Chapter 6: The Photograph
The 13th day of the second month.
It was after school on the day after Bridget’s request.
“It is unbelievable! That person!” Meg fumed on the sofa.
Gathered around were, as usual, Natalia, Larry, Nick, and Jenny. Everyone except for Seron. Whether he had luckily—or unluckily—been kept busy or had run away was up for debate, but either way he would not come to the office that day.
Once again it was a bright and clear outside. The sun reflected off the melting snow was as blinding as ever.
“I cannot believe it! That senior-classman is a very unfaithful person! I saw today, in person! I saw it with my own eyes!” Meg seethed, face red with rage. “It was around the end of the lunch period. Referring to the timetable that SC Kenneth taught, I hid like a detective at the hallway that SC Bridget passes. Then the person I saw on the photo appeared. She was with a different male student, not SC Kenneth. They were happily walking, like lovers. And—”
Her hands trembled.
“And before they separated and entered the classrooms, I was shocked because quickly SC Bridget kissed! I cannot believe it! Of course there were not many but some students, including me, in the hall. So other people will have seen! Of course many people kiss in school here. But SC Bridget has a different fiancé!”
Then she fell back into her seat like a toy drained of batteries.
“It is very very sad that I was not fast, so I could not take photos. If I had taken photos, I could ease SC Kenneth’s wound…”
The others waited for a moment before offering their opinions. Natalia, holding a biscuit, was first.
“That was easy. So SC Bridget was exactly who SC Kenneth said she was.”
“We may not have photographs,” said Nick, “but Megmica’s testimony is trustworthy and valuable information.”
Larry was next. “But that’s not gonna be enough to convince their parents. It’s not gonna be a walk in the park.”
“So possibility 1 is out,” Jenny said. She took out her notepad. “I looked into SC Bridget too. Lemme go over everything.”
All eyes were on Jenny.
“This is from a reliable informant, and well, it’s basically the exact thing Megmica just said.”
“So there’s nothing but bad rumors about her, chief?”
“Pretty much. SC Bridget is popular with the boys thanks to her looks, but it’s almost scary how much the girls dislike her. Not a single girl had anything good to say about her. I quote, ‘acts like a princess just because she’s rich and pretty’, ‘flirts with anything male’, ‘brags about her handsome fiancé’, ‘recently saw her picking up younger guys’, et cetera. I also spoke to people from the sewing club,” Jenny continued, turning the page, “and it looks like she’s not really devoted to the club. She’s the only sixth-year, but she’s only the vice-president. This is all just testimony, of course, so we have to take it with a grain of salt.”
“But if bad rumors’re all we’ve got, a grain of salt isn’t gonna make any of ‘em better,” Natalia pointed out.
“That’s one way of looking at it. I have nothing else to report.”
Nick raised a hand. “I have also heard similar rumors. Some acquaintances tell me that SC Bridget would entice male students into going out on dates with her off-campus. But none of them would last—the moment the boy decides to get serious, SC Bridget abandons him and ends the relationship.”
“Isn’t that an exaggeration?” Asked Natalia.
“Indeed, these accounts do seem a little unrealistic. But whatever the case we can conclude that SC Bridget is making no attempt to hide her actions.”
“I cannot forgive a cheater!” Meg cried, munching on a biscuit. “Of course if we had not received the request she is a stranger to us, but now that we are here I will investigate very much! Next time I will take photos, I swear it! I will trail after her! Jenny, please give me special training today!”
“Sure, but…” Unusually for her, Jenny trailed off.
“Yes? What is the matter?”
“Isn’t tomorrow your birthday, Megmica?”
“Yes, it is.”
“We all talked about it and decided we’d throw you a party at the office tomorrow. But you’re so fired up it feels like you might not be able to enjoy the party.”
Meg looked around at the others.
Natalia, Nick and Larry all clearly had mixed feelings about holding the party now.
“Ah! Thank you so much, everyone,” Meg said with a smile, but she went on to declare, “I will receive your feelings gratefully! But from tomorrow I wish to pour my power into answering this request!”
* * *
The next day. The 14th day of the second month.
The climate in the Capital District was back to normal.
Much of the snow had been cleared from the grounds, allowing students to move about more freely. Makeup classes were almost done as well, bringing a sense of normalcy back to the 4th Capital Secondary School.
It was lunchtime.
“Hey man, I got lunch!” Larry called, opening the door to Seron’s dorm room. He was carrying his school bag and three paper bags containing their lunches.
“Thanks, Larry. Have a seat.”
Seron went into the hall, looked around, then flipped over the sign on his door from ‘RA AVAILABLE’ to ‘ON BREAK’.
Seron’s new room was about 50 percent larger than the average room. It was furnished with the same things as the others, with the addition of a small table with four chairs around it.
Larry and Seron sat opposite one another at the table. Larry tore open the three paper bags vertically.
“We’ve got a ham-and-lettuce bagel sandwich, the usual roast beef sandwich, and—this is one of yours—a burger with cheese and tomato slices. Which one d’you want?”
“Here you go, a taste of home. And here’s your orange juice.”
Three servings of food and two beverages were laid out on the table. Two servings of the food were for Larry, who was a big eater.
They each prayed briefly before starting on their meals.
Seron ate as he first listened to Larry’s report.
“—and that’s about it for what happened yesterday. SC Bridget is definitely cheating on SC Kenneth, and Megmica is furious. Says she’s gonna tail SC Bridget properly after school today to get that picture. Obviously, we didn’t tell Megmica about the allegations about SC Kenneth.”
“I see. Thanks, Larry. You’re a big help.”
“If you’re inviting me all the way here for reports, I assume you’ve got an idea about all this.”
“I suppose. I don’t know whether to call it an answer or a theory, so I can’t say for sure. But…”
“You don’t have to tell me if you’re not comfortable with it. You’ve always got a good reason for keeping secrets. I trust you, buddy.”
“Thanks, Larry. I want to get more evidence before I say anything.”
Larry quickly finished off his bagel before picking up the roast beef sandwich. He finished it also in the blink of an eye and turned to Seron.
“Have you properly talked to Megmica at all since then?”
Seron continued to chew slowly on his food. He swallowed and replied as blankly as ever.
“No, not yet.”
So sudden was the answer that Larry could not help but worry.
“Today’s her birthday, you know?”
“Yeah. We all shared our birthdays before, I remember.”
“…Did you get her a present, by any chance?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“…You know, I’m not saying you should go up to her and ask her out, but maybe you should try and co-operate. Help her out, you know? And maybe she’ll change her mind—”
Larry paused. Then his eyes widened.
“I get it now! I’m such an idiot! You were gonna do that from the start, weren’t you?”
Seron nodded slightly, saying nothing. Larry breathed a loud sigh of relief.
“Now this is getting interesting. Don’t worry about messing this up, Seron. Her opinion of you couldn’t possibly get worse at this point!”
A strange expression came over Seron.
“It’s true,” said Larry, “the worst is over. Now it’s time to wash away that disgrace and recover your honor! Solve this problem in one go and show her what you’re made of!”
“…All right. I’ll do my best.”
“Atta boy, Seron!”
“I’m going to tell you something, Larry. Don’t let anyone else know.”
“Yeah? What is it?”
“Today after school, I’m going to—”
Once Seron had finished speaking—
Larry’s jaw hit the floor.
* * *
The locker area on the first floor of the main building was bustling with students.
The lockers of every student in the school were lined up there like headstones at a cemetery. Students came and went in a hurry.
Because students had to go to different classrooms for each class, they had to drop off and pick up textbooks at their lockers regularly. Lockers also housed gym uniforms, things for club activities, and coats during the winter.
At that moment, a beautiful girl with golden hair was opening locker number 6333.
And a short distance away—
“She is there.” “There she is.”
Meg and Jenny were watching carefully. Both were wearing leather bags containing rangefinder cameras over their left shoulders.
The cameras were loaded with the most sensitive film they could get their hands on and wide-angle lenses with the greatest depth of field.
That was not all. Meg and Jenny were wearing not their usual leather shoes, but white canvas sneakers with rubber soles.
“What d’you think she’ll do now?” Jenny asked, staring at Bridget.
“She may go to the sewing club, I think.”
“Dunno about that. Apparently she doesn’t attend meetings all that much.”
Jenny and Megmica pretended to be lost in conversation, but their gazes were locked on their target.
Bridget was getting her textbooks at her locker. But suddenly her hand froze as though she had noticed something.
“I wonder what is for snacks today.”
“I have no idea, but I’m happy as long as it’s good.”
They made a point of carrying on an irrelevant conversation and discreetly cast glances to the side. Bridget seemed to have not noticed them, as she resumed putting her textbooks into her bag.
During that timeframe, most students headed either to the gates or the club building where most school club offices were housed. This generally split the crowds into two streams. But Bridget did not follow either.
“I think she is going.”
Bridget put her bag in her locker, closed it, and walked in a different direction from the other students. As she was empty-handed she did not seem to be heading home yet.
She was headed further into the main building, which was full of classrooms.
“Mission start. Let us follow her.”
“Right. I’ll keep my distance.”
Meg began to tail Bridget.
Jenny followed several seconds behind Meg, as her face was known.
As Meg watched, Bridget strode down the long hallway and crossed the covered walkway to the new building. She did not show a hint of suspicion.
Meg quietly followed. Her nervousness and anger gave her the face of a soldier headed for the front lines.
“Whoa,” a first-year passing by Meg in the hall staggered away, frightened by her expression.
Jenny found herself silently taking out her camera at the sight, but she held herself back and put it right back.
Bridget entered the new building.
Almost no students were left as the building only housed classrooms. Bridget strode down the hall, her heels clicking elegantly.
Meg kept a safe distance and concealed her footsteps as she followed after Bridget.
Because the new building was nearly deserted, Meg would be easily spotted if Bridget were to turn. So she stopped following right after her—instead, she would wait until Bridget turned a corner or went into a stairwell.
“It is my secret weapon…”
Each time, Meg would take out an extendable pole with a small mirror attached to the end. She would crouch down and hold out the mirror near the ground to check where her target was headed.
When the stairs turned, Meg listened carefully for the sound of Bridget’s footsteps so as to not lose her.
Jenny watched it all from behind.
“What’s gotten into her?” She wondered, taking a photo of Meg.
The reflection on Meg’s mirror showed Bridget enter a classroom on the fifth floor of the new building.
The building was empty enough as it was, but Bridget specifically chose to go to the top floor, where the halls were completely deserted.
About 20 meters from the classroom entrance was the girls’ bathroom.
Meg crept from the stairwell and slowly opened the bathroom door, slipping inside. Then she turned and gestured for Jenny to join her.
Naturally, there was no one in the bathroom. Even the lights were off.
“So far so good. You’re pretty good at tailing people, Megmica,” said Jenny. Meg turned, excited.
“Heh heh. Thank you, Jenny. Even when I played ‘police and thieves’ when I was young, it was my talent to hide secretly. This mirror is great. It would have been very convenient with this back then! I would have been the hero of my friends!”
“Shush. —You think she’s meeting someone in that classroom?”
“It is not meeting—it is cheating!” Meg corrected Jenny indignantly.
“I suppose you’re right. She’s pretty smart, using the new building and not the main one,” Jenny remarked.
“Yes.” Meg nodded.
Unlike in the other buildings, the classrooms in the new building did not have windows that opened into the hallways. This was because classrooms in the new building included overhead projectors, which necessitated complete darkness in the rooms. The windows opening outside were equipped with light-blocking curtains.
The walls were quite thin so that the layout could be changed easily. Teachers would often tell off students who were chatting in the hallways.
In other words, the new classroom was deserted, hidden from view, and perfect for listening out for intruders. It was the ideal location for a romantic tryst.
“The guy might already be inside.”
“I will secretly pass by in front once. I will know if I can hear two voices.”
It was a sound plan. Jenny nodded.
“We’ve got no other choice. What’re you gonna do if the guy’s in there?”
“I will listen and check the situation, then secretly open the door to scout. Then I will take the photo and run away! The door is a sliding type of door, so they will not notice if I open it slowly. Then you must run too, Jenny! I wish you luck.”
“Calm down, we don’t need to go that far yet. We can always take photos from behind once they leave the classroom.”
“Then it will not be proof that they kissed.”
“Being caught alone in a time and place like this is proof enough. We can take kissing photos later, when we catch them unprepared.”
“That is true, but…”
“Just go and scout out the place for now. If one of them happens to look outside and meet your gaze, just say hi really quickly and keep walking like nothing’s wrong.”
“I understand! Strauski, onward!”
Showing her palm face-up in a Western salute, Meg cautiously slid open the bathroom door. She looked to her left and right before creeping outside.
“All right…” Jenny peered out and watched through the mirror.
Meg walked all the way to the middle of the hallway, but once she was by the classroom she clung to the wall. And with all the speed of a lazy bull or a tortoise, she slid all the way across to the back door of the classroom.
Once she was past the classroom, Meg turned around and walked normally—but quietly—all the way back to the bathroom where Jenny waited.
“Phew…I was worried,” Meg sighed, her breaths ragged.
“I heard no sound. I do not think there is anyone else in the classroom.”
“I see. Then her guy’s bound to show up any minute now. Good thing you didn’t run into him.”
“Then let us watch from here! Because he is a boy he will not come in here.”
“What if SC Bridget decides to use the ladies’ room?”
“Then it is difficult! But—”
Jenny put a hand over Meg’s mouth.
The sound of leather shoes against the stairs began to resound from the stairwell. Someone was coming upstairs.
“He’s here,” Jenny concluded, and crept towards the bathroom door again with Meg. They both squatted there and waited.
Without a word, Jenny pointed at the classroom and at her mirror.
She meant that she would use the mirror once the boy had passed the bathroom. Meg nodded again and again.
The footsteps grew louder and louder, arriving at their hallway. The sounds changed from shoes-on-stairs to shoes-on-floor.
As Meg and Jenny held their breaths the footsteps came upon them. From the gait they likely belonged to a boy.
When the footsteps were loudest—in other words, when the owner of the footsteps passed by the bathroom door, Meg let herself breathe for a split second before pushing her hands against her mouth.
The footsteps did not stop. They slowly grew distant.
“Phew…” Meg released the breath she was holding.
Jenny slightly opened the door and maneuvered the mirror out the gap.
At the same time, the footsteps stopped and the classroom door quietly opened and closed.
“He just went inside,” said Jenny, “although all I saw were his feet.”
“That means the cheater boy went into that classroom?”
“I will go take photos!”
“…I guess this counts as an opportunity,” Jenny said, and gave Meg her orders.
Because there was one door at each end of the classroom, Meg and Jenny would each watch one door.
They would slowly open the sliding doors and get a grasp of the situation with their mirrors first.
If possible, they would take photos of Bridget’s infidelity through the gap in the doorway—but they would not overextend themselves.
“I understand… I, Strauski Megmica, will do her best as a member of the newspaper club.”
“Don’t push yourself too hard, Megmica. I’ll take care of the main photos. Let’s go.”
Slowly, they crept out of the bathroom.
And quietly, cautiously, they walked towards the classroom.
Meg took up her position by the door at the front of the classroom, and Jenny crouched down at the back door.
It was close enough to hear the conversation taking place inside.
“—still as cute as before.”
A female voice. It belonged to Bridget.
The boy was listening silently, it seemed.
“Why’s he not saying anything?” Jenny wondered. Meg gave her a look.
Slowly, they reached for the door handles and pushed the cushioned edges in minuscule increments.
The doors slid open silently. The gaps Meg and Jenny wanted were created with ease.
At the same time, the boy finally spoke.
“You’ve been approaching multiple boys on campus, SC Bridget.”
The voice was familiar to Meg and Jenny, who were about to stick their mirrors through the doorways.
“Oh, is that what you wanted to talk about? All right. I admit it. I like cute boys. It’s only natural to go after things you like.”
Jenny and Meg looked at their mirrors.
The curtains in the room were half-open. And sitting face-to-face in the middle of that classroom were two people.
One was, of course, Bridget.
And the other was Seron Maxwell.
* * *
<WHAAAAAT?! She was cheating with SC Seron?!>
<Calm down, newbie. I mean, I was just as surprised as you, but I remembered something.>
<I get it! SC Seron was helping out with SC Bridget’s request, too. So he might have put a letter in her locker and asked to meet with her.>
<Yeah. That was all fine and dandy, except for the part where he didn’t tell me anything.>
<I guess it was all right, then?>
<Unfortunately, not everyone there knew about SC Bridget’s request.>
<Huh…? Oh no!>
<What do you think happened then?>
<Well, the word ‘rampage’ comes to mind.>
* * *
“What is this!” Meg cried, slamming the door open and allowing her trained soprano to fill the room.
Bridget flinched with a girlish scream.
Seron, meanwhile, tried to get out of his seat but tripped over a desk and fell.
It took a moment for the noises to die down.
“You nearly gave me a heart attack. Who are you?” Bridget said nonchalantly to Meg, who stood at the door.
“Hello,” Jenny said, opening the other door and stepping inside before Meg could say a word, “this is Strauski Megmica. She’s also a member of the newspaper club.”
“Hello there, president Jones.”
“I was just having a nice chat with Seron here—” Bridget began, but Meg cut her off.
“Cheating is bad! You have a fiancé! So you must not do this!”
“I have the evidence! The immovable evidence! I am certain!”
“What are you talking about?”
At that moment, Meg realized that she had let slip Kenneth’s request. She deflated instantly.
“What a funny girl you are. I think you have the wrong idea,” Bridget said with a confident smile.
“What are you doing here?” Even Seron joined Bridget, getting off the floor.
Meg fell into complete silence. It had been less than a minute since her outburst.
“Sorry for the commotion,” Jenny said, moving next to Meg, “what were you and Seron talking about?”
Bridget pushed back her golden hair. For a second her red earring glinted.
“All we’ve done so far was exchange pleasantries. You know, talking about how cute Seron is and how I’d just love to eat him up.”
“That’s a funny way of saying hi.”
“Call it the mature way.”
“I see. It might be a little too mature for a fourth-year, though.”
“Seron is a fourth-year.”
“Oh? I think he’s studying hard enough for university.”
The conversation began with an exchange of fire. Then—
“So what brings you here?” Asked Bridget. “Seron’s letter said we would be meeting alone. It was a little exciting, imagining the two of us alone here in this empty classroom.”
Meg puffed up her cheeks.
“I think we’ve just had a communication issue with Seron here,” Jenny replied.
“And just to let you know, I think the recording device will be ready earlier than I expected. It’ll be good to go after school on the 16th.”
“That’s great. Then we’ll strike while the iron is hot and go ahead with the plan as soon as possible.”
“Huh?” Meg was lost, alone out of the loop about Bridget’s request.
“Sorry, Meg,” said Jenny, “I’ll explain later, so do you mind saving your questions for then?”
“Oh. Yes…I understand,” Meg replied, shoulders sagging. Bridget smiled.
“If you’re finished, could you leave us alone now? I have so much to talk to Seron about. And so much I’d like to teach him.”
“Ah—” Meg made to speak, but she was cut off.
“Don’t make such a scary face, little girl. I’m not going to eat him.”
“You remind me of an angry puppy.”
That was when Seron intervened.
“Jenny. Megmica.” The girls turned. “I have something to discuss with SC Bridget. I can make it to the office tomorrow, so I’ll explain everything then.”
It almost sounded like he was shooing them away.
“Jenny! Let us go!” Meg spat, and turned.
But when she spotted Bridget slide uncomfortably close to Seron, she stopped.
Jenny’s gaze followed Meg’s.
And she quickly took out her camera.
Bridget went up to Seron, who stood still in the middle of the room, and planted a kiss on his mouth.
All Jenny and Meg could see was Bridget’s back and her head of blond hair, which blocked Seron’s face completely.
Jenny’s camera captured the moment. She quickly put the camera back in her bag. Two seconds later, Bridget pulled back.
Seron stood in a blank daze.
And Meg stammered, her jaw agape.
“Oh? Were you two still here?” Bridget asked sarcastically. She put on a smile.
“Please excuse me!” Meg cried loud enough to rattle the windows, and took off as though about to break down the classroom doors on the way.
“Excuse us,” Jenny said, also in shock. She slowly closed the door.
Meg and Jenny were gone.
“What are you really after, SC Bridget?” Seron asked the beauty before him.
“What do you mean? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she replied nonchalantly. “Anyway, we’re finally alone now. Why don’t we try something a little more romantic?”
Seron’s reply was calm.
“No thank you.”