Chapter 7:

Cafeteria of Questions

Who am I?

It was Thursday of the second-to-last week before the summer holidays. The exams were done, but homework proceeded to wash over them like the tides. Kara suspected that her summer break would be spent in a similar fashion to her current days, studying and sleeping.Bookmark here

The tide wouldn't stop its assault today.Bookmark here

"Hey, you wanna eat in the cafeteria, today?" Bonnie suggested on that very same Thursday.Bookmark here

As a general rule, they didn't go to the cafeteria.Bookmark here

The queue was too long, the food too bland, and they all had their food with them, anyway. Food from home tasted better than anything the kitchen staff could produce in here, no disrespect intended.Bookmark here

Also, it costs money.Bookmark here

"Gosh, no way!" Ludwig shot back.Bookmark here

"I second that," Adrian put in.Bookmark here

"I have my own lunch, and I'd feel bad if it god bad, so..."Bookmark here

Instant refusal around the board.Bookmark here

Bonnie expected this, though.Bookmark here

"Fine, tomorrow, then."Bookmark here

"Why?"Bookmark here

"Come on!"Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"What's wrong with you? Exams are over, we can go there every once in a while," Bonnie argued, slapping the boys on their backs with her full power. She never did that to Kara, which she appreciated. "It's pizza day, tomorrow! Pizza!"Bookmark here

"Pizza's the most expensive thing on the list," Ludwig grumbled.Bookmark here

"Did you forget how we turned that place into a battlefield, once?" Adrian asked her, swatting Bonnie's hand away. "The teachers don't like seeing us down there."Bookmark here

"They didn't ban us, and they won't kick us out. It's not like we're starting something like that again, right?"Bookmark here

The boys awkwardly looked away.Bookmark here

Kara had missed another inside-joke.Bookmark here

"Still..."Bookmark here

"Yeah..."Bookmark here

Their eyes focused on Kara.Bookmark here

Was it her turn to make a decision?Bookmark here

When Bonnie nodded, she automatically nodded back.Bookmark here

Adrian and Ludwig both facepalmed, and Kara was left with the distinct feeling of having done something immoral.Bookmark here

"Tomorrow in the cafeteria, then!" Bonnie cheerfully announced.Bookmark here

"So you won't need lunch tomorrow?" Nia repeated with a doubtful tone to her voice. "Isn't the pizza the most expensive thing in the cafeteria?"Bookmark here

"Ludwig said the same thing," Kara said.Bookmark here

"I mean, I won't become poor from a single pizza, but... I don't know, it annoys me for some reason."Bookmark here

"I still love your food best, Nia."Bookmark here

"Oh, well, it's not so annoying, now that I think about it."Bookmark here

They laughed together while cleaning up the sister-pot.Bookmark here

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The next day in the cafeteria. There was no excitement involved this time, just a mild curiosity as to where past-Kara had once fought her battles.Bookmark here

Wars had been fought over food for hundreds and thousands of years, and if you include the animal kingdom in that calculation, it spanned back to the beginning of the earth. Kara wasn't here for a history lesson, though.Bookmark here

As Ludwig's, Bonnie's, and Kara's classrooms were on the second floor, they arrived later than those on the first and ground floors, even while running for their lives. Adrian's classroom was located on the fourth floor, so he just joined them in their position in the queue, an action that received lots of grumbling from those behind him.Bookmark here

Adrian, the gentleman that he was, showed them the magnificence of his tongue, and their complaints ceased to leave their mouths.Bookmark here

"Pizza really is popular, huh?" Ludwig said, counting the coins in his purse. "I hope my parents gave me enough..."Bookmark here

"You can always order half, can't you?" Bonnie asked in a carefree way, stretching her legs until she could overlook the entire queue, wriggling like a living thing long after the actual cafeteria ended. "I'm sure you wouldn't starve."Bookmark here

"I'm hoping they gave me enough for half, here!" he wailed back, doing the maths in his brain.Bookmark here

"Aren't there single slices, too?" Adrian suggested, cocking his head.Bookmark here

"They are more expensive than the full pizza, though," Bonnie put in, turning back to the other three. "That would make the money worth less food."Bookmark here

Ludwig looked at her with teary eyes.Bookmark here

"How much does half a pizza cost, again?"Bookmark here

"Dunno, let's wait till it's our turn."Bookmark here

"Uwu..."Bookmark here

"My sister gave me enough for a full pizza, you can have a few of my slices," Kara assured him, patting him on his back. "If the pizza didn't get more expensive, that is..." she quietly added.Bookmark here

"You're too nice, Kara," Bonnie said, smiling amusedly. "You shouldn't be. Not to him. He'll wring you dry. Or broke. Whatever comes first."Bookmark here

Enjoying their time like that, they slowly advanced to the front.Bookmark here

"Four full pizzas, please!" Bonnie announced to the kitchen lady.Bookmark here

"What else would you order," she mumbled, urging them forward.Bookmark here

"Hey, I don't have enough for this!" Ludwig hissed at her.Bookmark here

"Oh, didn't I mention? It's my treat!" That was the first time Kara ever heard of that. "Sorry, sorry, I guess it was meant as a surprise for passing all your exams... tehe!"Bookmark here

"Awawawa...."Bookmark here

As the panic-balloon in Ludwig's head deflated with a strange wailing noise, Kara looked at her with round eyes.Bookmark here

"I didn't take any exams, though?"Bookmark here

"Yeah, but you automatically passed them, right? I mean, you're better off than the guy who probably failed them, but I still want to treat you guys."Bookmark here

"Hey, I'm pretty confident this time around," Adrian put in.Bookmark here

"Are you, now? Aren't you grateful to us, young padawan?"Bookmark here

"Shut your force, Bonnie."Bookmark here

With their newly-obtained food in hands, they sat down at an empty table and dug in.Bookmark here

The cafeteria was a spacious net of four or so rooms. There might be more Kara couldn't see from their seats right next to the counter.Bookmark here

The white tables, chairs, and walls reminded Kara of the hospital.Bookmark here

No wonder she had started a food battle in here, the food was terrible... well, the pizza tasted better than anything she remembered from the hospital, but if this was the best on their menu, on par with the hospital's famed buttered bread, then...Bookmark here

Fatality.Bookmark here

"So, will you tell me about our food battle, at least, or is that confidential information, as well?" Kara asked.Bookmark here

Nobody reacted in a weird way, and Bonny calmly answered her.Bookmark here

"No, no, that story is hilarious. It all started with a wannabe basketball player throwing a high ball into another student's soup. You should've seen her face, though you couldn't, could you? From your position, that would have been impossible. Anyway, more people started throwing food and when the said girl stood up to protest, she became the perfect target for stray food on the watch for someone to eat it. Not that the girl could eat all of it. It was too much."Bookmark here

"Who was the basketball player? Do I know the girl?"Bookmark here

"You wouldn't want to know," Bonnie said, returning to her pizza. "Nobody liked that girl."Bookmark here

"And the basketball player?"Bookmark here

"Meh," Bonnie said. "As I said, a wannabe basketball player. Not the real thing. The real thing would have a girlfriend by now."Bookmark here

Adrian snorted when he heard that.Bookmark here

"Disgusting, dude," Ludwig countered with a sour expression.Bookmark here

In the end, Kara had enjoyed her time in the cafeteria. She got free food, the pizza wasn't that bad, and it really felt like a reward for studying her ass off all this time.Bookmark here

The time she spent with these three seldom proved to be boring, anyway.Bookmark here

When they were finished, they brought their plates back to the counter and dawdled around outside, snacking on some hazelnuts for their dessert.Bookmark here

More kids than usual did the same as them, just enjoying themselves for once. Life at an elite school was spent with little else but studying.Bookmark here

Kara found out about that the hard way.Bookmark here

Maybe that's why this school was littered with hazel trees.Bookmark here

What a depleted human body needed was energy, and where did it get that energy from? Right, sugar, fat, sleep, and water.Bookmark here

The conversations of this quartet were as useless as that singular thought one paragraph above this one you're reading right now.Bookmark here

The rest of the day passed in peace.Bookmark here

Mrs. Hammock actually decided to hold back her homework, claiming that they'd have enough of that during the summer break.Bookmark here

When the class erupted in wild cheering, she donned an unusual smile and the dark fog receded. Like that, she didn't look all that evil.Bookmark here

Ludwig and Kara walked outside together, feeling cheerful.Bookmark here

Then, a disturbance to their peace waltzed onto the scene.Bookmark here

"Mrs. Jakobson-"Bookmark here

"Kara!" She had started interrupting anyone who called her by her last name at some point, even when it was a teacher. Kara decided to check out whom she had been rude to, at least, but when she did, her mouth fell open. It had been her first encounter at this school. Mr... what was his name? Some desert phenomenon... Right, Mr. Morgana... no, Mr. Fata. "Sorry, could you call me by my first name, Mr. Fata? Please. I don't like my family name."Bookmark here

"Mrs. Kara, then," he said with a bored voice. "The matter of how you wish to be addressed aside for the moment, the principal wants to speak to you."Bookmark here

"I didn't do anything-"Bookmark here

"You kids always assume you did something when he calls for you. It's annoying, so stop it. The world out there doesn't welcome wild presumptions without clear evidence, you'd do best to remember that."Bookmark here

Kara bit her lip.Bookmark here

She had been thinking about how rude she must have been towards him, too. She even theorized that he only looked so grim due to the lack of proper lighting in the teachers' lounge, which she struggled to remember as having few windows. That was utter nonsense, though. She saw Mr. Fata, here, with all the light she wanted, and still, he looked as if she did something utterly atrocious in his mind.Bookmark here

"What does he want from me, then?"Bookmark here

He shrugged his shoulders.Bookmark here

"Go and ask him."Bookmark here

With that, he turned away and trotted back upstairs, presumably to the teachers' lounge. Kara hoped that he looked so grim because of all the work he did. Yes.Bookmark here

Dr. Legerer had to have been the incarnation of evil if that was the case, though, since he had literal bags of purple under his eyes.Bookmark here

Once Mr. Fata was out of earshot, Kara turned to Ludwig.Bookmark here

"Presumptions without clear evidence... what was that about?"Bookmark here

"He's the overseer of the debating club," he said with a shrug. "What will you do? Pretend this never happened?"Bookmark here

"I'll go. He probably wants to talk about me, again." Kara sighed. "He should just give it a rest if he doesn't intend to tell me anything, though."Bookmark here

"He might have his reasons," Ludwig said, waving her goodbye. "I must go, though. Have a nice weekend!"Bookmark here

"Yeah, tell those two that I won't be coming."Bookmark here

"Will do."Bookmark here

Kara followed in Mr. Fata's footsteps and ascended the stairs, coming out once again in front of the massive wooden door. She didn't hesitate this time and pushed it open.Bookmark here

The blinds were down this time, blocking out the sun.Bookmark here

Was it even hotter in here, today?Bookmark here

The fan on the ceiling did little in terms of creating an air current, so Kara began using her shirt as a fan. Even Principal Raoul sat there in his formal shirt and tie, without the suit.Bookmark here

"Welcome, Mrs. Kara," he said, urging her to take a seat. "I was afraid that you were already gone."Bookmark here

"You could've told Mrs. Hammock to give me the message and no such fears would have existed," Kara retorted.Bookmark here

The principal laughed, raising his glass in recognition.Bookmark here

"Do you want some water, too? It's freshly cooled, and my life energy," he boasted. Kara shook her head. "Is that so? Well, let's begin. I wanted to ask you how you were feeling. The end-of-the-year ceremony is next week, and while you don't yet graduate, it's an important step in your life, anyway. Will you invite your family?"Bookmark here

That was an easy question to answer.Bookmark here

"Yes. My parents are too busy, but I'll ask my sister. Do you remember her? Nia Jakobson? I'm sure she'll be glad to represent my family."Bookmark here

Principal Raoul nodded, smiling fondly.Bookmark here

"Yes, I remember her. Ask your parents, too, though. They should know that something important is happening in your life, at least. My guess is that they could stay home from work for one day," he said with a wink. "If you don't have anything to ask me, I'll stop here. I saw you glance at the clock, and it was a bit presumptuous to call you here after school ended, anyway."Bookmark here

He slightly bobbed his head, then waited for Kara to make her move.Bookmark here

Her mind was all for the option of standing up and leaving, but... nobody told her anything. With how it felt, today... she dared to try again.Bookmark here

"I heard that I used to play pranks on teachers and... started a food battle in the cafeteria... is that true? Did I do those things?"Bookmark here

The carefree smile left the principal's face.Bookmark here

He closed his eyes as if to prepare himself for the words he was about to say.Bookmark here

"Yes... pranks they were. Those pranks you were involved in... it was cruel. The teachers never found the real perpetrator. They had to punish someone, but they didn't feel good about it, you know? They knew the one they caught wasn't the mastermind behind the pranks. And she was a mastermind, that pranker. Never allowed the proof to lead to her." He shook his head. "As for the food battle... yes, that was where it all started. In hindsight, we could've stopped everything if we had known about it back then. It was our responsibility... we could've stopped it. I'm sorry we didn't."Bookmark here

"So then it's true..."Bookmark here

"Don't beat yourself up over it, Mrs. Kara. There are unpleasant episodes in every human's life. You say things are going well now, and I don't have reason to believe otherwise. Your episode of discomfort might be over, already. I sincerely hope it is."Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.