Ignore her, Kurt. So what exactly do you mean by ‘weird’? We can’t really tell because she’s been so busy with the chorus club recently.”
“Well, er…it was right after the term started. She used to tell me and Johan about the newspaper club all the time before that, but now she doesn’t.”
“I see. And?” Asked Jenny.
“Her stories were really fun, so Johan and me really liked them. And we asked her why she stopped telling us.”
“And how did she respond?” Asked Nick.
“That’s the thing, she won’t respond. She’s never like that. And she looks tired for some reason too.”
“Such a sweet brother,” Jenny muttered to herself.
“You don’t know either, Big Bro Seron? You think there’s any way to make her feel better?” Kurt asked, looking Seron in the eye.
“I…er…I’m not sure.” Seron said with a shake of the head.
“Why the focus on Seron, Kurt?” Asked Nick.
“Cause my sister talks about him the most. She says Big Bro Seron’s so smart he can answer any question. But when I ask about him now, she’s like, ‘Seron has nothing to do with this!’ and gets really angry. I thought Big Bro Seron might know why.”
The 12-year-old was both curious and commendable.
“I-I need to go to the bathroom.”
On the other hand, the 15-year-old in love with the 12-year-old’s older sister quietly stood and fled from the office.
“This is ridiculous.”
“Too much tea, do you suppose?”
“What an idiot.”
The others sighed.
“What’s wrong?” Kurt asked, still in the dark.
“Well, that’s how it is,” said Natalia, “a girl your sister’s age is bound to have secrets. And sometimes changes like that happen out of nowhere. So don’t pry too much. That’s what family’s s’pposed to do. You’re a good kid; don’t ask her about the newspaper club or Seron for now. And don’t tell her you came to see us.”
“Hmm…okay. I got it. And I’ll tell Johan what you told me too. Thanks for everything!” Kurt nodded. “Bye, everyone! Thanks for the chocolate and tea!”
He left with a wave.
Larry saw him off and shut the door, then turned to Natalia.
“Just out of curiosity, is that supposed to be magic chocolate or something?”
“You bet it is! None for you, though.”
“I’m good. But—”
“Share some with Seron when he gets back.”
“It ain’t gonna work on someone as pure as him.”
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Seron the pure returned to the office.
“That was one long bathroom break. Do guys take forever in there too? Kurt left awhile ago to look at more clubs,” said Natalia.
“I see…” Seron said mechanically, sitting on the sofa blankly on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry I got all of you involved.”
“We’re not the ones you should be apologizing to,” Jenny snapped without a hint of mercy.
Larry quietly brewed Seron a cup of tea. He poured Seron his own cup and put it on the coffee table.
Seron thanked Larry and took two sips.
Determination rose to his grey eyes.
“No, I’m really sorry that I dragged you into this too. To tell you the truth…there’s something I’ve been hiding from everyone but Larry.”
“Oh?” “Like what?” “Do tell.”
Natalia, Jenny, and Nick leaned forward. Larry sat silently beside Seron.
“I don’t want things to be so awkward in the club anymore. So—this might be a shock, but I’ll tell you. Please don’t tell anyone else.”
“Oho.” “Of course.” “Sure.”
Seron steeled himself—not that a stranger would be able to tell—and declared blankly:
“To be honest, I’ve had a crush on Megmica since I first met her in class last year.”
“We know.” “We knew that.” “We’ve known for a while.”
Seron’s jaw dropped.
“It was pretty obvious,” said Natalia, “you looked like you were enjoying yourself in the club.”
“Especially at the camp in Ercho Village,” Nick added.
“You’d have to be really dense to not see it,” Jenny said with a nod.
“Hm? Huh? Whaaaaaat?”
Seron’s hands were on his head as he floundered in confusion. Larry sighed loudly.
“Don’t even think about running to the bathroom again!” Jenny admonished Seron, “we’ve all known for a while about your crush on Megmica. We know you were too scared to tell her how you felt, and we understand why you ran off that day. It was still stupid, though.”
Seron could not respond.
“Unfortunately for you, Megmica is dense enough to not notice. She probably didn’t have an inkling until she got that letter.”
Seron’s arms fell back down as he listened obediently to Jenny.
“So just tell it to her straight, like you told us now,” Jenny concluded.
“Exactly!” Natalia agreed. “Megmica only said she doesn’t like people who can’t confess in person. Nothing about hating you, Seron Maxwell. You’re clever enough to know the difference.”
“Indeed.” Nick nodded. “You need only be clear and concise with her as you were with us.”
“I have to agree, Seron,” Larry finally said, “you remember what happened before? If you don’t say anything, you won’t get anything done.”
Seron slowly looked around at his four friends. Then—
“Understand what? Say it,” Natalia urged.
“Do tell us,” Nick said with a nod.
“President’s orders,” Jenny commanded.
“All right! There’s nothing left to hide, buddy!” Larry said with an encouraging look.
Seron clenched his right fist and raised his voice slightly more than before.
“I’m not going to bother you guys any more! Tomorrow, I’ll find Megmica and tell her the truth! Even if she doesn’t come to club, I’m sure I’ll be able to locate her somewhere on campus. I’ll find her, apologize for being such an idiot, and…and I’ll tell her the truth. I’m going to ask her out!”
“Atta boy, Seron!”
“We are witnesses to your determination!”
“You got this, Seron!”
“Go! You can do this!”
Blushing, Seron rose from his seat.
“Yeah! I’m gonna do this! I swear it!”
Seron let the round of applause wash over him as he tensed. He was on a roll.
“Tomorrow, I’ll do it! I know I can do this!”
“Great. So it’ll all be solved by tomorrow,” Natalia said, putting a piece of chocolate into her mouth.
“The solution was closer at hand than we had expected,” Nick agreed, smiling.
“Good luck, Seron. You have to be forward about confessing or it won’t work,” Jenny added, remembering her own experiences.
“I know you can do it, buddy. Tomorrow after school, we’re gonna throw you a big party!” Larry punched the air with both fists.
* * *
<A-and then! And then what happened, SC Jenny?>
<The next day…the Capital District was hit by a massive cold snap, forcing the school to close.>
<Wh-what does that mean?>
<Specifically, we had the worst snowfall in 83 years. It kept snowing for days on end without melting—it just piled up and up until roads were paralyzed and streetcars stopped operating. Only the dormitory students could possibly go to class. So including the weekend, we had six straight days without school.>
<Then what about SC Seron? He worked up all that courage to confess—>
<If Megmica couldn’t come to school, he obviously couldn’t find her at school.>
<…What about his determination…?>
<Six days without going to school. We got him caught up in the spur of the moment and built up all this momentum for the guy. But six days is more than enough to destroy all of that.>
<So…SC Seron didn’t manage to ask her out after all?>
<Nope. Even the gods abandoned him. Afterwards, none of us tried to spur him on again. We couldn’t. So Seron just ended up being wishy-washy and started avoiding her again.>
<Oh no…this is all my fault.>
<I’m the one who came up with this plan. Don’t beat yourself up over it, newbie.>
<And I’m not even close to being finished here. Maybe about halfway?>
<I’m almost afraid to hear the rest of it.>
<But you have to listen to the end. The end of the story of Meg and Seron.>
<Could I take a quick bathroom break?>