Saturday, 26 October 2019

Chapter three, 2018, what happens in Kyoto, segment one


In the end Kuri left them to their own devices with another promise to make up with her boyfriend. Noriko felt happy for her brother. Idiot as he might be he still truly cared for Kuri, and as far as Noriko was concerned the two of them made a good couple. That Urufu didn’t get dragged into something dangerous was an added bonus.

Yeah, dangerous, right! You’re just jealous of Kuri. But to be honest Noriko didn’t fear Kuri all that much any longer. Sure sometimes, just like at that café earlier, the tall model made her feel supremely uncomfortable, but those moments never lasted for long.

That was hours earlier. Right now she was panting by Urufu’s side as they climbed Fushimi Inari-taisha, or rather one of the endless gated paths up the mountain. Earlier this day her world had been a green fantasy land of bamboo. Now it was red or orange and made of toris. It was as if the gates stood upon each other.

It was all very beautiful and all that, but unlike Urufu Noriko didn’t have the stamina to climb mountains at a pace like this. Sure, the clubs walking talking sessions did wonders, but Urufu and endless walking was an entirely different beast. He was also clumsy with the small things that Ryu never was.

Too fast,” she panted. “Wait for me!”

He turned. “Sorry.” Then after just a few more steps he was ahead of her again.

I said wait.”

Ah, sorry, you’re slow.”

Really! “You’re an arse.” She loved him, but right now he was a twat.

Sorry.”

He did slow down his steps, and with her hand in his, pulling just a little to show him it was hard work climbing the hill, they made it up the next crest. There was kind of a view, but for all the work getting up here Noriko felt a little disappointed.

I’d like to continue a little more,” Urufu said.

Noriko looked around her. The gates thinned out considerably from here on, and the prospect of climbing even further didn’t appeal all that much to her.

Not going back?” she wondered.

Urufu still gazed at what view was offered. “If that’s what you want,” he said just to prove that he wasn’t oblivious to her presence. There was something forlorn in his voice that had Noriko swallow the affirmative words that already lay in her mouth.

What I want? Shouldn’t I be what we want?” He had suggested they trudge on. She gave him another look. Always straightforward he still wasn’t always honest with what he wanted for himself. Could I hope? “Something you know about the mountain?” she asked and gave the hill a little more credit than it deserved.

He smiled, just a thin line, but it reached all the way to his eyes. “There are less people there,” he said, and her heart jumped at his words.

This is where I’m very careful with what I say. She walked to his side and grabbed his hand again. Pretending to share the view with him she thought about the right words. “I’d very much like somewhere less crowded with you,” she decided upon.

It’s an extra hour,” Urufu said as if he waited for her to change her mind.

She felt wind running through he hair and turned her face to meet him. How he could possibly believe an extra hour spent in relative solitude with him wasn’t worth the effort was beyond her. “My pleasure,” she said and pretended she hadn’t noticed that while her mind was full of him her legs still believed further walking was a supremely stupid idea. Note to self: don’t get angry at him just because you’re tired. She made that note into a promise.

Thank you!”

Thank you? Noriko grabbed both his hands. “You don’t have to thank your girlfriend for wanting to spend time with you,” she said and surprised herself with her boldness. It was of a different kind than when she made her attempts at getting him into bed with her. This was a more important kind of boldness, one of hearts rather than of body.

He just grinned. Finally one of the wolfish grins that had both her and a few too many other girls turn in his direction. This time, however, it was for her alone. “Then this boyfriend would very much want to spend the rest of the day just with his girlfriend,” he said.

For the first time in a very long time she gave him a look where she studied him as if they hadn’t known each other for a while. At the end of his teens he grew a roughness to his face that maybe not everyone found attractive, but those who did couldn’t forget. Sturdier than the sexless definition of male beauty that went these days, but the combination of brilliance and strength was fatal for her. His was not just the beauty of someone who knew how to weather out a storm, but of one who knew how to do it with less effort despite being able to brute force it.

You’re unfair,” she said.

Unfair, how so?” he said, let gor of one hand and led her further up the hill with the other firmly in his hand.

Noriko waited a few minutes, just enough to appreciate how he finally matched his steps with her. “You know that I really love you, don’t you?”

He faltered a little. “I do,” he said. “I don’t really understand what I’ve done to deserve it, but I do.”

She snuggled up closer to him. This part of him she definitely liked. “Because you’re you. Because you care and because I feel that you love me back,” she said. It wasn’t even close to describing everything he had done to make her fall for him, but right now it was enough.

He stopped in his tracks, and finally he bent down and kissed her. She grabbed his head with both her hands and kissed him back. Japanese sensibilities be damned. She had longed for this the entire trip.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

June 24, 2040, absent friends


Kyoko grinned at the memories. The mirth had died down a little, but the four of them remained on the wooden deck.

Just Noriko and Urufu missing,” she said to no one in particular.

Kuri-chan spat out her tea.

What?

Don’t do that!” Ryu said and carefully let go of his own beverage after he had secured it onto a table.

Do what?

Kyoko, that was hysterically funny right now,” Yukio added.

OK what button did I just push?

Again?” Kuri-chan suggested.

This just has to be something about that field trip. What did I forget?

Yukio grinned open mouthed. “Nah, nothing as bad this time.”

Hard to top that one,” Ryu suggested.

Kuri-chan and Ryu laughed in agreement. “Ko-chan, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten?” the former said.

Forgotten what? If you’re thinking Kyoto I spent most of it with Yukio you know.”

Ko-chan!”

She ransacked her memory, but nothing came up. They spent most of that trip on endless trips from one site to another. With teachers present there wasn’t much time to get lost, well unless you weren’t the rapidly rising star of fashion fame and just so happened to get dragged into an unplanned photo shoot.

Blinking away the sun Kyoko dug a little further in her memories. So one of the free days, but those they spent scattered all over the city, so someone getting lost wouldn’t be noticed until curfew at the hotel.

Kyoko, really!” This time it was Yukio who frowned and admonished her.

If Yukio remembers then I ought as well. Something crawled around in her head and called for attention. Let’s see. There was that day Kuri-chan stormed out, and she came back alone. The something gave Kyoko an ironic wave. Alone? If I recall that I must have expected her to come back with someone in tow. Then the memory finally flared alive. Oh dear! Noriko’s glorious time in the limelight. How could I possibly have forgotten?

Monday, 21 October 2019

Chapter two, 2018, field trip, segment ten


Urufu dropping a bomb like that turned out to be the starting point for some Kyoto shenanigans which eventually made the field trip quite memorable.

Right now, however, Noriko had yet to experience any of those, and she reeled from handling what Urufu suggested an hour earlier.

Right now the three of them sat freezing over cups of coffee and tea, watching what had to be a gorgeous view come spring. Now the river felt naked somehow, lacking the greenery that was to come later.

So, no I don’t have any plans to break up with Ryu. You taught me the hard way what an awful thing it is to give up just because it’s hard,” Kuri said between sips of coffee. She had said that several times, but this was the first time she added something akin to regret for breaking up with Urufu a year earlier.

Noriko clenched her fists in her lap and pretended she hadn’t understood. Kuri was a good friend, but she was also an eternal rival. She was one Noriko needed and yet was scared of. Without Kuri she herself would never had been given a chance with Urufu, because without Kuri and Urufu being an item he’d have stayed forever in that black world of his where he lost wife and children.

Urufu allowed an almost smile to curve his lips and stared down at his coffee. Almost regretfully he lifted it and drank a little. The cup hid his eyes and Noriko wondered what passed his mind. A gust of wind that played in his hair later he let the cup down again and it met the table with a brittle sound.

Fine, you’re not breaking up,” he said and looked up.

Noriko noticed how his eyes met Kuri’s, but that little something that had her worried wasn’t there. Love for certain, but neither the kind of needy greed of someone staring at his crush nor one half of the shared happiness of one in a relationship.

Say something!”

Urufu shot Kuri another glance after her outburst. With a cup of lukewarm coffee once again in his hand he smirked and studied the sky. “What about you make up? What about you apologise even though it wasn’t your fault?”

But I didn’t do anything...”

Isn’t he worth it?”

Noriko stared in fascination at the exchange of words. Silently she felt grateful the both of them had chosen Japanese rather than the sing song Swedish they used when the rest of the world was best kept in the dark.

What do you mean with worth it?”

Urufu sighed and put his cup on the table. This time for the last time. There was nothing left in it. “Do you love him enough to make use of a white lie occasionally, even one that hurts you a little?”

One that hurts me?”

We’re the same, you and me. Too damn proud when it doesn’t matter.” Urufu shot her a bashful smile. “There’s a difference between integrity and stupidity you know.”

What, Urufu admitting a fault of his own? That was a novel thought. It’s almost as if he’s ready to learn something new. Which was grossly unfair, but he was rigid enough to merit being that unfair from time to time.

I’ll get something warm,” Noriko said and rose from her seat. “Please talk things over!”

Kuri gave her a worried look when she left for the entrance. “A tea for me,” Kuri said rather than ask her not to leave.

You need to talk anyway. I need you to talk, or else I’ll always be afraid of you taking him from me. “Don’t worry. I won’t be long.” Noriko gave Kuri a smile that maybe wasn’t entirely honest and went inside.

A waitress behind the counter gave her a curious look when Noriko beelined directly for her, and with a self-conscious smile Noriko realised she had grown too used to the Haven where you either ordered at your table or by the counter depending on your mood. Or on the mood of whoever worked the tables that day for that matter.

Ordering something warm was quick business and she spent the short respite looking out the windows. Just outside Urufu and Kuri were busy talking about Ryu. Noriko didn’t need to hear their conversation to know. Behind them a street with more pedestrians than cars separated café from river. Walking the river upstream with her eyes she saw the famous Togetsukyo Bridge, the main reason for anyone being here in the first place.

Should have been the four of us. That was wishful thinking. More wishful thinking had her and Urufu alone here. Still, this was better than the circus back home in Tokyo. If she asked him discreetly maybe they’d share the rest of the afternoon together.

She barely registered a group of four girls from their school who passed outside the window until one of them returned and stopped by the table Urufu and Kuri shared. Even from inside the café Noriko saw how the glare Kuri received was anything but friendly.

What the…

With the door closed Noriko couldn’t hear anything, but she saw a mouth moving in agitation and Kuri reeling from the verbal onslaught.

That’s strange. Kuri hasn’t been up to any of her usual stunts where she turns strangers into enemies. Noriko quickly went to the counter and picked up her order. Once again the waitress gave her perplexed stare, but Noriko decided that right now wasn’t the time to remember that orders were served at the tables.

With a small tray in her hands she pushed the door open and went for their table. Whoever the angry girl had been she had rejoined her friends, and Noriko stared at her receding backside. So did Urufu and Kuri.

What’s up?” Noriko wondered and put the tray on he table.

Urufu guffawed and Kuri frowned, but she didn’t look angry.

Fine, I’ll make up with him,” she said.

OK, fill me in,” Noriko said and sat down on the chair she had occupied until she went for refreshments.

I just got told off for not treating Ryu well enough. She told me she’d take him from me if I didn’t shape up.”

Noriko stared at Kuri. “That, eh… that sounds unlikely,” she finished.

Urufu just kept on laughing.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Chapter two, 2018, field trip, segment nine


Ryu got his arse handed to him by the teachers, and only Christina’s blatant lie about him being dragged into an impromptu shoot saved him from further repercussions.

She regretted that a little. There had been an impromptu shoot, one that she hadn’t wished for at all. He had been asked to leave, and he had refused. Christina accepted that she loved the boy turning into a man, and his refusal only increased his stocks in her eyes.

In the end he stayed and watched. In the end Christina noticed how even in Kyoto he attracted more than his fair share of attention despite the surplus of male models at the set. It made her feel proud. In that sense she was anything but Japanese. Ryu at the other hand stared with open disapproval at how just about every male present ogled her.

It took some cooing on their way home, and a very thorough biting his face off by some teachers to make him forget his discomfort just to have it replaced by another.

Right now they weren’t on speaking terms. He really hated it when she saved him rather than the other way around, and that was a part of Ryu that Christina disliked.

Idiot! But the Sweden she once grew up in had shown more similarities than it wanted to admit. I’m an adult. Of course I’m going to help you when you need it. But she was also his girlfriend. At least she should treat him as her peer. Damn, I’d like someone to chat with. The solution came to her just as she voiced the need in her head.

Sure, but I’ll be there as well,” Noriko said when Christina called her.

You really don’t need...” Christina tried, but Noriko cut her short.

It’s my boyfriend and it’s my brother. I’ll leave the two of you alone when I’m certain you’re not going on one of your crusades.”

An hour later Christina found herself in a crowded tourist trap. She’d been there before, in her previous life. Just after dawn, long before the horde of tourists invaded, freezing her butt off for a shoot while pretending it was another and much warmer season.

Crowded or not, the Arashiyama bamboo grove still enveloped her with an otherworldliness she normally never found anywhere. Apart from people around her world was green, and the never ending chattering still didn’t manage to dispel the sound of wing gusts trying to find their way down from the canopy.

Then one face turned the crowd into background, and by his side Noriko walked, hand in his, staring at the greenery and totally oblivious of how Ulf saved her from walking into strangers time and time again.

I don’t get you, but I’m happy for you. The smartest person he’d ever met, Ulf said, but she sure wasn’t street smart at all. Even a parent would have admonished a five year old for walking without paying attention to the world around.

Noriko!” Christina called to save Ulf from his daycare duty.

His girlfriend finally looked ahead and made her way to Christina without endangering their surroundings. Behind her Ulf let out a sigh of poorly hidden relief. Christina understood him. Even as a friend you just felt the need to protect Noriko whenever she ended up along a lot of people. That need had to be multiplied if you were in love with the petite girl.

Why here?” Christina asked when Noriko was close enough to e patted on her head, had Christina had those inclinations. “It’s not really a good place for me.”

Cause it’s fun to tease you,” came the response. “Besides you won’t be able to use your work as an argument with all the people here.”

I never knew you were that scheming. “So you want the rational me?” Christina said and looked past Noriko, briefly met Ulf’s eyes and let her eyes walk across the gorgeous greenery surrounding them.

Noriko nodded back and then Ulf came up by her side. Side by side like this they looked more like big brother and little sister than a couple. The school uniform told a different story though.

It’s Ryu. He wants to treat me like, well, his girlfriend.” That came out wrong. “In a bad Japanese way, I mean.” And why don’t I just insert an entire boot in my mouth while I’m at it?

Ulf just grinned with mirth at Christina making her best to win the award as the most moronic tourist in Kyoto this week. To her huge surprise Noriko didn’t look offended at all.

I know what you mean,” she said with her head tilted slightly to one side. “One of my idiot brother’s worst sides.”

Ah, forgot you had to fight that part of him the entire autumn. “I don’t know what to do. I really do like him, a lot, but, well.”

So you’re in love with the idiot kid and want him to grow up?”

That pretty much summed it up. This time it was Christina’s turn to nod.

Ulf remained silent the entire time, and what had once been planned as a chat with him more and more looked like a conversation with Noriko with Ulf as audience.

He doesn’t deserve it, but you need to give him something in return. Ryu’s kinda stubborn that way.” Noriko’s smirk told Christina everything she didn’t want to know about what the short girl thought of yielding to Ryu when he was in the wrong.

Give him a bone, you mean?” Christina said. It wasn’t as much a question as her thinking aloud.

Yup,” Noriko said and shone up like a sun. “Pat him on his head and say: Good dog!”

But it doesn’t really solve anything. Maybe she couldn’t resolve the problem by talking with Noriko alone. Something was missing, something important, but Christina just couldn’t find out what it was.

From Noriko’s side a voice reached Christina’s ears. “You could always break up with him,” Ulf suggested deadpan.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Chapter two, 2018, field trip, segment eight


Noriko shrugged once as her brother vanished around a corner with Kuri in his arms. She might not be entirely on speaking terms with her brother yet, but most of the outright antagonism from last autumn was gone now. Most of it due to a huge debt she owed Yukio and Kyoko. There were still rumours about the oversexed couple floating around.

The next time Noriko shrugged was the following evening when Ryu and Kuri failed to show up at their hotel. As far as Noriko was concerned the couple could take some of the heat from Yukio and Kyoko. Besides, Noriko had no doubt about who were the really oversexed ones – she herself most definitely didn’t belong to that group.

That thought filled her with more than a little consternation. Urufu was painfully slow in that department. When asked, a week or so earlier, Kuri confirmed her suspicions. It wasn’t that people born in Sweden during the 1960s shied away from sex during their teens. Kuri was adamant that Urufu behaved like the king of morons. If he spent half a year with a girlfriend who wanted nothing more than to get close and cuddly with him and still not took her to his bed then something was seriously wrong with him.

Like I needed to be told that, Noriko growled silently. There was so much wrong with him she sometimes wondered why she had ever fallen in love with him at all.

She stared at him where he stood surrounded by angry teachers in the lobby and tried to explain why the world wouldn’t go down in flames just because Kuri and Ryu hadn’t arrived yet.

But there is so much right with you as well. Angry at her brother as she was she still filled with warmth at watching how Urufu chose to stand up for him.

Did you turn in your plans?” she asked on her way to his side. It was a deliberate attempt at taking some of the heat away from him.

Huh? My plans for after graduation?” he asked and turned. So did half of the teachers as well.

Yeah, I’m curious you know.”

Urufu copied her earlier expression and shrugged. “I’m dropping TIT. Not my cup of tea.”

TIT?” one teacher asked and Noriko knew she had them.

Yeah, tech institute.” Urufu met her eyes. “You know I want to go to the same place as you. Why don’t we just take the exams and match results? We can pick one after that.”

Tokyo Institute of Technology?” the same teacher added.

Uhum. Not interested anymore. Toudai, Waseda or Keio. That way her parents can’t complain if we go to the same place.”

The teacher’s eyes bulged. “What did you mean by match?”

If one of us fail one we just skip that place. Besides, exams might be on the same dates, and then we just have to agree on one of them,” Urufu said and turned his attention to Noriko again.

Yup. That’s why I love you after all. He was oblivious to how insane his statement sounded. One didn’t just make a pick of one of those three universities like it was a matter of candy flavour.

Toudai sounds boring,” Noriko teased.

There was some more bulging.

Fine, you make the pick. I’ll just tag along. As long as we’re together I’m happy.”

The bulging continued.

She thinks Toudai is boring. Well, with her grades and all...”

Noriko looked at the newcomer who had just commented the episode. Ah, the new principal. “What about it?” she asked. She didn’t like how Ufuru was excluded. His grades were just about as excellent as hers.

No no. Nothing. If you’re happy with someone like him I guess you could just share another four years at university,” he said.

Nine years,” Urufu shot in.

Nine?”

Yeah, I’m not entirely clear about the system here in Japan, but four for the BA, another two for an MA and three for the PhD, or am I wrong?”

PhD? Did you plan to stay in university for like forever? Then what Urufu had just said dawned on her. And you want me to get that doctorate together with you? That’s pretty much the same as asking me to marry you.

That’s some serious long time planning,” their principal said. “Takes someone like you for it I guess,” he continued.

Wait! He knows about the arrivals? But then so had Principal Nakagawa and Kareyoshi. Which meant Himekaizen really was a grooming institution for the arrivals after all. The thought of attending a black ops institution disguised as a high school wasn’t all that dear to Noriko.

Urufu shrugged again. “Dunno about long term. It’s less than half of our academic careers,” he said and faltered a little at the end. Noriko could see how what he said finally registered in his head. Seventeen year old kids really didn’t plan the next coming ten years.

What about you enjoy your last year here first,” their principal said and smiled.

Yes, sensei. I’ll do just that.”

Noriko grabbed the opportunity to drag him with her. For now the problem with Ryu and Kuri was forgotten, and she intended to get herself and Urufu away from here before it resurfaced.

Dinner beckoned, and with a bit of luck their respective classmates had arranged for her and Urufu to be seated next to each other. While they weren’t explicitly an official couple most of their classmates knew well enough.

She shared the lift with Urufu, and for once he held her hand as they entered the dining hall. Usually he lacked a little in the department of showing affection. He was, most would have agreed, a good and traditional Japanese man in that sense.

As far as Noriko was concerned he could do with being a lot more Swedish. She loved him and no other. If he showed his feelings a little more often she’d get a little less interested glances from boys in the other classes. If he showed his feelings a little more often he’d get a lot less glances from girls in the other classes.

Urufu being Urufu never noticed though. Or at least he pretended he didn’t notice. Noriko wasn’t sure which, and it made her pout mentally more than once.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Chapter two, 2018, field trip, segment seven


Will you forgive me?”

Ryu looked at the photo once more. All of Kuri’s longing for Urufu lay bare for the world to see in it. Still, it was the longing of over half a year ago.

There’s nothing to forgive,” he said. He hoped he had learned a little from Yukio. “I promised I’d never take away the place he has in your heart.”

To his surprise Kuri threw herself around him. “I love you. Thank you Ryu! You’re really, really the best!”

That was enough, or more than enough. That faraway day in Odaiba she still hadn’t come to terms with herself. While Urufu would always occupy parts of her heart she had left that relationship behind her, and Ryu honestly felt how he had become the man she turned to first. But I’m still jealous. He shrugged, just like Urufu used to do. I still managed to give her the answer she needed.

It never ceased to amaze him how much of an uncertain teenager she was despite having lived a life before she arrived here.

So,” he began, “you’re free for our unscheduled day?”

Kuri managed to look up at him from her embrace despite being taller than he was. “I’m free from work for the rest of the trip,” she said and smiled. “Spend the day with me?” she added and gave the street feeding their hotel a meaningful look.

I’ll be in your care.” He would be. Kuri probably knew a lot more about Kyoto than he did.

I’ll be in yours,” she said and dispelled his thoughts. “Look, I’ve seen my fair share of Japan. Sadly it doesn’t really include things for high schoolers, and right now I want to be one.”

Ryu gave her what he suspected was a nonplussed stare. To avoid unwanted attention from their respective classmates he hugged her close to him, but not closer than allowing him to speak silently. “My memories from Kyoto are a kids. What about a compromise? We help each other?”

No!” she said in a voice loud enough to catch the attention of everyone around them. “No way!” Kuri giggled and snuggled close to him. “Your call. You get us away from here discreetly?” she mumbled into his clothes.”

Ryu looked around them. Just about everyone, student, teacher or hotel staff didn’t matter, stared at them. “And exactly how did you think I’d manage that?” he whispered back at her.

He could feel Kuri grin into his cardigan.

You little…

You’re the Prince of Himekaizen. Your helpless little girlfriend just has to trust her beloved hero.”

This time he felt how she shook from laughter. You asked for it.

Despite how he usually behaved Ryu was a natural athlete. He’d lucked out in the lottery of parents. His father’s body and his mother’s social skills combined proved that life was unfair. Some people got it all, and he was one of them.

No!”

This time Kuri’s shriek was honest, but he didn’t give her a chance to wrestle free when he scooped her up in his arms. “I’m taking this one. For today she’s all mine,” Ryu announced and carried her down the street.

Down, let me down!”

You got it wrong,” he said and kept walking. “Noriko always shouts ‘down this moment!’” he added. Just to make certain Kuri wouldn’t dare to protest for real he swung her around full circle. “My girlfriend. She’s the best!” he announced for the entire block to hear.

Idiot bro!” he heard from just outside their hotel. There was no venom in the voice. Noriko probably agreed with him that Kuri got what she deserved.

Bounty in his arms Ruy continued down the street to the jeering of school mates behind him. While Kuri protested loudly he didn’t feel her resiting at all. If anything she clung to his neck in a way that balanced out her weight between his arms. His suspicions proved true when they rounded a corner and she simply jumped out of his arms with a happy grin on her face.

That was fun,” she said. “Let’s do that again!”

Ryu shook his head and shook his arms to get rid of the leaden feeling. Kuri wasn’t exactly light weight, being taller than himself and all, and a few blocks with her in his arms was more than his muscles asked for.

Don’t say it!” Ryu muttered when he saw Kuri’s lips starting to move. Urufu probably wouldn’t have felt the need to loosen up his arms. By now there was an almost ten kilograms difference between them, and all of it was muscles and bone. Where Urufu found time to study Ryu simply didn’t understand, because the tall boy never gave up on his training.

Ryu,” Kuri began as they made their way into the city by foot, “I might have to spend a year touring after I graduate.”

Graduation still lay over a year in the future, but Ryu had gotten used to the arrivals planning further ahead in their futures compared to those who really were as old as they looked. “What about it?” he asked. Kuri wouldn’t have opened the topic if it didn’t concern him.

I’ll take a one year break before entering university, and I’ll pick one where I can concentrate on my modelling.”

Yes?” Ryu glanced at his side and searched Kuri’s face for clues.

We’ll be apart, and I won’t even join your university when I come back home.” She met his eyes. “Are you fine with that?”

I’m not sure you’re even aware of it, but you said ‘home’. Ryu grinned. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine with that.” He knew she didn’t understand the real reason for his mirth, but it didn’t matter. If wherever he was counted as home for her, no then he didn’t mind at all. “Just make sure you keep in touch.” He hesitated a little. “I’ll try to visit you from time to time. Comfortable with that?”

The smile he received from Kuri lit up his heart. “Yes, I’m very, very comfortable with that.”

Monday, 30 September 2019

Chapter two, 2018, field trip, segment six


Kinoshita Dai looked at the photo once more. One of the best he had taken during his entire career, during both of his careers.

Funny. We couldn’t use it the promotion, and then this.

I saw you,” it read. From last summer during the Odaiba shoot, from the moment when Kuritina lost herself in memories and regrets, and also a new hope for her future.

He’d cut away the swim suit to focus on the woman, and he got permission to use the result for a photo competition. Her face, hair, neck and shoulders. Nothing more, and yet the very definition of youth lost. The bittersweet first steps into adulthood. Just Kuritina Ageruman. Of the model there was nothing left, just a young beauty caught in transition and restart.

I have to call her. He wasn’t sure she knew the world of photo awards. And she doesn’t know she’s part of it now. There was a certain amount of shame in that thought. She had chosen him to be her main photographer, but he hadn’t even told her about the photo he sent in for a competition. Because this photo is private. I caught something I shouldn’t have seen in the first place.

Calling her would reach a mere one floor away in the hotel they shared. Calling her would reach a world and a life away. Calling her would reach all the way to the man she once shared that world with, and Dai wondered if he had any right to do so. Then, did he have the right not to? Damn, how did it get this messy? He knew she hadn’t let go of her feelings for the man who, just like herself, got caught in a new world eerily like the one they left behind.

But it was too late now. In a much smaller universe than the one belonging to models and fashion that photo spread and created an uproar. In difference from Kuritina’s current universe this one was global. Dai had already received reactions from Europe, and while most of them concerned his prize winning entry quite a few wanted to know more about the girl in the picture.

She’s got a new boyfriend now, and if he sees this he’ll know. With a sigh Dai decided he couldn’t avoid it. He had to make that call.

Grabbing a beer from the minibar Dai contemplated when would be the best time to make that call, but in the end he realised he was just procrastinating. Another sigh later he punched up her contact on his phone and waited.

His third sigh was one of relief. She was busy with another call, but Dai accepted that he couldn’t postpone it for much longer. In anticipation of Kuritina finishing her phone call Dai fired up a web browser with all the relevant sites side by side, stacked the booklets with his prizewinning entry and emptied his beer.

The next call went through.

Kuritina, we should meet,” he said after she answered.

Now?”

Yes, now. Would the lobby work for you?”

There was a moment’s hesitation. “Sure. I’ll be there in five.”

Dai was already prepared, so he left his room and took a lift down to the entrance floor. This being a top rated hotel, in Kyoto to boot, they served a fabulous array of tea and traditional Japanese confectionery. While most people preferred their western counterparts Dai had taken a liking to the intensely sweet cakes. It had nothing to do with being conservative. He just liked the taste and how it contrasted with green tea.

Just as he received his order Kuritina left the lift, searched the lobby until she recognised him and approached. One look from her told him that she most definitely didn’t approve of his tastes. She had even less a reason than most since she was from Sweden. Westerners usually blinked and offered as polite as insincere a lie after they forced themselves to swallow a bite.

Please have a seat!” Dai said and gestured towards the sofa on the other side of the table.

Kuritina said nothing, but she sat down opposite him. He waited for her to make eye contact with the staff and noted how she picked a cup of strong coffee and some nondescript snack to go with it.

So, what’s up?” she asked when her order had arrived.

Dai said nothing. He just pushed the booklets to her side of the table and opened up his laptop. After a few seconds it made them company, the screen facing her.

When?” was the only thing she said after she had studied the material for a few minutes.

He couldn’t tell if she frowned, or if she even cared. For being a model she was eerily expressionless whenever she was deep in thought.

Last summer. Odaiba,” he explained.

She looked up at the ceiling. “In the sportswear place?”

Dai nodded. “I cut away almost a third of the photo.”

Contractual problems?”

He shook his head. “No, I got permission.” He bit his lower lip. “I forgot to ask you though.”

She shrugged and took a sip of hastily cooling coffee. “I don’t really mind. See any problems coming from this?”

Dai frowned while he mulled over that question. Problems from a business point of view? No, more like opportunities. “No, not for you as a model,” he said. “You might be contacted from abroad, so it’s mostly a matter if Vogue wants you to broaden your repertoire or not.”

Kuritina shrugged. “It’s not like shoots in the US or Europe is anything new for me.” Then she grinned, a beautifully malicious grin. “I’d be happy to be contacted. Make certain they contact me as well as Vogue.”

How so?”

Kuritina emptied her coffee and let the last of her snacks accompany it. “I love to change the power balance. Europe is the real world for a model.”

She said Europe, but Dai knew she meant Paris. Paris was the Rome of the fashion world – all roads led there. He nodded. “I’ll do so.” He hesitated for a moment, but there was a second question that couldn’t go unasked. “Privately, what’s your feelings on this?”

He got a searching stare in return. “Privately? Privately I never knew I looked like that. I’m amazed Ryu stayed by my side.”

So she hadn’t been entirely happy after all. The worst part was that she was more unhappy with herself losing control than him saving that moment for the world. He had, Dai thought, done her both a service and a disservice.