Noriko left the hospital feeling more down than she had expected. While she didn't visit Urufu every day like Yukio and Kuri she still went to see her friend often enough to notice how much better he made her feel after a visit.
Should be the other way around, she thought.
She couldn't exactly pinpoint why she felt depressed. Maybe because they were wrapped up in their midterm exams and Urufu couldn't attend them.
“What's on your mind?” Nao wondered.
Noriko shook her head and grasped his hand just a little tighter. “Thank you for understanding,” she said rather than answering his question.
He smiled down at her. “Don't worry. I know you still have feelings for him, and he's a good guy at that.”
Do I? Noriko wasn't certain any longer. Urufu being hurt made her angry, but thinking of him didn't fill her stomach with butterflies the way seeing Nao did.
They made it to the bus stop and climbed the first one heading downtown. When they got off she noticed how those they met smiled at them.
Huh? What's so funny? Then it struck her they were still holding hands. The photo model with his midget girlfriend. Yeah I guess it could look funny.
She tugged Nao's hand closer to herself and felt strangely happy that she had something else than Urufu to worry about. Do we really look that comical? She guessed they did. She just a bit over a metre and a half and him at closer to a hundred and ninety.
“Notice the smiles?” Noriko asked at last.
“Uhum. They're hiding their jealousy,” Nao said.
'They' being the girls I guess, Noriko thought glumly.
“The girls as well,” Nao said, deliberately twisting his comforting words into a self-conscious joke.
“You, you, you!” She couldn't but stop and give him a light box in his stomach. Then Noriko grinned and hugged him. “Thanks for making me laugh! Thanks for making me feel loved!”
“But you make it so easy,” Nao replied without a moment of hesitation.
You say all the right things, and you do all the right things as well. “You make me blush,” Noriko said and dug her face into his shirt.
Nao held her tight and combed through her hair with long, slender fingers. “You know, I'm worried as well.”
The words made her step apart from him. Doing so she saw how public their display was just outside a subway station, but she didn't care.
“Worried about what? They said he'll recover fully.”
“Ah, not about that,” Nao said and laughed. “He'll miss out on a full month. What about his midterms?”
Noriko choked down a reply. She couldn't tell Nao that Principal Nakagawa guaranteed Urufu's private tutoring. More precisely she couldn't tell Nao Principal Nakagawa did the tutoring in person, and of all things she could never tell Nao that Urufu probably didn't need any tutoring apart from written Japanese in the first place.
I keep secrets from my own boyfriend. Makes me a role model girlfriend I guess, Noriko thought and smirked.
“When do you think he'll be discharged?” she asked, more to switch topic than anything else.
“I know as little as you do. A week, maybe two if how he acts when we visit is any indication,” Nao suggested.
“That's November,” Noriko said. “I feel bad for him.”
“He'll make a full recovery. Let's be happy about that.”
As usual Nao focussed on the most important, but in this case he didn't have all the information needed. He didn't know that Kuri was on a vengeance rampage, and Noriko made sure he didn't have a clue about how she had agreed to help Kuri when the dirty affair blew up in the face of the Red Rose board of directors. And Kuri had promised that if would blow up nastier than anything they had ever experienced before.
Noriko sighed silently. Promises were just promises, or that's how the real world usually turned out, but with Kuri… With Kuri you barely had time for a snarky comment before she delivered on her promise and then some.
What was it you said again? Don't mistake me for the empress of Japan. Think of Caligula or Nero instead. Noriko shivered at the memory. What made you say something awful like that?
Until lately it had never occurred to Noriko that Kuri maybe was loved, or at least desired by many, but that she all too often loathed herself.
“You're silent,” Nao said, stating the obvious.
Noriko turned and dragged him in the direction of a café. “Sorry.”
“It's my treat,” he said.
She didn't bother protesting. He could afford it, as could she. Eating out barely made a dent in their respective wallets, and she had long since learned to be careful when going out with her friends. With Nao, however, she didn't have to.
“You know,” she said when they came indoors, “it feels like we're just waiting for something to happen.” It was as close as she could afford telling him something big was coming down on them all.
“6:1 to get their students back?” Nao said.
Noriko knew he was referring more to the other two victims of the car accident than to Urufu. Both were slated for discharge within a few days.
“Two coffee and two vanilla ice cream,” Noriko said to the waitress and made certain she returned out of earshot. “No, I'm thinking of how uneasy 9:1 is,” Noriko said as if she had heard rumours about that class. Well, the students in 9:1 should be uneasy given that they were involved in covert warfare with their hated, old school.
“9:1, you say. I don't hear anything apart from what's said in the club, and with midterms nothing much happens there.”
“No other rumours?” Noriko asked.
“Sorry, but they're freshmen all of them. It's not like we juniors talk a lot about you.” Nao made a grimace in an attempt to show her that he meant no offence.
We have to change that. Kuri wants the rumours to spread out of control. “Oh, I didn't know. So you only talk about Kuri?”
Nao blanched. “It's not that bad, but there are not all that many freshmen who are well known among us.
With a sweet smile that made her stomach crawl Noriko looked at her boyfriend. “I see. Well I guess it can't be helped,” she lied.