Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Chapter one (segment eight), twenty four years earlier, April, Kyoko

Second fiddle. Cram school was the only place where she was just Takeida Kyoko. Otherwise she was an accessory. Friend, or even best friend. That was how she was normally seen.

In the beginning she had been happy to be associated with Kuri-chan. Part of the exotic glory spilled over to her. Later she resented it a little. To play second fiddle and be part of someone else’s life rather than making her own.

But in the end Kuri-chan was just too good a friend. As they got to know each other better Kyoko's strengths came to light, even if no one else saw them, and Kuri-chan displayed quite an impressive array of faults of her own. Even if no one else saw those.

In the eyes of the masses Kuri-chan was a goddess. Flawless.

Yesterday Kyoko had been on her own, walking home from cram school in a slight drizzle when the sight of a ridiculously expensive bike, locked all alone to a stand, caught her attention. It wasn't the first time she saw it. Usually it stood out among its company when she was on her way to cram school, but that evening it was still there, all alone in the rain.

She never stopped or anything, but she did look up and through the windows to the café located on the second floor of the old fashioned mall. And she saw blazers from school. For a moment she entertained the idea of entering the café just to find out whom they belonged to, but that bordered on stalking, and in the end she just passed below those windows.

Today, when she brought a bag with supplies to the soccer club, she once again saw a pair of blazers separated from their owners.

It's funny how your mind sometimes plays pranks with you, and on this occasion hers did, and on this occasion it happened to be true. Kyoko decided that those two blazers were the ones she had seen yesterday, and for that reason alone she had to find out.

The kendo club was on lunch break, but the sound of voices in training still reached her from the gymnasium. So she sneaked away to the opening to see if the two piles of clothes outside it had anything to do with what was happening inside.

Two boys, freshmen if the clothes outside the gym told the truth, were training. If that could be called training. A small loudspeaker, with what looked like a smart phone on top of it, spewed out foreign music, and they were… dancing?

“No, no, no!” the taller of them laughed.

“If I do it like this?” the other answered and flailed around like a helicopter on its terminal way down to its doom.

The tall one sat down on the floor and hugged his stomach. He was literally roaring with laughter.

“Sure,” he shouted, “you'll get the girl.” Then he slammed a fist to the floor and laughed again. Tears of mirth ran from his eyes. “You'll get her, because you just downed her partner. Victory by attrition!”

There was, Kyoko thought, something odd with his accent. As if he had learned Japanese rather than grown up with the language. But apart from his oddly coloured hair he looked Japanese.

His accomplice in what passed as dancing sat down on the floor as well and poked his friend in the chest. “No good?”

“Plenty good. You'll have no rivals if you knock them all out.” He smiled back, a wolfish, mischievous smile.

Wow! That smile. I want one from you as well! She had seen him somewhere. She was certain of it, but which class?

“Yu-kun, we have ten. Best get out of here before they return.” The tall one rose to his feet, and before he faced the opening on his way out Kyoko hid behind the doors and walked to the soccer field.

Who are you? And that smile, please make it mine!

When she arrived at the field the Watabe twins were already playing, and even Ryu-kun had been given a place in their team. The soccer club wanted the Watabes, and the rest of them were merely accepted as tag alongs. Well, Kuri-chan excepted, of course. They'd want her as a mascot. Anyone would want her as a mascot.

“Ko-chan, here!” Speaking of which, a pair of arms semaphoring in the very opposite way of what was proper, ladylike behaviour told her where she was supposed to go. As if anyone could have missed the blond flagpole rising above the other girls.

“Hi,” Kyoko said when she was close enough not to have to shout her greeting. “How's training?”

Kuri-chan swept over the field with her hands. “Fine, fine. The Watabes are fantastic, and Ryu-kun should have a place on the team as well.”

“He doesn't?”

Kyoko looked at where Ryu-kun had taken advantage of how the opponents paid too much attention to the older Watabe. The younger brother grinned wildly and lobbed a pass over the heads of badly positioned defenders.

Nicely done! Even I can see how you got them fooled.

A Ryu-kun alone with the goalkeeper was too much even for defenders concentrating on Watabe the older, and they turned and ran for him. Seemingly scared of the attention Ryu-kun kicked the ball into nowhere.

Oh, my bad, maybe not nowhere after all.

The older Watabe had already made a run for it. At top speed he met the rolling ball, picked it up with his left foot, rounded the goalkeeper and lazily rolled the ball into the net.

“And that is called paying attention to the game,” Kuri-chan said.

“If he's that good, why isn't he invited to the team?”

“Got to join the club first, but even then. Seniors don't like him too much.”

“Eh, why not?”

“Seniors' girlfriends like him too much.”

That was Kuri-chan for you. She was right. Of course, but you really, really didn't say those things aloud. Beside them girls turned their heads and blushed. If you could at least keep your voice down!

“Hey, kendo club finished already?”

Kyoko turned to see what Kuri-chan was looking at. Oh! “No, those two just happen to come from the gym.”

The two friends had apparently washed off their sweat outdoors, because their hair were dripping water. The taller of them walked with a strange hunchbacked posture, far from how he had looked in the gym hall. Beside him his shorter companion looked outright striking.

Strange, I could have sworn the big guy was the most handsome.

“Cute shortie. Your type, Kyoko?”

“Eh, not really. I preferred the tall one. Earlier at least.”

Kuri-chan gave her a strange look. “Preferred? Earlier?”

“He looked good in the gym,” Kyoko tried weakly. That didn't come out right.

“You got strange taste in men. Isn't he the geek from 6:1?”

Kyoko stared at Kuri-chan. “You know him?”

“I try to keep track of anyone who stands out. Part of the job being me.”

Part of the job… In the world of Ageruman Kuritina that probably made sense. Kyoko was suddenly reminded of how her Kuri-chan only existed for a few of them. To most she was an object of admiration, desire and resentment. It was all too easy to forget that, and Kuri-chan probably couldn't afford doing so.

“6:1, you say. Come Monday they'll take the field during lunch break. They have PE before us.”

“I know. You should take a better look at the shortie. He's more your type.”

And you're not supposed to say that. Like I can't decide on my own, or like someone is out of my reach. If I didn't know you so well I'd be hurt. But Kuri-chan almost never meant anything bad. She just spoke what she thought, and sometimes not even in that order.

Behind them the training match had ended, and the players were already on their way to the girls. Of them, Kuri-chan and Kyoko were probably the only ones who looked at the two companions locked in friendly banter and outrageous laughter. As for the rest of the girls, well, Ryu-kun had already started sharing his experience from the game with them.

Maybe not all of them. From the corner of her eye Kyoko saw Noriko-chan staring after the vanishing companions.

How long have you been looking at them? Blushing? I thought you weren't interested in guys. And it had to be them. Kyoko turned her head and looked more closely at Noriko-chan. You're way too short for me to stand in your shadow. Kuri-chan can have your brother for all I care, but I get to make the first pick between those two.

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