Sunday, 17 June 2018
Despite shame competing with a whole lot of self disdain Ulf looked at the girl he had just confessed his love to. It was real. He felt it in his very bones. He’d always admired honest persistence, and somewhere down the road that admiration had grown into affection and later into what he had to admit was love. When that happened he didn’t know. During the summer that was about to end soon probably.
He saw Noriko take a seat with Kyoko, and the girls spoke softly with each other. On his shoulder he felt Yukio’s hand and on his head one unfamiliar yet so well known.
“You’re Akane’s boy. I don’t know how, but I know.”
Yukio’s hand tightened its grip. “Man, we need to talk.”
“Aunt, it seems my friends need me for a while.”
The hand in his hair stiffened.
Bloody hell! I forgot where I am.
“Akane’s boy,” she said and left the room. “Kanto! What horrid luck. When the kid learns Japanese he speaks Kanto dialect.” A receding giggle accompanied her foot steps.
And how the bleeding hell am I supposed to explain this? Ulf shook the thought away. “OK, you’ve got my attention.”
Yukio grabbed a chair and sat down. This close Ulf began to get a grasp of what the man his best friend would soon grow into would look like.
“Urufu, we need to go to Sweden.”
“I know you don’t have a passport, but some day.”
Ulf blinked away his confusion. “Sure, I’ll be happy to bring you back home for a visit.”
“Yeah, that as well. Man, I’d love to, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Across the table the girls had stopped talking.
What’s going on?
“When I get older I hope to marry Kyoko.”
If the room had been silent when he held hands with Noriko that was still a deafening cacophony compared to the absolute stillness that hung over them now.
“If you want to,” Yukio added in a voice that surprised Ulf by its utter lack of hesitation.
The man he’s already begun to grow into, Ulf accepted. Damn you’re so cool!
“If you want to,” Kyoko responded. “I can’t have children, remember?”
An indrawn breath told Ulf Noriko hadn’t wanted that to be spoken out aloud.
“Not in this world you can’t,” Yukio said, and Ulf’s head swam from the shock of listening to those words. “Urufu’s got scars from his high school years, or rather, he no longer has them.”
What on earth are you talking about?
“Oh. Oh! Yes, I’d very much love to marry you. Twice if that’s needed.”
Twice? Ulf could take it no longer. “Guys what the hell are you two going on about?”
“Yukio,” Kyoko began, “is pretty certain people are, eh what should I call it… transiting from this world as well. To a downstream world he calls it.”
Yukio nodded, and before Ulf had a chance to edge a word in he added to Kyoko’s words. “Urufu, you had a restart in this world. I believe we can as well.”
“I never asked for it,” Ulf said as if by reflex. He’d been torn away from a perfectly good life. One, he glumly admitted, that more and more became part of his memories rather than reality.
“You didn’t, but Kyoko and I might have to one day.”
Slowly what Yukio and Kyoko had said started to form a pattern in Ulf’s head. Lemme see, if what they…
“So just like Urufu arrived here from his old world you’re saying you can transit and arrive in another?” Noriko broke in.
And she’s so much brighter than I am. Did I fall in love with her or her brains? Both, Ulf decided and settled for listening to her making sense of the insanity.
“And since both Kuri and Urufu were fourteen when they arrived you expect to be fourteen as well?”
“In bodies where Kyoko was never stabbed?”
Kyoko clung to Noriko and nodded as well.
“That would explain the people who dragged Ryu off to that interview he mentioned,” Noriko continued.
Ulf had heard about it, but he never reflected on its potential meaning.
“And you want to be seen as important, or unlucky enough to be sent, what did you say, downstream?”
“Not today, or anytime soon, but one day, yes,” Yukio said. “At least as long as I have Kyoko. Without her I don’t care.”
“Yukio! I love you!”
That reaction from Kyoko told Ulf everything he wanted to know about the bond they shared. Some people just get it right from the beginning. I’m happy for you, and a little envious.
“I think you might be right,” Noriko said. She seemed deep in thought. “I think they forced Kareyoshi to rescind the expulsions. Yeah, you’re right.”
Expulsions or no expulsions didn’t really have anything to do with this, or did they?
“I am, am I not,” Yukio said and laughed. “How else could people from Sweden force anything at all to happen here?”
Neither of the men Ryu spoke with that day were Swedish. Ulf knew as much, but Ryu was adamant they came from Sweden, or represented Sweden in one way or another. Pieces in a jigsaw puzzle slowly fell in place, and he stared at Yukio with open admiration. A string of worlds connected like links in a chain.
“Can I go back?” he heard his own voice say.
The look Noriko gave him cut deep into his heart.
“I don’t want to. Not any longer,” he added, both for her sake as much as for his own. That life was gone. Even if he could go back it was a life once lived. He’d never be able to go on with it and pretend the life he lived now was just a short episode he could discard. This was his life now.
Memories from a day in Odaiba rushed to him. Sano-san, I understand. I finally understand.
With that Ulf accepted his old life had ended, and that a new one had begun, that where there was a transition there was also a restart. He’d become Hamarugen Urufu, who called himself Ulf Hammargren. He was both the man who had once been as well as the teenager with the memories of that man. He was both less and more than he had once been, and more importantly, he just was.
Thursday, 14 June 2018
Noriko felt tired. More tired than she had ever done since she accepted she had fallen in love with Urufu again.
He didn’t protest when Yukio suggested he was her boyfriend, but then he didn’t acknowledge that she was neither. That kind of left her in limbo, and now she had to push the issue.
They were seated by a huge wooden table in the house that was indeed strangely Japanese inside. Very traditionally Japanese at that, except for a couple of rooms one of which she sat in right now.
Wooden flooring. She could see the ground beneath her through gaps she believed were deliberate. The room had to be abysmally cold in winter.
Most of the house, the parts that didn’t face the street, could just as well have been from some peculiar Edo era movie. With utility details that must have been modern half a century ago skillfully hidden to preserve the look of an old Japanese rural home.
She drank the impressions. Even if Urufu hadn’t been born into this world, this was still part of what had formed him. Every detail counted now when she was on the verge of finally hauling him in.
The aunt, the old lady of the house, had given her a searching stare and then looked at Urufu. Then, during a fleeting moment when they changed rooms, she grabbed Noriko’s arm.
“If you can heal him, then I approve. If you can’t, then break up!”
As demands went that one was unfair, but Noriko didn’t care. If she merely had to move a mountain or two then that was fine. She had smiled at his aunt and met her eyes in what was probably a very rude way.
“I don’t need your approval, but I need him whole,” she had answered.
That bought her a wolfish grin and a huge surprise. She never expected Urufu to get that part from his mother’s side.
Right now it was make or break. They were alone. Urufu sat facing her across the table.
“I need to know,” Noriko said. “Are we going out?”
If only she could close her ears. Her eyes were already shut as she waited for his answer.
“Please, Noriko! Look at me if you want me to answer that question.”
She opened her eyes.
“Noriko, there are a number of constraints...”
“Yes or no,” she demanded.
He was silent for a moment. “If you want to, yes, but...”
Yes! He said yes! “I understand.” He finally said yes! “You can tell me all about the buts later, but you’re my boyfriend now? I’m your girlfriend?”
“I give,” Urufu grinned. “You want this arse of a man you can have him. Yes, you’re my girlfriend, or I your boyfriend, or whatever you prefer.”
Then a sudden second of fear. “But you don’t really love me, or at least won’t tell me if you do?”
Urufu’s eyes went soft and his grin thinned into a smile. Two hands reached out over the table. “That’s the thing. I think I’ve been in love with you for a while now. I… I just never noticed.”
And she needed to make once thing absolutely crystal clear. More for herself than for anyone else. “But you still love Kuri?”
Urufu nodded. “A part of me always will I’m afraid. Do you still want me as your boyfriend knowing that?”
And she needed an edge. A something that was hers alone. “Did you ever tell her you loved her?”
He shook his head. “Never so she heard. I was too scared.”
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, I love you Noriko.”
It had to suffice. She had something Kuri never got. She had a confession. “I love you Urufu.”
He didn’t spoil the moment by stating the obvious, that he already knew. He just squeezed the hands she had placed in his.
In a way she surprised herself. She’d seen Urufu and Kuri, and she’d seen the awful courtship of Yukio’s and Kyoko’s. Both couples had been madly in love when their mutual feelings were confirmed. Even for Kuri’s part. There was no way the tall beauty hadn’t known all along. For her own part Noriko mostly felt relief. Maybe the burning feelings would come later. Or maybe they had already passed. After all this was the third time she fell in love with him.
But she did feel love. A deep and profound love. So she squeezed back.
It was a perfect moment of shared silence for them. Too perfect.
“You can come out now,” Noriko said.
Two, no three faces popped around the door post. All grinning wildly. Then Kyoko dashed to her side.
“I’m happy for you!” There was a moment’s hesitation. “For you as well,” she added to Urufu, and Noriko knew her friend hadn’t forgiven him yet. At that moment Noriko understood how she in ways was older than her friends. Kuri and Urufu excepted obviously. And she also understood something equally important. Kuri was her friend. Noriko hadn’t forgiven her for sleeping with Urufu, and maybe she never would, but Kuri was still a friend.
That thought was the final one in a long chain of thoughts and fears. Tears welled up in Noriko’s eyes, but she didn’t try to blink them away. Instead she let go of Urufu’s hands and rose to hug Kyoko.
“I’m happy. I’m so happy,” Noriko mumbled into Kyoko’s shoulder. “If that had to happen to end what was already broken, then I can live with it. Maybe they needed an end for us to have a beginning.” There was no maybe, and it wasn’t the end, but it was an end, and it definitely was the beginning for her and Urufu.
If worst came to worst a day would come when she would have to let him go, but even if such a day eventually came, what was the alternative? To never have him at all? A life where she never got to share her love with him? That was no alternative at all.
“Are you certain about this?” Kyoko whispered.
“Yes,” Noriko answered. And neither her voice nor her mind held any lies. “I love him so very much.”
Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Yukio took Kyoko’s hand in his and grinned. He grinned at Noriko rushing ahead across the gravel as if she had forgotten all her pain. He grinned at how much Kyoko had grown the last year. He grinned at how much their love had grown, and at this very moment he grinned with relief when he understood that he still shared feelings of friendship with the idiot who just received a bundle of pure joy in his arms.
Urufu, make her happy! She deserves it. Then Yukio laughed silently. Noriko, make him happy! He deserves it.
Beside him Kyoko squeezed his hand, and when he glanced at her he saw tears forming in her eyes.
“Kuri-chan, you idiot!”
Her voice was soft and silent, but Yukio heard the words anyway.
“Maybe Ryu’s good for her,” Yukio tried.
“I hope so. I hope so for all four of them.”
The squeeze got firmer, and Yukio tightened his grip on her hand. “At least they helped us two find each other. Has to count for something.” His voice was a little more shaky than he had expected.
That made the tears leave her eyes. “Oh Yukio! It means the whole world for me! Of course it counts.”
And he knew why her tears mixed sadness with joy. Those who had given the two of them so much happiness broke their own apart.
“Man, you hold on to her this time, or I won’t forgive you,” Yukio shouted when he saw the usual signs of awkwardness in Urufu. “You made her cry. You comfort her.” He’d be damned if he let Urufu get a chance to wriggle out of it this time. If he had no feelings for Noriko, well too bad, but Yukio didn’t believe that was the case.
Noriko’s back expressed her gratitude for Yukio’s words. How she managed that while she clung to the man she’d hunted for months Yukio didn’t know, but she did.
“Urufu, we’ll leave the two of you alone for a while,” Kyoko said. Then she pulled at Yukio’s hand. “I can’t even begin to express how angry I am with you, but I’m not Noriko, so what I think doesn’t matter.” She pulled harder, and Yukio followed her down the street in the direction of what looked like a derelict school.
Just as he was about to sigh with relief a voice from behind called to them both.
“It doesn’t work that way. We’ll tag along. I have too much to apologise for, and not only to Noriko.”
Man, what a bother! Yukio played Urufu’s word in his head again. We, at least he said ‘we’. “Sure. Noriko you can bring your boyfriend.”
Kyoko’s body went rigid beside him. Yukio could feel it through her hand. Looking at her he saw how she held her breath just like he did.
There was no response.
There was none.
Just the sound of feet following them.
This time Yukio didn’t even dare to glance at Kyoko. He stubbornly stared straight ahead of him and hoped the street would lead somewhere reasonable.
A gust of wind carried a faint scent of fresh water.
Another the sound of some lonesome cicadas.
“They’re frogs,” Urufu’s voice said from behind his back. “When I was a kid I thought they were crickets.”
With that weeks of worries ran of Yukio’s shoulders.
He’ll give it a try. He’ll give her a chance!
“Tell me more,” came Noriko’s subdued voice.
Then the footsteps caught up with them, and a little later Yukio saw Urufu and Noriko pass him and Kyoko hand in hand.
They look like a couple.
“Yukio knows just about all of it, and I’ll just bore Kyoko.” A slight hesitation. “I’ll tell you as much as you want to listen to later.” Another moments hesitation. “When we’re alone.”
Yukio finally dared to let out the long sigh that had waited inside him. By his side Kyoko did the same.
“Now what?” he said.
They were under a canopy of bamboo before Urufu answered. “We’ll get something to drink by the old school.”
After that the four of them walked in silence until they had left a rice paddy behind them and crossed another narrow street. It was Noriko who eventually broke the silence just before a can of soda slammed into the bottom of the vending machine.
“Urufu. I’m curious, but did you have any siblings?”
Huh? What kind of question is that? Yukio looked down at Urufu who was busy picking up the can.
“Yeah. Two older sisters and one younger.”
“And your mother, or father? Whoever is from here?”
“Yeah. My aunt.”
Yukio watched a wide grin spread on Urufu’s face.
Oh! Man, that’s some quick thinking!
“And he or she moved to Sweden and got married in this world as well?”
“Yeah. Mom did, but I was never born here.”
“And your father worked in construction?”
“How did you know?”
How could anyone not know?
Three of them burst out in laughter. Only Urufu stared back with a nonplussed expression in his face.
“That arrogance. You sure got it from your father,” Noriko said, and brought another round of laughter to the three of them.
“Your aunt’s house. It should never have been built in Japan. Like never ever even in your dreams.”
“That it still stands and looks like it does is testimony to your father’s skills. He must have been very good.”
Urufu fed a few more coins to the machine and Yukio watched how he picked up drinks for all of them.
“He was. He’s retired now, if he’s still alive.” Urufu stared back up in the direction of the alien house. “Archipelago construction. He always said it’d last longer than the neighbouring houses.”
“How old is it?” Noriko asked.
Urufu scratched his head. “I wasn’t born yet. Say a little over fifty years old.” He grinned sheepishly. “I always thought it looked strange inside. It’s very Japanese you know. Not the facade, but the inside. Dad said it had to be or it would start to rot.”
Yukio shook his head in wonder. Urufu’s words about change and adaption weren’t his own after all. He’d inherited them. From both sides of his family given how his Japanese side had decided to erect the visual insanity further up the hillside.
“Urufu,” Noriko said, “your sisters. They’re alive in this world as well?”
Urufu nodded. He bent his head backwards and gulped down half his soda. “That’s why this feels a little like home.” The can went to his mouth again. “My aunt thinks mom is my grandmother, or at least she pretends that’s what she believes.” He took two steps and discarded the can into the recycling bin.
“Urufu, we need to talk,” Yukio said.
“I know. Let’s get another bottle each and head back. Could as well introduce you.”
Tuesday, 5 June 2018
“There’s something that’s been bugging me,” Yukio said when they had changed trains once and hopped into a taxi.
Kyoko shifted a little to give room to Noriko who had fallen asleep again. The last day sure had taken its toll on her small frame.
“About the entire affair with the four of them?”
Yukio turned to face her. She could see how deep in thought he was. Right now he was thinking aloud rather than talking with her.
“No. It’s about the two different worlds thing.” Yukio fell silent again.
Kyoko waited for him to resume his train of thought. In the meanwhile she stared out the windows where small rice paddies were replaced by even smaller tea plantations. They were definitely heading into the mountains, and everything was smaller here. Well, apart from the mountains. Those might be ever present for most Japanese, but being a Tokyoite she had little reasons and even fewer occasions visiting them herself.
“The people who talked with Ryu,” she heard Yukio’s voice say. “It’s the thing with a Swedish organisation that keeps bugging me.”
But the arrivals all came from Sweden. Or at least the Sweden in that other world. Kyoko didn’t understand what her boyfriend was getting at.
“You see,” Yukio continued as if he’d been reading her mind, “they pop up here in Japan. People who have never existed in this world.”
“Yes?” Kyoko said.
He wasn’t. Wasn’t merely thinking aloud that was. She knew he wanted her to react to what he was saying from time to time.
“So there’s little reason for that Swedish section for whatever.”
“Why not?” Kyoko said. She could hear from his voice that he had reached the point where he was bouncing his thoughts with her.
“Urufu told me there had to be a Swedish organisation in that other world, because both he and Kuri got invites, so someone knew what was going to happen.”
That made sense. But a Swedish organisation in this world? Suddenly she felt cold in a way that had nothing to do with the AC in the taxi hammering them with a freezing draught.
“So you arrived there as well?” Yukio said. “If there is a Swedish organisation in this world I’m pretty sure there are people vanishing from this one and ending up in another.”
“But that means there aren’t just two worlds.”
Yukio nodded. “A chain of them I believe. I can’t explain, but I’d call them upstream and downstream worlds.” He frowned. “I don’t think it’s possible to go back to the world Urufu came from from this one, so upstream.” Then he grinned, an expression he’d had the help from Urufu to master, and one that still melted Kyoko’s heart. “That would make this one a downstream one.”
Under her arm Noriko shifted uncomfortably in her sleep, and Kyoko nudged a little away in her seat to make it a little more comfortable for her petite friend.
“And you think this one is an upstream one for another world?”
Yukio nodded. “I have to work on this idea with Urufu, but yeah, I believe so.”
“I wonder what it’s like,” Kyoko said as the taxi left what went for a main road up here and started climbing up streets so narrow meeting another car would have been impossible. Would I feel that creepy feeling of almost the same that Kuri-chan spoke about?
“What what is like?” Noriko asked sleepily and freed herself from where she had nestled under Kyoko’s arm.
“Hello sleepyhead,” Kyoko said. “We’re almost there.”
“What what is like?” Noriko repeated.
Kyoko glanced at Yukio.
“The thing with two worlds and all that,” he said.
“Urufu’s old world?”
“Uhum.” Kyoko wanted to have this conversation together with Urufu, just like Yukio, so she chose to give Noriko the simpler answer.
The taxi came to a stop, and Yukio paid the driver.
“We’re here?” Noriko said, and Kyoko smiled at how she turned her head in search of Urufu.
A short guffaw had them both look at Yukio.
“Almost,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where it is, but I have his mother’s maiden name, so I thought we’d ask in the shop here,” Yukio added and nodded at a small shop squeezed in between two houses.
Kyoko watched him go inside while she shouldered her backpack. Noriko did the same.
Looking around Kyoko noted how everything was small except the houses. Apparently, in a relative sense, there was more space here, but also more money. Where she lived houses like these would have cost a fortune, or rather the plot they stood on. Housing in Tokyo was brutally expensive according to her parents.
They were also surrounded by a less oppressive heat. It was still hot, but no longer the brutal heat at the resort. The valley the sides of which the village climbed funnelled a weak breeze that refreshed the air, and Kyoko stood admiring the greenery further up the mountainsides together with her friend until Yukio came back out from the shop.
“Straight ahead and just across a public parking place. She said we couldn’t miss it,” Yukio added and nodded at the shop he had just left. “Anyone wants a snack? I couldn’t just ask and not buy anything.”
“Urufu once told me I’d know if I ever saw it, but that he didn’t understand himself. The lady in the shop basically said the same thing.”
“He didn’t understand it himself?” Noriko said.
Yukio shouldered his backpack and took the lead. “This was back before Himekaizen,” he said over his shoulders. His safe and wonderful shoulders. “There was a time when it was important for him to tell me memories of his.”
Kyoko wondered where this was going, but for now she was content with listening to Yukio’s voice. This was the voice of a boy who made best friends with Urufu. Not the disillusioned Yukio of recent. She preferred the Yukio who took pride in his friend. If for no other reason then because it reminded her of when she still took pride in Kuri-chan. I have to make up with her. Even if I can’t forgive, at least we have to make up.
They rounded a corner and suddenly a small gravel parking place spread out before them.
Across it old style Japanese houses competed for space with more modern ones. All in what both Urufu and Kuri-chan had described as a faux European style. And then there was the exception. It shouted out it’s foreignness, blared how it didn’t belong here and in general made her wonder if the builders had taken leave of their brains.
It also spoke of a familiar world. One she had seen on pictures every days since Urufu filled their first club room with photos from Sweden.
Yeah, I see how we couldn’t possibly miss it.
Yellow, standing panel, white corners and tiles a burned orange red colour that basically never roofed a Japanese home. Urufu must have grown up around houses like this one. As alien as it was to her, as much a definition of normality for the child he once was.
“Didn’t you say his relatives were Japanese?”
Kyoko looked at Noriko. “Yes, they are.” Well, in as much as this family is related to him. He wasn’t born in this world.
“Then, why?” Noriko said and pointed at the abomination across the gravel.
“I guess influences work both ways. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Ask him? When...”
Kyoko grinned. On the street an open mouthed Urufu stood staring back at them. Even from this distance she could see how shame competed with joy in his eyes.
“Noriko, run to him! He’s all yours now.”
Saturday, 26 May 2018
“Where did he go?”
Kyoko looked at Yukio. Hurt. Kuri-chan had hurt him, and so had Urufu.
“Yukio!” She loved him. That didn’t mean she couldn’t admonish him. “I care, and so do you.” And so does Noriko. Noriko, I’m so sorry.
They needed to find Noriko, and she needed to convince both her and Yukio to go searching for Urufu. Or rather, she needed to convince Yukio to lead them to wherever Urufu was, because she was certain Yukio knew.
Outdoors was a baking oven despite August running towards its end. That baking oven cooked Kuri-chan and a Ryu who was as smugly satisfied today as he’d been ragingly angry yesterday.
You idiot! Idiots! Both of you. Cause they were. Best friend be damned. Kuri-chan was still her best friend, but this time she really pushed that friendship to its limits. How could you?
“Does it change anything?” Yukio asked.
Kyoko grabbed his hand and forced him through the entrance and into the blazing sun. It was like walking into a wall of heat. Despite lying almost at the very edge of the ocean not a single gust of wind reached the resort.
“I have to help Noriko. She deserves better.”
“And if she doesn’t want to be helped?”
She definitely wouldn’t want to be helped, but she needed to. Kyoko had already made her mind up. Memories of Kuri-chan’s panicked look when the four of them returned a day late from Ise lingered in Kyoko’s mind.
Idiot! You broke up with him. You don’t have the right to be jealous any longer. But she had been. And she had done something about it. I wonder if you’ll even keep his friendship after this? Because Kuri-chan hadn’t tried to get together with Urufu again. Kyoko was sure about that.
“I’m ashamed of being his friend.”
“Yukio! Never say that again! Besides, he didn’t...”
“He could have said no!” Yukio interrupted. His voice rose to a growl. Then a glimmer of fear reached his eyes.
Oh no! You don’t get to be scared of me. You have every right to be angry. “Yukio, I understand. I know you’re not angry at me.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”
“I understand.” Kyoko hugged him close despite the heat. “I understand.”
“Our pockets?” Yukio suddenly asked, and Kyoko loved him all the more for how he dared change his mind when neded.
Despite the worry she felt in her heart Kyoko grinned. “Noriko will pay for her share.”
Yesterday Urufu paid their salaries. For being teenagers they were loaded. Half a million yen shared between them ought to suffice for hunting down Urufu wherever he had gone.
“Then let’s go fetch her.” Yukio finally nodded, and Kyoko almost jumped out of his arms and rushed indoors. She had already prepared three daypacks and she didn’t intend to give Yukio the chance to change his mind back again.
They needed to find Noriko quickly. They had to find her before the sight of Kuri-chan and her brother filled her with disgust, and if Kyoko knew Noriko right, self hatred.
“Yukio, follow me!”
Kyoko didn’t wait for an answer but dragged her boyfriend after her as soon as he was done attaching the small backpack to his back. One of her own on her back, one in her hand and Yukio in the other she ran to the beach despite the heat. Halfway there she had ordered the taxi thanks to a headset dangling precariously from one ear, and less than a minute later she found Noriko.
Kyoko waved at the girl, but Noriko’s eyes were fixed at the shoot where Kyoko knew both Kuri-chan and Ryu were to be found. Kuri-chan because of work, and Ryu, well Ryu because he finally cemented his relationship with his girlfriend since a few months.
That finally drew her attention, and she looked back. This time she even waved back.
“Over here, Noriko!”
Their friend stood up in momentary confusion and pointed at herself. Kyoko nodded and beckoned her to her.
“What’s going on?” Noriko said when they were close enough to talk. Her voice was subdued, just like her entire being was subdued since a day.
“We’re going to have a long talk with Urufu,” Kyoko said.
It hurt to see how mentioning his name brought even more sadness and pain to Noriko’s eyes.
“If you want to slap him I’ll help pin him down,” Kyoko promised.
“He just vanished.”
Behind them Yukio coughed to get their attention. Both girls turned their heads to hear what he had to say.
“He didn’t just vanish. He’s visiting family, or something.” Yukio’s eyebrows twisted together at his insane statement. “His family from that other world. Anyway, I know where he is.”
Kyoko stared at Noriko rather than her boyfriend. For once the girl looked stunned with confusion. Not a trace of sadness was to be seen on a face that was busy showing exactly how flabbergasted Yukio’s words had made her. Yukio, you’re my hero. I love you!
“Look. In that other world he had relatives here. That’s where he got his looks from. OK?”
That kind of made sense. If he was a half then the other half by definition had to have roots here in Japan, even if it was a Japan in another world. Almost the same. The worlds are almost the same. He always says that.
By her side Noriko’s face had taken on a bit of determination, and inside of her Kyoko shouted with joy at watching that new expression.
“We’re going to him, and this time we’re making sure you get him.” Noriko wondered how she could be so certain. “He’s fond of you. More than fond given what he agreed to in Ise.” Because, if Urufu really didn’t have any interest in Noriko at all, then Kyoko was certain he’d either have bedded her for real or simply refused to share the bed in the first place.
“You think so?” And at once Noriko’s face reverted to the misery that had been plastered to it for a day.
“Look, Noriko,” Yukio said. He stared down at his feet when he spoke, as if he didn’t dare face their friend. “Urufu’s been hurting like hell. I don’t think what he did was a beginning.”
“But he slept with her!”
For the next minute or so Kyoko just held the sobbing girl in her arms. Despite Yukio’s clumsy words Kyoko understood he only meant well, and maybe Noriko needed to be reminded of what had happened to move on.
Still staring at his feet Yukio waited until Noriko’s sobs had subsided before he dared speak again. “You know, I think that was his way of ending it. I believe they said good bye.”
For a while Yukio’s words only resulted in silence.
“What makes you think that?”
Kyoko glanced at Yukio over Noriko’s shoulder. You’d better get it right this time.
“You saw your brother today.”
“I believe something had to break first.”
“They’ve been together all this time with nothing happening.”
“Would you agree Ryu and Kuri are finally together for real now?”
Kyoko could feel some of the tension in Noriko’s body go away.
“Ah. But if she tries to...”
“She won’t,” Kyoko said. Now when she understood what Yukio had been aiming at it suddenly made sense. “They’re not getting back together again.” Half a year. The idiots needed half a year to break up.
“Then, if what you say is right, Urufu’s really free for the taking?”
Relief at Noriko’s words filled Kyoko. That’s my girl! “Let’s go hunt him down for you, shall we?
Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Christina shuddered when she heard footsteps further up the hill. She didn’t want anyone to see her crying. Especially not Ryu or Ulf.
She led a good life now, blessed with the childbirth she never experienced in her first life, and with far more love than she deserved.
While she had been an adult reborn, and not naive enough to believe you could experience love without hurting anyone, she most definitely had crossed a line of common decency.
And eventually I hurt them both, and Noriko a well. Come to think about it. She probably hurt Yukio and Ko-chan as well. Ko-chan. The one person she never grew used to call by her first name. Her best friend. And now she’s going away forever.
Because that was everything this trip was about. Coming together for some of them, but a parting for all of them. In a couple of days Ko-chan and Yukio would leave this world just like she herself had left hers a quarter of a century earlier.
I never apologised, or did I? She couldn’t remember what had happened after. Most of the last week of summer that year only held oceans of darkness in her memories.
Doesn’t matter. There was no way an apology could have gotten through anyway.
Tuesday, 15 May 2018
During the life he left behind Ulf took his first real girlfriend to his bed after some hesitation, or rather she took him to his bed. He’d been far too awkward to understand the repeated invites she gave him, so in the end, during a late evening alone with each other, she took to the offensive in a way even he wasn’t able to misunderstand.
Now was different.
While he and Christina had shared their bodies on a few occasions it was still a matter of adults in teenager bodies, or at least as much adults as their bodies allowed.
Noriko, however, was very much still a child. At least in his eyes. Ulf was thoroughly grateful she hadn’t tried anything in that direction. Spending the moments before they entered the pool together was bad enough, but she defused it by walking away before she took off her clothes.
It wasn’t like he wasn’t interested at all. She was cute, and he didn’t really have any body type preferences. Had he been the age he looked he probably would have tried something bad. Or good, depending on how you looked at it.
As it was he wasn’t ready for either love or making love, and Noriko deserved the full attention of the man who shared that sensation for the first time with her.
So in the end he was grateful for the pool as well. It was very much the same as a sauna during his university days back home. After a while the conversation drew most of his attention, and he felt his misgivings fade away as he enjoyed how she handled different topics in a way that lay far beyond her years.
Ulf enjoyed talking with Noriko. Problem being he had enjoyed talking with Christina as well since she quickly dispelled any notions he held of her being all looks. He’d been guilty of some severe preconceptions about beauty and brains.
Still, Noriko was different. She gave him a run for his money. Her mind moved so quickly he needed all of his experience to catch up, and only by playing a dirty game of steering conversations where experience mattered more than pure brains did he manage to keep up.
They talked and laughed, and talked some more. After a while he forgot neither of them wore any clothes, and from the way she Noriko acted, so did she.
A little too much time in the pool it turned out.
Dizzy from heat and fatigue Ulf left the water, grabbed his towel and got rid of the worst of the water. Then he draped himself with a yukata, not even bothering with the obi, and checked that Noriko didn’t fall asleep in the pool or anything equally stupid and dangerous.
He needn’t have worried. She stood, towel in her hair, with water dripping down her body in the light of their room and almost only a pitch black night as background.
Whatever lit the terrace was more for setting the mood than anything else, and Ulf was rudely reminded that this was, after all, not the same as sharing a sauna back home with friends.
Small breasts, narrow hips and yet a body that had decided to grow into adulthood, and all framed by her thin arms and a white towel furiously dancing around in her hair.
Ulf looked down in embarrassment but his body had already reacted, and he pulled the yukata tighter around himself and quickly took a few steps in the direction if the water boiler.
Damn. I’m getting turned on. Shit! I’m a creep after all.
“Could you pour one for me as well?”
Ulf refused to turn around and meet her face. From her voice he could hear that she was oblivious to how his mood had changed. “Sure, green or black?” he said with a voice you could curdle milk with.
“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”
“Black, sure I’ll get you one,” Ulf said and pretended he had misunderstood what Noriko said.
There was no way he could show her his expression now. Instead he fidgeted with two cups, teabags and spoons.
“Urufu, did something happen?”
“Nothing,” he murmured.
Quick steps behind him almost had him turn around anyway. Then two small hand tilted his head backwards where he sat on the tatami mats. He looked up and met Noriko’s worried eyes.
It was at that time he realised she could see a lot more than just his face, and when she suddenly let go of his head and leapt backwards he knew she had.
Shame got the better of him, and he knew he was being unfair even before the words left his mouth. “You did. Wasn’t this exactly what you planned from the start?”
To his surprise her indrawn breath wasn’t followed by a scathing reply. Her words lay hanging in the air for a few seconds before they were voiced.
“I didn’t expect… no… yes I did, or rather hoped.” Then some more silence. “I don’t think I knew what to do if everything went as I planned.”
And there it was. In several aspects she was most definitely still a child.
“Urufu, thank you,” came the unexpected continuation of her thoughts. “You proved I can affect you.”
“Bloody hell, any cute girl probably could,” Ulf admitted.
“Urufu, thank you, or at least your body for noticing me as a woman.”
What could he say to that?
“Urufu. I’ll give you the space you want. At least until next term starts.”
She sat down behind him, and once again those two small hands found their way to him. This time as a hug. “You want to come to some kind of conclusion with Kuri. I won’t pester you.”
Ulf let out a sigh of relief.
“On one condition.”
That night Noriko proved to him how shameless she could be when she wanted, and it took all his willpower not to act on the sensation of her body next to his. Every time she moved where she lay half atop him she must have felt exactly what his body wanted to do rather than sleep.