Chapter 32 – I Like You (1)
When Louise opened the window at dawn, she saw that moisture gathered on it during the night. It must have rained a little before morning. It had been a long while since she had breathed this kind of air. Louise inhaled deeply. The smell of water and soil filled her lungs, telling her that rainy season was almost here.
Louise, who was standing absentmindedly by the window, became alarmed. It couldn’t be. The caretaker’s strawberry field was out in the open, and the strawberries would lose their flavor if it rained, making them unsuitable as gifts. Louise wanted to pick the most delicious strawberries in the world. That way, she could bring new enlightenment to Ian’s dull tongue and Stella would have a special experience tasting beautiful strawberries for the first time. They had to quickly harvest the fruit before the rainy season arrived.
Louise changed into her uniform and skipped washing her face. She wished she had work clothes, but at the Academy everyone was required to wear the same uniform except for authorized occassions.
Louise wore a uniform that had been neatly pressed in the laundry room. For a moment she looked at her immaculate sleeves. A distant past came to mind. Back then she had envied clean clothes. No, it wasn’t just the clothes. A rich family, a relaxed environment and leisure time. She envied it all.
She remembered a well-intentioned but ultimately insensitive person asking a poor girl to go together to an expensive cafe.
“Oh my gosh, Stella. That’s not what a freshly picked strawberry looks like. It should be red and shiny. “
And yesterday Louise showed off that well-intentioned insensitivity. Her environment seemed to have changed her. Louise sighed a little.
‘I’m sorry, Stella.’
She made an apology in her heart and hurried out of the dormitory. It was still early in the morning. The destination was the office of the caretaker, who would’ve also heard the sound of the early morning rain.
The caretaker, who was sensitive to the seasons, came to the strawberry field as soon as the morning rain had stopped.
“The wizard said it was going to rain again in the afternoon. We’ll have to work in these conditions.”
The caretaker looked up at the dark morning sky and looked worried. The wizard she described was probably the medical healer.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”
Louise borrowed a pair of large boots from the shed. She tried on some work clothes, but none of them were the right size. Louise and caretaker squatted themselves in the rows of strawberries to pluck them. Picking the top stem of the fruit was a simple task that didn’t require much skill, but the real difficulty was continuously crouching down to reach the low rows. Her knees ached, but she didn’t want to complain about pain while she was trying to be helpful.
Louise lifted her head up for a moment and looked up at the sky. Maybe the sun was up and it was a little bit brighter, but the gray clouds were much darker and much more threatening. They had to pick the strawberries before it rained again.
Louise looked around for a moment. The strawberry field didn’t seem to be that big at first glance, but when she squatted down and looked at her surroundings it felt enormous. Maybe because she was tired.
A giant towering basket approached Louise and spoke to her.
…A talking basket. It was a while before it occurred to her that there was no such thing. This wasn’t a world of fairy tales.
Then, a voice came from the basket again.
“So it’s Miss Sweeney, too! I came out because I was worried about the rain today–woah!”
The basket was dropped on the muddy ground. It was only then until she noticed the man that had been holding it.
“Professor Wayne Hill!”
She shouted and leapt up, and he scratched his head in embarrassment.
“Yes, it’s Wayne Hill. I guess I had to drop something again today.”
“What do you mean?”
“First it was the plant book and now it’s the basket.”
He didn’t know why he kept dropping things in front of Louise Sweeney. He was lucky to not have dropped anything during class.
“I want to be as serious as Professor Hewitt.”
Wayne bent down to retrieve the basket, and Louise shook her head at him emphatically.
“I like Professor Hill much better than Professor Hewitt.”
He fiddled with his basket at Louise’s enthusiastic response.
Another talking basket tower appeared, but this time she could see the person’s face peeking from behind it.
He placed the basket underneath a large tree, then without a word, starting picking strawberries across from Louise. Professor Wayne Hill, who was standing absent-mindedly between the furrows, was yelled at by the caretaker, saying “Please pick the strawberries!”
The strawberry field, which had been noisy for a while, became quiet and as everyone focused on their task.
“You surprised me.”
Louise finally spoke to Simon, who was working in silence across from her.
“Is that so?”
“Yes. How did you find out?”
“I was coming out of the library early in the morning and Professor Wayne Hill was carrying a tall basket.”
“So I said I’d help him.”
“That’s sweet of you, Simon.”
“I owe him.”
“Because of the greenhouse? “
He gave a small hum in reply and shrugged.
“I didn’t know you would be here.”
The conversation fell silent again for a time. Louise soon filled her smaller basket and quickly replaced it with a new one.
“If I had known this would happen, I would’ve brought my work clothes before I came to the Academy.”
Simon remembered horrible green work clothes of the Sweeney greenhouse.
“You mean the clothes that says ‘Sweeney Greenhouse’ on the back?”
“Yes. It’s easy to shake off the dirt and it doesn’t tear easily. It’s a gift to laborers.”
“It looked good on you.”
The image of Louise pattering around the greenhouse in her work clothes was still fresh in his memory. Even the ugly thing looked good on her because of her lively spirit.
“Maybe I’ll go and get it during the vacation.”
“Would you like me to bring you one, too?”
“How about you take care of Ian instead of me?”
Simon suggested carefully. He didn’t think that the engagement between Ian and Louise would disappear so easily, and there was not much evidence to suggest otherwise. It was an old friend’s impression. Or hope.
Louise shook her head.
“He probably doesn’t need those kind of clothes.”
She didn’t say anything else and Simon looked up. She smiled faintly at him over the strawberry vines. It meant that she couldn’t give a proper answer to him.
Simon drew a little courage.
“I hope you two get along.”
He could only give a vague answer in reply. If only he could choose the easy words and simply say, “I know that you two like each other a lot.”
“The president and I get along well,”
Louise said reassuringly. However, she added some conditions.
“…with you there. We’re happiest when it’s the three of us.”
“And when I’m not there?”
Louise’s expression twisted.
“That’s an unwelcome thought.”
“Please think about how you can get along. Without me.”
He thought for a while, then gave her his answer.
“…I want your relationship to be strong.”
He rose from his crouching position. Before he knew it, he had filled his basket.
Simon’s long shadow fell over Louise’s head. He set his eyes on Louise, who belonged to his darkness. His pupils were more dilated than usual. A black shadow seemed to burrow through his hair, his cheek, his nape, so black it sucked any light. Behind him lived a cruel darkness that was gratified with itself.
Her lips said his name and he shook his head like it was nothing. He turned around guiltily. He recalled the words he repeated to himself in the dark.
She belongs to the sun.
In a word, the dark shadow that lay within him withered away, as if it were never there at all.