When Noriko awoke it was already dark and the train was slowing down. Beside her her brother had curled up on his seat and fallen asleep.
Lucky it's only us in this car, she thought when she saw a couple of his fans fast asleep on the floor. Idiot bro, pick some fans with brains will you?
Outside she could make out the shadows of some houses flickering past in the cold whiteness from street lights, and ahead of them she saw how those lights gathered together in a small cluster. Almost there. I'd better wake them up.
She started to shake one of the girls on the floor awake. Hitomi-chan, is it? One of the new ones, and a real beauty. “Kojima Hitomi!” Isn't she in Urufu's class? Noriko threw a glance further ahead in the car until she saw Kuri's golden hair. But for you this girl could have carved out a kingdom of her own in Himekaizen. And Hitomi-chan could still become a rival for Urufu's attention should his and Kuri's relation turn sour. Secretly Noriko allowed herself some satisfaction that the classic beauty had chosen to hover around Ryu instead. “Kojima Hitomi, wake up!” Beautiful, but not too smart. Ryu would never fall for you, but you wouldn't understand why.
The girl groaned sleepily but started to wake, and Noriko turned her attention to Midori-chan with her huge unruly hair. Get to a hairdresser some day! You know you'd be really cute if you fixed your hair? “Midori-chan, wake up! We've arrived.”
In the meantime more and more of the members woke up as the train screeched and slowly came to a halt. When the driver came in from the car in front there was no sign of teenagers sleeping on the floor, and Noriko sighed in relief as she shouldered her backpack and left the car.
It was time for the more underhanded part of their field trip. Outside her parents waited. Outwardly to show off the money available to a spoiled and rich kid by paying for all the taxi rides, and later for their rooms, but that wouldn't have explained the presence of Urufu's guardian.
Noriko greeted her parents with a wave and bowed to Sato-sensei. From the corner of her eyes she could see Urufu do the same but opposite, waving to his guardian and bowing deeply to her parents. As far as he knew the adults were there to secure Kuri's independence from her more than a little shady guardian. Well, he didn't need to know everything right now. Not in the state he was in.
It was time to play the obedient daughter to give Sato-sensei a good impression of their family. After that the adults could commit to the business on their own.
“Mother, father,” Noriko said and gave them a cursory bow. “This is Hamarugen Urufu and his girlfriend Ageruman Kuritina.” She turned to Sato-sensei. “It's my pleasure to meet you.”
“Such a polite child. You brought her up well,” Sato-sensei said to her parents in a tone that told Noriko that she hadn't been taken in at all by Noriko's childish attempt at acting. And it hadn't even been all acting. Anyone who earned Urufu's trust deserved respect.
Noriko stood still under the lamplight and watched their group grow smaller and smaller as they vanished four and four into taxi cabs that drove away into the darkness. Just think of anything for a while and pretend you're reflecting on your actions. Like the trip. Four days and three nights. As field trips go this is a long one, and with a train ride like this it had better be. She shook her head. Should have taken the Shinkansen instead, but I guess most parents would have balked at the cost.
She decided she had weathered out Sato-sensei's displeasure long enough and rose. Noriko sensed how her brother had shared her discomfort and stood to attention behind her. He was funnily loyal that way, always trying to shield her from the brunt of adult attacks.
“Why don't the four of you take the next taxi?” her mother suggested.
Mom, that's your game voice! Noriko turned and caught Sato-sensei giggling. I've been had! They turned my act on me and I bought it all! She smirked and curtsied ironically in the old-style western way. Gah! You got me real good this time.
“Sis?” Ryu said.
He knew her antics when she needed to admit defeat. This time he just didn't know what had happened. “Nothing,” she said in return. “nothing but me being childish,” she finished as she climbed into the waiting car. She could see her mother and Sato-sensei nodding in agreement.
They're up to something, and I thought we were the schemers here. She'd ask her mother directly later. There was no fooling her, and it didn't matter. As far as Noriko was concerned her mother was made of pure awesome, and she knew her brother shared that sentiment, even if he'd never admit it to his fans. Friends probably, but not fans.
Ryu took the front seat and Noriko moved away to let Kuri into the middle. Normally Noriko would have been saddled with that seat, which wouldn't have minded her at all as it would have left her squeezed to Urufu, but right now he desperately needed Kuri's presence.
They buckled up and left the station. It wasn't until then that Noriko noted that none of the wingmen had taken care of their charges. Kyoko, Yukio, what's happening? You need to wake up from that rose tinted dream of yours. Love birds in paradise and all that, but I need you back. Both of you.
The taxi snaked its way into the darkness on roads Noriko only dimly remembered from an earlier childhood. In front of her she could see the frowning profile of her brother as he pushed his nose to the window. He must be struggling to remember just like she was.
A friend, or a business partner, or most likely both. Someone who knew their parents and owned a resort. She dimly recalled an old fashioned onsen by the sea and how she had played there with her brother. She couldn't remember anything more.
Beside her Kuri and Urufu ran a silent conversation in the melodic language of theirs. From their voices it didn't seem the topic was anything they wanted to keep a secret, more like loving memories from a different life best expressed in the language they had each lived that life in.
She envied them a little, and it hurt a little, but if she was to be true to her love for Urufu she had to admit that he needed Kuri above anything else.
Noriko would give her support to both of them. She had promised herself that and even come up with this harebrained plan of hers. To her astonishment her parents went with the plan without saying a word, and Noriko pondered on that as the taxi drove up on the courtyard and stopped.