Chapter 6: The Worry is Mine
<Hi Lillia. Sorry for calling so late.>
<Meg! Don’t worry about it. Mom’s been busy the past few days and she’s putting in overtime tonight too.>
<Phew. I needed to tell you something really quickly.>
<Yeah? Whatever it is, I say bring it on. So much has happened recently I don’t think anything will surprise me anymore.>
<—and the newspaper club’s going to try and investigate Treize.>
<Uh-huh. Yeah. Wow! Uh! That’s surprising! Yep. A real shocker!>
<Hm? Y-yeah. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them.>
<Don’t apologize, Meg. It’s not your fault!>
<Well, er, I suppose Treize doesn’t actually have any secrets to uncover, but you should tell him to be careful anyway.>
<Y-yeah! Of course he doesn’t have anything to hide! Yeah! Thanks for the heads-up, Meg. I’ll let him know!>
<Yeah. And I just thought of something. I don’t know if this’ll work, but…>
<Maybe you and Treize could come visit the newspaper club. If you just talk to the members I’m sure they’ll stop suspecting him. And once you become friends they might call off the investigation. I should have introduced you all at the dance…>
<Y-y-y-yeah, good call!>
<I’ll introduce the club members to you, so introduce us to Treize!>
Meg put down the receiver.
“I thought you said it was rude to call somebody this late, Big Sis,” Kurt pointed out, shooting a disapproving look. He was the older of Meg’s two younger brothers. Johan, the youngest, was already in bed.
Strauski Kurt was 12 years old with dark hair and fair skin like his sister. He looked—and was—energetic and outgoing. At the start of the year he joined his sister at the 4th Capital Secondary School, and got a ride to class with her in the mornings.
Kurt’s Roxchean was much better than his sister’s. He was on par with native speakers, and spoke Roxchean even at home with his family.
“It’s fine! This was important business. Anyway, why are you still awake? You’ll catch a cold if you stay up like that.”
Kurt had just come out of the bath, and was in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts instead of his pajamas. He was drying off his hair with a towel.
“Sure, sure. The bathroom’s free,” he said, taking out a bottle of milk from the fridge and gulping down three glasses in a row. Then he put the nearly-empty bottle back where it had been. “Good night,” he said in Roxchean.
But just before he left the living room, Kurt stopped.
“Oh!” He turned with a grin. “Was that Big Bro Seron? Should I have been more tactful?”
“No, I was talking to Lillia.”
“Oh, the hero? So how important exactly is ‘important’, anyway?”
Meg’s answer was clear and decisive.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not anything national secret-level. Good night, Kurt.”
* * *
Allison Schultz made it back home just past midnight that day.
“Why won’t this written apology just write itself…?”
“Welcome back, Mom. Here,” Lillia said, holding out a cup of tea with extra sugar and milk for her exhausted mother.
“Oh? Oh? Thanks, honey.”
Allison collapsed on the sofa without bothering to change out of her uniform. Ever since the Confederation Air Force’s establishment, the uniform had been murky red, to the disgruntlement of the servicemen.
“You’re writing that cause you took off with that fighter plane to save me, right?”
“Yeah. Wish the bigwigs would just take those sticks out of their—”
“Thanks for rescuing me, Mom.”
“It’s every parent’s responsibility to save their children, sweetie.”
“With an anti-aircraft machine gun.”
“Sometimes that’s necessary too. Thanks for the tea.”
Lillia, who had gone out of her way to stay up that night, asked her mother an important question. “Say, I was just curious. What happens if Treize’s identity gets out?”
Being unaffected by hot foods and drinks (unlike a certain someone), Allison drank her tea and responded without even blinking.
“Hm. It’ll probably be the biggest scandal of the year. You’ll get journalists swarming the school every day, making a big fuss. It is a national secret, after all.”
“Gaaahh…” Lillia groaned, looking up at the ceiling.
Allison remained completely ignorant of her daughter’s plight. “Nice and sweet. Steeped to perfection,” she sighed lazily, holding the cup of tea.
* * *
The next morning.
By the time the fourth month was halfway through, spring was encroaching ever more by the day. The skies over the Capital District that day were clear with the sun shining warmly.
The 4th Capital Secondary School slowly came to life.
Sports clubs finishing their morning training exercises ran for the showers in the club building.
The showers were by no means under-equipped, but there was a rush for the booths every day as students tried to leave themselves ample time to change and get to class.
As a general rule, student facilities operated on a first-come-first-served basis. Older students were not afforded any leniency.
The campus was also dotted with students who arrived early by habit, rather than being dragged in for club activities.
The early-to-class group came to school early to avoid the hustle and bustle at the gates. They would spend their extra time studying in the classrooms or chatting with their friends.
In the dorms, meanwhile, most students were having breakfast at the cafeteria. Many of them were not even in uniform yet. As they did not have a long commute or any need to fight the crowds at the main gates, dormitory students had more relaxed morning routines.
And yet one of them decided to leave the building early.
A dark-haired boy in uniform with no jacket. The absence of a sweater showed that he was likely used to cool weather. In his hand was a large leather suitcase.
Seron spotted the boy from the cafeteria doors and followed with his eyes.
“Is that Treize? He’s going to class early today. And why is he carrying a suitcase?” he wondered. “But I guess I shouldn’t think too much about it.”
He headed back to his own room.
Just as Seron arrived at his room to change into his uniform—
“Morning, Lillia,” Treize said and entered the classroom. Only one person was inside. She turned.
There were dark shadows under Lillia’s eyes. Her usually tidy hair was a mess.
Treize took a seat next to her. “What happened?”
“It’s nothing—actually, it is something. About you.”
“About me?” Treize repeated, shocked.
“I need to talk to you. About who you are.”
It was not the answer Treize had been hoping for. He deflated.
“Sorry for calling you out so early. But I have to let you know,” Lillia said quietly.
Treize also lowered his voice. “I live at the dorms so it’s all right. It must’ve been harder on you, commuting to school so early. So what is it?”
Because the classroom was not used for any morning classes, they would not likely be interrupted by other students (barring someone getting lost). But Lillia still exercised the utmost caution.
Each time they heard footsteps outside, they would pause. And in between, Lillia told Treize everything she had heard from Meg the previous evening.
“I see,” Treize replied, nodding again and again. “Thanks for being concerned about me.”
“I-it’s not like I was worried or anything! It’s, er, you know!”
“No I don’t.”
“You know! It’s—well—you know it’ll be bad if people find out! So be careful around the newspaper club! And stop sticking out so much!”
“All right, all right. But I really don’t think it’s something worth worrying about…”
Treize’s response was too indifferent for Lillia’s liking. She frowned.
“Why not? You should be more careful!”
“But,” Treize argued, “they don’t have any proof.”
“You know, lack of evidence. Proof that I’m…you know,” Treize explained, avoiding the phrase ‘prince of Ikstova’. “They can interrogate me all they like, but I just have to not tell them anything. To use an extreme example, even if someone who knew—like you—told them, I’d just deny it and demand proof.”
Lillia froze for a full dozen seconds. Then she finally spoke.
“Y-you’re right!” She clapped brightly. “That’s right. They have no proof.”
Relieved, Lillia exhaled and sank against the back of her chair. She looked up at the ceiling. “All that worrying for nothing. That was stupid of me.”
“That aside, it’s pretty cool they think I’m a morderca! Maybe I should just say that I am one.”
“Are you stupid?!”
“I admit I messed up in gym class. I’ll try not to stand out too much anymore.”
“Please. And you know—”
“I think I kind of get what you’ve been going through all this time. Or I guess I was forced to understand.”
“I was forced to understand.”
“I was forced.”
“Oh, I get it. You didn’t want to understand. You didn’t want to understand how I felt all these years, trying to hide the truth from you. You want to get angry at me because I was deceiving you this whole time.”
“Hey, there’s such a thing as being too quick on the uptake, you know?!”
“I’m going to class,” Lillia finally said, her eyes full of sleep.
“I’ll walk you there.” Treize got up after her and opened the classroom door. Then he closed it behind them.
Lillia thanked him quietly and realized at that point that Treize was carrying a large suitcase.
“You’ve been lugging that thing around?”
“Oh, just starting today.”
The halls were a little more crowded than earlier. Lillia and Treize continued to chat as they walked. The former sounded much more relaxed.
“Why? Isn’t it a hassle?”
“Yeah, but I’ve been carrying around study guides lately. I borrow a lot of big books from the library and I need to bring along my gym clothes too,” Treize replied nonchalantly.
“What?” Lillia uttered, furrowing her brow. “But why would you need a suitcase?”
“Huh? To bring my stuff with me to classes…?”
“Why don’t you just use a locker?” Lillia tilted her head.
“What?” Treize did as well.
Several minutes later, they stood in the locker area in the main building.
The main building was situated at the center of the campus, with most of its first floor dedicated to student-use lockers.
The tall, narrow lockers were made of wood with slits cut into the tops and bottoms of the doors. The sight of such doors lined up one after another almost made the halls look like a graveyard, but unlike a real cemetery the locker area was always bustling.
Students at the 4th Capital Secondary School were always busy moving from one class to another, and the sheer size of the campus did not help matters. So most students kept their things in their lockers to lessen their burdens.
Those who had just arrived were at their own lockers to take out things like textbooks and notebooks, putting away things they did not need—like gym clothes, in the case of sports club members.
“Oh, so that’s how it works!” Treize exclaimed.
“A-are you serious?!” Lillia stammered. “They didn’t tell you when you first transferred in?”
“They said there were lockers in the main building, but I thought they meant these things were like coin lockers. For keeping stuff at school for long periods of time. I had no idea everyone got their own! It certainly makes classes easier!”
“I don’t believe this…”
“So how exactly do you use a locker?” Treize asked.
Lillia explained. Treize probably had a designated locker somewhere, which he should mark out with something like a name tag for ease of identification. He should buy a small lock with a key or a rotary combination lock, which he could buy at the campus store.
“I see. I see.”
“And they have temporary lockers around too, just to let you know. You can use one for now if you can’t get your locker number immediately.”
Lillia led the way to the corner of the locker area, at the edge of the main building.
It was a section of lockers all lined up together.
The lockers themselves were no different from the rest, but they were situated in an alcove at the corner of the building. None of them were marked with names.
“These are the temp lockers. They’re not assigned to anybody. Anyone with too much stuff for one locker can use one of these, though one locker is enough for most people. I’ve never used a temp locker myself.”
“Hm. It’s definitely big enough to fit all my textbooks and clothes,” Treize mused, scrutinizing the lockers. “These locks mean someone is using them, right? I don’t think there are any left.”
“That’s funny. Last I checked, a lot of them were empty. Were the temp lockers always this popular?” Lillia wondered.
“Oh well,” Treize replied, “I’ll just go to the office and get my locker number. Thanks, Lillia.”