Chapter 4: Meg and Seron, and Larry and Jenny and Natalia and Nick
The 15th day of the fourth month.
The clouds cleared away in the afternoon, letting the sun shine warmly over the campus.
“Am I first today? That’s unusual.”
Seron Maxwell was the first to arrive at the newspaper club office.
The old building on the edge of campus that housed the office cleared out early, as it was not used after class hours. While the newer buildings on the premises were filled with voices, this one alone remained silent.
The office was situated at the center of its ground floor.
Formerly an ordinary classroom, it was the most luxurious space on campus.
Part of the room was partitioned off as a darkroom, its windows covered and a door installed to block out light completely. The renovation was the work of professional hands. Inside, the darkroom was equipped with everything a photographer could want for developing film.
The other half of the former classroom was furnished with a pair of luxurious sofas, a coffee table, and two seats. It was enough to host a tea party for eight. Of the campus facilities, only the school’s cafeterias and lounge could boast the same.
A hot plate and sink were installed in the corner, alongside a dish rack housing a tea set.
The work desks and chairs at the sides of the room were much more sturdy and expensive than those in the classrooms. Two sets of curtains, one of beautiful lace and the other of thicker material, decorated the windows.
Most unusual of all was the telephone, a luxury item that many households could not afford to own.
Almost anything was possible in the newspaper club.
—For some reason, a large guitar case also sat in the office.
Seron Maxwell was 16 years old and a fourth-year student.
He had a 12-year-old sister and a mother who ran Roxche’s most successful frozen food business. Because his hometown was so far from the Capital District, he had lived in the dorms since first year.
With his good looks and intelligence, and his polite demeanor, Seron could almost pass for being perfect—indeed, he had been asked out many times—but for a long time he had been plagued by the weakness of being unable to confess to his crush.
But two months earlier, in the second month, he overcame many hurdles and the problem was finally solved.
The confession of a lifetime had been changed into a proposal by the misunderstanding of a century. But Seron saw no need to correct the happy mistake, so he never did.
As a result, he now had, not a girlfriend, but a fiancée.
That did not change much about his life, however. He continued to attend classes, study hard, and devote time to club activities, just as he did before.
Part of the reason was that his fiancée was also a member of the same club.
Seron took off his jacket and hung it up, then opened the curtains and windows.
The office was warm thanks to the school’s around-the-clock heating system. Seron let fresh air into the room and shut the windows again before it became too cold.
Then he filled a kettle with six cups’ worth of water and put it on the hot plate.
Time passed in silence before the kettle began to hiss.
“Hey! Just you today, Seron? Then I guess I’m second.”
Larry Hepburn entered the room.
Larry had been Seron’s best friend since the beginning of secondary school. He was in the same year, but he was 15 years old because his birthday was still a month away.
He had short-cropped blond hair with blue eyes, and had a sturdy build thanks to daily exercise. He was also slightly short for his age, a fact he was quite conscious of.
Being the second son of a prestigious military family, Larry dreamed of moving on to a military academy in the future like the rest of the men in his family. Unfortunately his grades out side of gym class were not quite up to par.
“Hey there, Larry. How’re you doing?”
“Great as ever! You?”
“Running every day’s doing wonders for my sleep. I feel more rested than before. By the way, I put the kettle on for you.”
“Thanks, buddy. I’ll take care of the rest!”
Larry, the designated tea-brewer who also happened to be the best at the job, took off his jacket and pulled on an apron.
Seron took a seat on the edge of the sofa to stay out of Larry’s way.
Larry heated up the teapot, added the tea leaves, poured the water, steeped the tea, and expertly made preparations.
“Good afternoon. Ah, just the two of you today? We men have the office to ourselves, I see.”
The androgynous Nicholas Browning entered the office.
He had long hair with emerald eyes and a slender build with feminine looks. If not for his uniform he could easily pass for a girl.
“Hey Nick.” “Afternoon.”
Larry and Seron greeted him. Nick gave Larry a brief nod in return and went to the sofas.
Each member of the club had a designated seat. It was an unspoken rule that the boys sat on one side and the girls on the other. Nick sat on the opposite end of the boys’ sofa from Seron.
Larry prepared three cups of tea and served the others, then took off his apron and sat in a single seat.
“Thanks, Larry.” “We always appreciate your service.” Seron and Nick started on their tea.
“Nah, don’t mention it.” Larry nodded and took up his teacup as well.
Each member of the club also had a designated teacup. Larry’s was smaller than the others and decorated with lovely pink flowers.
The boys relaxed, soaking themselves in the aroma of tea to enjoy an elegant evening.
“This is the first meeting since the spring dance, is it not? The dance certainly was a wonderful experience,” Nick remarked. Seron nodded.
“You can say that again!” Larry chuckled, having thoroughly enjoyed watching Seron dance with Meg. “Though I’m not sure I wanna remember how I ended up dancing. By the way, that couple that stepped up first was really good.”
Suddenly, Nick leaned forward. “Yes! About that,” he paused, “pardon me. I suppose I should save this discussion for when the others are with us.”
Larry nodded and did not pry further. He asked the others if they wanted refills. Seron nodded.
The club office was stocked with snacks to go with tea, but because one of the girls became inordinately angry when the boys dug in without her, they decided to stick simply to tea.
“Yo, guys. Haven’t served the snacks yet, I see. I approve.”
The girl in question—Natalia Steinbeck—entered the office.
She was tall for a girl, with long pinned-up brown hair and oval glasses. Natalia was also known for always wearing stockings or tights under her skirt. Like the others, she was a fourth-year.
“Cause you always make a scene when we start without you, Lia,” Larry grumbled. He had been her next-door neighbor and childhood friend, but until their reunion the previous summer he had all but forgotten her.
Larry was the only one who called her by her childhood nickname, ‘Lia’.
“Hey there, Nat.” “Good afternoon, Nat.”
The others called her ‘Nat’.
The snack of the day was crunchy wafers from a famous department store. Natalia grabbed the tin from the shelf and pulled off the sealing tape.
And with a thud, she placed it on the table. Larry shook his head as he brewed her tea.
“Couldn’t you put that on a plate and make it look a little more, I don’t know, appealing?”
“At my level, presentation might as well be an optical illusion. It just doesn’t make the food taste any better. The world is divided into two kinds of foods—good food and not-good food. It’s clear as night and day. As different as Roxche and Sou Be-Il.”
“Thanks for the uselessly large-scale comparison. Here’s your tea,” Larry said. Natalia gave him a scowl.
“Couldn’t you serve that tea with a bit more pizzaz? Like ‘here is your tea, milady’.”
“Must be nice being you, Lia. You’ve got nothing to think about but your own stomach.”
The four club members were enjoying tea and wafers when the others arrived.
“Hey there.” “We are here.”
One of the two was Jenny Jones. She was a fourth-year like the others and had recently turned 16.
Jenny had a petite build with short red hair and large eyes, like a small animal. She was the daughter of the family that owned Jones Motors, Roxche’s largest car company, and was the president of the newspaper club. She was the one who had paid for the office’s luxurious facilities.
Jenny pulled her camera bag off her shoulder and placed it gently on a desk.
The other club member was Strauski Megmica.
She had fair skin and long black hair tied into pigtails. Meg was the only club member from Sou Be-Il—she had taken a year off school after moving to Roxche, so she was a year older than her classmates at 17.
She was also Seron’s fiancée.
Larry greeted them first.
“Hey there, Jenfie. Megmica.”
‘Jenfie’ was Jenny’s childhood nickname. Larry was the only one who used it, however.
“Yo chief. Hi, Megmica.”
Because she was the vice-president of the club (at least in name), Natalia often called Jenny ‘chief’.
“Good day.” Nick nodded, sipping on his tea.
Then it was Seron’s turn. First he greeted the president.
Then he turned to his longtime crush and now-fiancée.
“Hey there, Meg.” The greeting was not much different from the others.
But the only club member who called her by her nickname—
And the only one she greeted with a beam—was Seron.
From the office they could hear the sports clubs practicing in the distance.
“I’d like to get started on our next issue soon,” Jenny said, draining her cup.
The newspaper club usually posted their papers on the campus walls.
In the past, Jenny’s rampage and outrageous articles led to a decline in membership that eventually left her the sole member of the club.
The newspaper club had been stripped of official status (yet still managed to keep an office on campus), leaving Jenny to work alone and put up papers guerilla-style only for the teachers to tear them down again.
But now the club had six members and even a supervisor, restoring its status. Its publications were no longer torn down unless they got in the way of something else.
The most recent publication featured an article by a Raputoan exchange student about life in the Capital District and the school. It was a humble travelogue of sorts and was received quite well.
“So on that note, I need ideas.”
No one responded to the president’s call. That was when Nick finished chewing on and swallowing a wafer.
“If I may! I have something to discuss,” he said with a beautiful smile.
“Ah, up to no good again, Nick?” Natalia grinned. Nick gave her an oblivious look.
“Whatever might you mean?”
“Just wanted to try saying that.”
“Don’t bother with four-eyes here, Nick,” said Larry, “so what have you got to share with us?”
“You mentioned that you wanted to talk about something earlier,” said Seron, “what was it?”
“Indeed. Allow me to begin,” Nick said, taking a sip of tea.