“You're a cute one.”
Noriko wheeled and looked up into a chest. She had to bend backwards to see the face. One of the models.
“Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. I apologise.”
“No problem. Shouldn't you be over there harassing Kuri like the rest of you?” Noriko pointed at where Kuri sat in the middle of a large group made up of most of the models and quite a few of her old fan-club. Urufu stood a bit away fiddling with the barbecue of all things when his girlfriend was being hit on.
“Takado Nao,” he said and reached out with his hand. Noriko shook it. “And no, I don't plan to harass her. She already has a boyfriend anyway, doesn't she?”
“Yeah,” Noriko said and nodded in Urufu's direction. “That one.”
“What about it?”
Takado-san guffawed and turned away from her. “Sorry, but it's just hilarious. I heard Shoji-kun got his arse handed to him by a guy in a business suit.
Noriko looked at the gaudy towel Urufu had draped himself in and wondered how the model possibly could have confused it for a suit.
“My girl, look at his trousers and shoes.”
I'm not you girl. Noriko did as she was told anyway. Oh, that pretty much what dad wears. Where's the rest? “I see, and what made you notice?”
“Model here. I work with clothes,” Takado-san answered. He looked down at her, and she could see how he made an effort not to seem condescending.
“Wakayama Noriko.” It was her turn to reach out a hand. He took it.
“Wakayama-san is it?”
“Do you mind if I chat with you for a while?”
She shrugged. “I don't mind, but shouldn't you hit on one of the beautiful ones over there?”
That earned her a laugh. “No thanks. I think I'll hit on the beautiful one right here instead.”
“Huh?” Noriko turned to see who had come up behind them before she finally understood the meaning in his words. “No way. Quit the bull. Cute, possibly, but beautiful is out of the question.”
Takado-san grinned. “Don't you think that's for me to decide? And just so we're clear here. I am hitting on you.”
That made her blush a little. He was stupidly good looking after all. “I like someone else,” she murmured.
Her heart almost stopped. Am I that transparent? Thank all gods Urufu already knows! “How?”
“I only work part time as a model. I'm a second year at Irishima High. Some of you guys at Himekaizen are pretty famous there.”
She looked at him. “Why aren't you an idiot like the rest?”
“That's harsh,” Takado-san said. “Actually it's only Shoji-kun who's an arse. The rest of the gang is over there to make sure he doesn't do something really stupid. Besides, why should you complain if she cheated on him?” he added and nodded at Urufu.
Noriko looked at Urufu who was momentarily lit up by flames as he put fire to the grills. Why should I? She glanced at the tall boy by her side. Why me? He should be making passes at Hitomi-chan instead. But it was a little flattering.
She tugged at his sleeve and felt the sand give way under her feet as she walked towards the group with Kuri in the centre. “Irishima High, you said?” There was something she had promised herself, even though she knew Ryu would frown at her decision. She held a small package tight to her chest and continued walking.
Behind her she heard him following. “Yeah, but I'm transferring to Himekaizen this autumn, so I hope to see more of you later.”
Around them heads turned as they passed scattered groups with club members, and she suddenly felt very self-aware. There were even a few cat-calls flying through the air, but they were good natured as if they were wishing her good luck.
I'm not nice and friendly like Ko-chan. I'm not beautiful like Kuri, so why are they treating me so kindly? “Transferring? But Irishima is so close. Why?”
“To be closer to you,” Takado-san said, and she could almost hear him grinning.
“Cut the crap,” she responded, but she couldn't help smiling. A few months ago I would have been overjoyed. “Besides you already know I like Urufu.”
“Dad's company went belly up some while ago. Himekaizen is cheaper, but it still has a pretty good liberal arts section.”
Ah, yes he said he was a second year. Has to pick between science and liberal arts. “You should join the club then,” Noriko said. And why did I suggest that? The answer was different than what she had thought. “I think Kuri could help you with your modelling if that's what you want to do.”
He coughed with amusement. “Ah, yes, she's your president, isn't she?” Then she felt a hand on her shoulder. “But I'm not going to hit on her anyway. Told you I'm interested in someone else.”
Noriko shook off the hand. They were almost there, but Kuri had already seen and flashed her a knowing smile and an approving nod. You're wrong Kuri. I still have my eyes on your boyfriend.
“Kuri, we bought something for Urufu, and I think you should be included.”
“For Ulf?” Kuri asked. It didn't matter how long they had known each other. Noriko couldn't get used to the strange pronunciation of Urufu's name, even though it must be the correct one.
“Yes. We found out his birthday was the fifteenth, but late is better than never I guess.”
“Birthday?” Kuri looked as if she had been struck. “Gods! I forgot!” She leaped to her feet with her hands on her mouth. “How could I? He told me!”
Seeing the tears of panic that rose to Kuri's eyes Noriko felt relieved she hadn't chosen the petty solution and handed over the gift from her and her brother where Kuri could see and feel left out. “Kuri. Kuri! Do you want to be part of his birthday gift?”
“Come with me then,” Noriko said and turned. But she still wanted to be at least a little bit petty. “I'll give it to him, OK?”
She couldn't hear if the sigh was one of defeat or gratitude, but Kuri followed her to the grills.
“Urufu, do you have a moment?”
He looked up from his grills and shot her a questioning glance. “Yes, why?”
“We had planned a little something, but with all the chaos we forgot, I'm afraid.” No, I'm not going to be that petty. “Earlier we asked Kuri, and we agreed that you might like this,” Noriko lied. She could feel Kuri hold her arm and tighten the grip. This time there was no question that the gesture was one of gratitude.
“Your birthday, moron-sama!”
“My… oh I forgot myself. Sorry Kuri, my bad.”
“From Kuri, Ryu and me, happy birthday,” Noriko said and held out the gift with both hands.
“Thank you, but where is Ryu?”
“He's here,” Ryu's voice said from the other side of the grills. He scratched his nose and frowned at her.
Urufu stared at the wrapped box he held in his hand. “Something I can open here?”
“Please do,” Ryu said.
Kuri gasped when Urufu had torn off the paper and held up a box. It had been their father's idea. Something apparently only adults could understand. “Guys, I can't accept… this is too much...”
Noriko didn't understand what the big deal was. It was only an old fashioned pen named after some mountain in Europe. But apparently Kuri knew, and if Ryu's gaping jaw was something to go after, so did her brother.
“Urufu, you bought her a bloody bike, so don't you dare to complain!” Her brother had come to the rescue.
You really did grow up, didn't you? Is it that expensive?
“The kid gets a Mont Blanc. Are you for real?” a stubbled man beside Urufu laughed. “You win, kiddo. If you can afford that kind of birthday gift I'll join your team.”
Your team? What just happened? How expensive is that toy really?
“I'll treasure it, and I promise to use it. Thank you!” Urufu turned and hugged a stunned Ryu, then to her her great discomfort he hugged her as well. He smelled of charcoal and some kind of men's perfume. The embarrassing hug finished all too soon and she saw him pull Kuri into a tight embrace. “Thank you, Christina. You know me better than I thought.”
Over his shoulder Noriko met Kuri's eyes. They were filled with guilt, but they were smiling still, and filled with tears. Behind his back Kuri made a thumbs up gesture and shortly after her face appeared beside Urufu's arm. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Kuri mouthed silently, and the tears ran freely down her face.
Kuri, you're a great friend. I'm happy I decided to bring you in on this, Noriko thought. She only felt relief that she hadn't taken the easy way out.