No, this totally isn't two years overdue! But didn't I tell you that this would be completed no matter what? Well here I am!
After the hell month between winter break and Nayru's Love Day, Zelda thought juggling school and her commitment to The Stone couldn't get any more difficult.
No one told her how much worse spring would get.
March and April are normally quiet months in terms of holidays and observances in Hyrule. Spring break, however, is usually a week-long vacation for schools and universities during the second week of April. In addition to releasing issues at the same time as holidays, The Gossip Stone also schedules its issues usually the week before a vacation.
And wouldn't the world end if Link would just take a break from tradition, cut the staff—and Zelda—a break, and say, "You know what? No problem. We'll wait until spring break to come out this month. Don't worry about it!"
Without a lack of a national holiday to give students a much needed reprieve—and the fact they get a week off of school in the middle of the term, anyway—it seemed to school administrators then that time of the year would be perfect to get high school students taking college preparatory classes to cram for the Master Quest exams held at the beginning of every May.
Master Quest, or MQ as it was commonly abbreviated, was the name of a set of optional high school courses available to overachieving students beginning their second year. They gave students a chance to attain transferrable university credit before they even set foot in a lecture hall provided they pass their course's corresponding examination. If there were classes with standard level difficulty, then honors level classes were above that. Higher than that, MQ was honors level's lovechild with the demon king Demise.
And since practically all the editors, half the executive staff, and some of the staff writers—including Zelda, took at least one MQ course, couple that with The Stone's production cycle and you had… well…
A classroom full of physically and mentally exhausted students.
Thanks to Zelda, she was able to convince Link to make the deadline for May's issue the Wednesday after MQ exams; it gave everyone then at least the weekend to work on their stories and the editors to finish their pages. Zelda wasn't really one to gloat, but she knew he knew her call was right in the end; except for his free period, all five of the classes he was taking were MQ. It must have been some stupid pride thing, but scheduling the deadline during exam week like he originally tried to do was ridiculous.
On the bright side, with the end of MQ exam week also came the effective end of the school year for many of the students, especially fourth years. With the end of the semester coming in June, there was nothing else in the curricula for students to learn, and most graduating seniors knew their academic standing and eligibility for end-of-year senior activities was finalized the middle of May anyway. It gave much of the staff—again, Zelda included, the much needed time off to focus on the school year's last issue.
"Alright," Link started off as he scanned the room. Since he and Zelda submitted the proofs to the publisher the day before, it meant the beginning of a new production cycle. No rest for the weary, Zelda lamented. The entire staff was seated before him, save for Pipit, who was behind him at the white board listing the names of various teachers at the school. "For all our newbie staff, the last issue's theme is the senior issue."
The senior issue was, as its name implied, centered on the year's graduating class. "When you're working on your story ideas for feature articles, keep in mind seniors who stood out throughout the year. We're also dedicating two story slots for the valedictorian and salutatorian, so those are up for grabs for whoever wants them when we assign articles tomorrow."
Link briefly looked up from his agenda on the podium to glance at the staff seated before him. "Questions so far?" No one raised a hand. "Good."
"The back page is dedicated to the senior collage," he added, "so ask around for anyone who wants their pictures in to submit them to our email address. We also have the college admission page. Pipit made a list of all the first period senior classes on the board, so after this sign your name up and give that teacher a sign-up sheet to give their classes tomorrow. We need them back no later than when the editors start working on their pages."
Link paused to pick up a pencil to cross out a few points on his agenda page when he noticed Colin raising his hand from the corner of his eye. He nodded his chin to the freshman, gesturing for him to speak.
"What if people don't wanna put their names on it?" Colin asked.
Link shrugged in response. "It's all voluntary, so if someone doesn't want their name in the paper then that's on them. Whatever list of names you get by the time we need them back is what we're publishing."
"If they don't want their name published," Midna quipped as she rested her chin on her knuckle, "there might be a good reason for that anyway. Like no one cares that you're going to a community college. We only list actual universities!"
Her snide comment earned a few snickers from the staff—and an eyeroll from Zelda, but as usual unfazed Link. "Anyway, that's where we are on the senior issue. Anymore questions? …Good. If you need more help, ask the editors or the exec staff later on."
"Now," Link started again, changing the subject. "We have a little over a month left, so that means it's time to start selecting editorships for next year's staff."
Zelda looked up at that.
"Everyone can apply for whatever position they want, but keep in mind the final decision is made by all the editors and me," Link said.
"But freshmen can't, right?" Parrow, one of the first year staff writers, asked with a raised hand. Link shook his head in response.
"You can if you want," Link replied. "Editors are usually the ones who've been around the longest, but staff positions are also based on your performance throughout the year. So if you think you have what it takes then why not. But if you haven't been meeting deadlines or your writing isn't where it should be then don't even bother."
Zelda thought of what Midna said to her on the first day, when she turned in her application to Link.
'Editors are almost always fourth years. Sure we get a third year editor once in a while, but you know what they say about not treating yourself like you're an exception.'
"Write your name and your top two choice positions on a piece of paper then put it in this envelope before the end of business," Link announced with a small manila envelope in his hand, snapping Zelda out of her thoughts. He turned around to grab a magnet and pinned the envelope's flap to the white board. "The editors and I will announce our decisions in a few days before start working on our pages."
Zelda and Link walked side-by-side towards the subway station after business was done. Frankly, Zelda couldn't be gladder that it was finally the last issue of the year. Coming up with story ideas seemed to only get harder as the school year went on, what with a campus as relatively quiet as East Castle Town Prep, and with so many staff members pulling at the same straws for story ideas.
When Link brought up the fact that they were choosing staff positions for the next year, it also struck something inside Zelda. With how busy the last few months have been between school and The Stone, she actually hadn't thought of what she wanted to do position-wise. She had fallen into comfortability, she supposed she could call it, with her position as business manager. The more she thought about it, the more she really questioned…
Did she really want to become editor-in-chief anymore?
"You've been quiet this afternoon," Link spoke, breaking the silence between them. His voice snapped her back to reality. She looked up from the porous spots on the concrete she had been making patterns out of in her head, and just barely dodged walking into a lamp post.
Link couldn't help but chuckle at the blonde as she yelped and clumsily side-stepped the pole. She just glared back at him, readjusting the book bag on her shoulder.
"Were you gonna say anything, or just let me walk into that!?" She snapped. He shrugged in response, slipping his hands into his pockets.
"Technically I did say something, because you would've smacked right into it if I hadn't."
Zelda just grumbled to herself, the both of them coming to a stop at a red crosswalk light.
"But you didn't answer the question," Link stated after another few seconds of silence.
"Something bothering you?"
Zelda looked at him for a second, and he turned slightly and glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. "You were quiet during the whole meeting. Usually you have something to say."
"…Oh," was all she managed. Like he was one to talk, honestly! "No, not really."
"You should know by now I can tell when you're lying."
She just sighed. "I'm not lying." Goddesses, why was it that whenever he asked her if something was wrong and she tried to dismiss it, he just unnecessarily pressed the matter? She had to fight herself to not say something like, 'Nothing was wrong, until you started insisting there was!'
The brunet said nothing right away, though. He just looked forward, and before long the crosswalk light turned green.
"…You know," he started again. Now what? "I didn't see you put in an editor position request."
It wasn't like he said it in an accusing manner, but all of a sudden for some reason she felt cornered. She just laughed it off, trying to sound as casual as she could. "I haven't really considered which page I want to take over."
He nodded slightly. "Well, the chief usually does the front page, opinions, or editorials."
Zelda looked at him for a second before the two turned the corner towards the stairs down to the subway station. "I'll keep that in mind then."
To be honest, Zelda was beginning to regret all the big talk she spat out on her first day. It wasn't like she was cuccoing out; oh goddesses, Link would never let her live it down if he found out. It was just… Well most of it was on impulse, out of anger towards Link for being such an unforgiving asshole. Of course Zelda thought she could do it!
The idea of her becoming an editor—the chief, no less—just didn't sit well with her because it was her first year. Some of the executive staff has been there since they started high school. Surely seniority should take precedent here? And it was no secret Link and Zelda work closely, even though most of it—as far as she was concerned at least, was just because she's the business manager and in charge of communicating with the publishing company. And then she becomes editor-in-chief over someone who's been a staff member longer and is more competent than her? How would that look?
The two approached the crowd at the subway platform after scanning their passes. Zelda nonchalantly combed her fingers through her hair as she kept her eyes on the tunnel from where the train was expected to arrive, not noticing the glances Link stole of her as she did so.
"I was thinking," Link started.
The two were in the mail room of their apartment building's lobby, checking their respective mailboxes. His deep voice echoed in the long room. Recessed mailboxes lined the walls from floor to ceiling. Zelda was at her apartment's box, her back turned to him as she sifted through her parents' seemingly endless stack of junk mail.
He closed and locked his mailbox and turned to walk back towards her, brow furrowing as she stuffed envelopes into her bag. "Do your parents not check the mail or something?"
"Apparently not," she groaned with the same hint of exasperation. She grabbed the last few sale catalogs and closed her mailbox, locking it before walking over to him. "You were saying?"
"Yeah," he started again as they left the mailroom and made for the elevator. "The reason you didn't submit a position application can't be because you don't want it anymore, right?"
She almost froze at that. Where did that come from all of a sudden!? She thought that discussion was over when they got to the subway station!
"W-what?" She laughed, trying in vain not to sound nervous or taken aback. He didn't say anything in reply; he just shrugged as he pressed the up button on the elevator, and took a step back.
"Of course I still want it," Zelda snapped in a matter-of-fact tone. It almost came off as defensive, which Link couldn't help but find a bit of amusement in.
"Good," he nodded as he looked over his shoulders, trying to see which of the six elevators around them would make it to the ground floor first. "I didn't want to think you were all talk, especially this late in the year."
Curse Link's ability to read her so well!
One of the elevators behind them beeped and they turned around to face it, leaving enough room just in case someone came out when the doors opened. Zelda couldn't help but notice, though, that when he asked that question his tone wasn't accusatory, either; it sounded genuine instead of condescending. As would most likely be the case if this were eight months ago.
"…But…" Zelda added with a soft voice. The elevator doors opened, and an elderly woman holding the hands of two young children came walking out. Zelda smiled softly at the trio as they walked past her; the woman asked them what they needed at the convenience store down the street, and the children listed a slew of candies and ice cream flavors through their jovial laughter.
Link walked ahead of her into the elevator and held his arm out to keep the doors open for her, and she quietly followed suit. She pressed the buttons for the fifth and eighth floors, then leaned her back against the wall across from him.
The brunet stared at the girl before him, withdrawing his arm from the doorway.
"…But what?" He asked her as the doors closed. She looked up at him, then shrugged her shoulders as she tucked a few locks of hair behind her ear.
"I dunno," she drew out. "You even said second year staff members becoming editors don't happen."
"I said they don't happen often," Link clarified, stressing the last word. "Yeah, they're usually people who've been with the staff for three or four years—"
"So it should go to someone who's been around that long," Zelda cut him off. He cocked an eyebrow at her interjection. "Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I can handle the work… But it wouldn't feel right taking that away from someone who's invested more time in the newspaper than I have."
Link stared at her with a bewildered gaze, almost not believing what she was saying. The elevator beeped again, signaling that they arrived at Link's floor. The doors opened, but he didn't step out. Zelda glanced at the open doorway for the second, then back to him. "Aren't you getting off?"
He eyed the doorway as well, but he pressed the button to close the doors. "I'll drop you off first."
Zelda furrowed her brow at him as she felt the elevator move upwards again, but before she could say anything else, Link spoke first.
"You wouldn't be taking anything away from anyone," he said flatly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. And if it were, then it was completely lost on Zelda. "Don't you pay attention?"
She responded with a questioning eyebrow raised.
"Practically everyone expects you to become the next chief," Link told her as he crossed his arms over his broad chest. "It's not a question of who's been there the longest; it's a question of ability. And no one ever questioned your ability to do your job."
The two heard the sound of another beep. Before long, the elevator came to a halt at Zelda's floor and the doors opened. Never questioned her ability to do her job? Yeah right.
"You did," she answered with a matter-of-fact tone. "…I'll see you tomorrow."
Without another word, she exited the elevator and started her way down the hall. Link watched her leave, but stopped her before she got too far away.
"Believe it or not," Link countered, loudly enough for her to hear. "I never would have given you so much responsibility if I didn't think you could handle any of it."
Zelda turned around at that, but the doors were already closing. Before they completely shut though, she got a glimpse of Link standing before her, staring at her seriously.
'Never once thought?' What was that about? If all the abuse and harsh words were his way of showing encouragement, then imagine the kind of professional counseling his kids would need! Was it really so hard for him to just say something like, 'Good work!' Or, 'You'll get it next time, no need to worry about it!'
…Then again, would he have ever invested all that time and effort in training her if he really didn't think she had what it took? Or whenever she came up short, pushed her to do better? And it wasn't even just her; he did the same with everyone on staff. Yeah, he may have meant well. And all he may have wanted was for everyone to give their best because he knew what everyone was capable of. But damn, if he didn't leave a psychological scar or two along the way.
Zelda just didn't get it.
Zelda entered the apartment prepared to disarm the security system, but strangely enough didn't hear the beeping that occurred when the alarm was activated. She furrowed her brow a bit; she could have sworn she activated the alarm when she left for school in the morning.
"Zelda?" She heard her father's voice call her name from the kitchen. Before long he came walking out into the living room, wiping his hands with a small towel.
"Hi Dad," Zelda greeted him as she took her shoes off. "What are you doing home already?"
"Eh," he shrugged. "I just called it a day a few hours early." He watched Zelda take out a stack of envelopes from her bag, and chuckled as she handed them to him.
"Busy mail day?" He asked with a laugh as he shuffled through them to read the sender addresses.
"More like week," she answered with a tinge of sarcasm as they both walked into the kitchen.
So Zelda," he started as he sat at one of the barstools on their kitchen island and set the mail in his hand on the counter in front of him next to another stack of papers. She glanced at him for a second as she reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of cranberry-mango juice. "Your mother and I talked last weekend."
Uh oh, that can't mean anything good.
"…Okay," Zelda responded, grabbing a clean glass from the cabinet and dispensing a few cubes of ice from the freezer door into it.
"I asked her to stop by UH's literature department and talk to their undergraduate advisor," her father added. He reached over to the papers that were already on the island when they came in, quickly filed through them, and then handed them to her.
She eyed the papers curiously before accepting them. "What's this?"
"Your mom told him said you were interested in majoring in literature, so the advisor gave her all the information on their program and what to expect," he replied. He nodded his chin to the papers in her hand. "Go ahead and look through it."
She did as he said, and they were all pamphlets on the department. They listed their notable faculty and their achievements; the prerequisites for incoming freshmen; there was one that even listed a suggested sequence of classes to take every semester to graduate on time.
"…What happened to all that talk about how impractical literature is?" Zelda looked back up at him, genuinely confused. Ever since she could remember, her parents always pushed her to pursue a career that would make good money. Law, medicine, engineering… Yeah, Zelda in engineering? It'd be easier to blindfold her and make her cross the Gerudo Desert in the middle of a sandstorm.
"I know," her father shrugged. "But this is what you're interested in, right? You're 17, Zelda. You're young, but you're smart. Your mom and I know that. We think you can make a sound decision for yourself on your own."
He smiled slightly as he clasped his fingers together on the countertop. "And if we're going to pay that much, you might as well study something you enjoy."
Zelda really didn't know what to say. She knew, though, that she was extremely grateful to her parents for at least being open minded, and not being so… Well, such parents.
"…Thanks, Dad." She chuckled; it almost came out as a nervous laugh. "Really, it means a lot. I mean…" She put the papers back down on the countertop and leaned against the quartz surface, her arms folded in front of her. She looked down at the dark gray counters before making eye contact with him. "I also want you two to know that you guys just had my best interest in mind."
"I know," he repeated. "We're not going to push it anymore, but just keep what we've been telling you in the back of your mind. You can always study something else on the side, in addition to a lit major. Or whatever it is you decide on… Just be well rounded."
She smiled warmly at her father, holding the palm of her right hand out to him. He raised an eyebrow at her for a second, before laughing softly and meeting her palm with his in a small high five. She nodded to him.
Once again, I'm extremely sorry about how long it's taken me to update. A lot's happened in the past two years: I finished college, got a boyfriend, moved in with him, we have two dogs (dkkberuliandImayhavegottenengagedkjlasdal)... But I never once forgot about this story or any of you all!
I know this chapter is considerably shorter than the last five or six (I kept you guys waiting this long for THIS?). And I know I said in the end notes of the last chapter that there would only be three left, but after realizing that there's just too much to compress into three chapters (this one was intended to be much longer; what I'm publishing now is only a third of what I originally planned) there will be more than that! How many exactly, I will not say. The rest of the story just paces a lot better now, I think. But like I said before, we're in the home stretch of this story, and the end isn't that far from here. I'm not gonna keep you all hanging now.
That said, feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome and appreciated!
Enjoy Life and Smile.