A few days earlier Kyoko turned on her heals when she saw Nao walk in on his girlfriend chatting with Ryu and Ai-chan. Or rather Kyoko turned because he walked in on the two girls chatting with each other while Ryu pretended to laze around.
She hadn't been far away enough to entirely avoid catching up on the topic which was the real reason she decided not to join. Besides Noriko wanted some time alone with Nao-sempai, and five of them would be even worse than four.
Now Kyoko turned on her heals when she walked in on Urufu and Kuri-chan quarrelling. It wasn't the first time the pair were involved in verbal fencing, but something in Urufu's voice betrayed an anger stronger than Kyoko had experienced before. Even though both of them spoke in Swedish it was clear to Kyoko that whatever they disagreed about had turned vitriolic some time ago.
She almost made it down the stairs before the heated discussion degenerated into fully fledged shouting, and Kyoko ran the last steps down before she was seen by any teacher arriving to defuse a possible fistfight.
With a heavy lump in her stomach Kyoko tapped her phone alive and stared at the photo delivered to her by an unknown sender. It showed Kuri-chan in a revealing dress outside what had to be some kind of nightclub. Even though the photo was shot in a cityscape and didn't reveal what time of year it was taken Kyoko knew enough to realise it had been shot last spring. Last spring when Kuri-chan still worked as a hostess.
Kyoko flipped away the photo and dialled Yukio. Right now she needed someone to share her worries with. Someone she could trust fully to stay by her side.
They met at Stockholm Haven café and when Kyoko entered Yukio already sat by a table in a corner. From the inner room she heard voices telling her a number of club-members had gathered after one of the spontaneous walking talking sessions that had become more and more common during Urufu's hospitalisation.
The main café was filled with the usual crowd of Himekaizen students generously sprinkled by Irishima high uniforms, but today for the first time Kyoko saw the red blazers signalling Red Rose Academy there as well.
The red and green of Red Rose stood out against the black gakuran and navy blue sailor uniforms from Irishima high. In contrast the muted, almost yellow, beige on black trousers from Himekaizen looked drab. Still, it was their café. Urufu had found it for them long before it became a popular hangout among the students.
Kyoko waved to Yukio, slipped inside the counter and into the narrow kitchen area. There she quickly changed into her work clothes before re-entering the café.
Working part time here didn't pay as well as Urufu's stunts, but she got a lot more hours here. Sometimes Noriko did hours here as well. Not because of any need but to get the experience she said. Yukio and Ryu helped out as well evenings that were especially busy.
Kyoko high fived the waitress, a university students who worked full hours Saturdays and Sundays, on her way out and started taking orders. James did all the work on the inside of the counter while Kyoko delivered orders to the tables and kept them clean of dishes.
She saw Yukio catching up on some of the items for tomorrow's full scale waling talking session while at the same time running a low voiced conversation over Skype with someone from their sister club in Sweden.
There was barely time to sneak over to his table from time to time to share a brief moment of hands touching or to playfully caress his hair when she hoped no-one saw. Well, James did from his position behind the counter, but he didn't seem to care as long as she kept up with her work. He smirked and rolled his eyes dramatically, but Kyoko knew it was all for show.
A couple of hours after she arrived the café entered an evening lull and Kyoko got James' permission to share Yukio's table for a short time. She showed him the photo and explained the circumstances.
Yukio put his tables aside and gave the photo a cursory look before he stared at her. Seeing Kuri-chan in scant clothing wasn't anything new for any of them. They had even been invited to a studio shoot earlier this autumn.
“Why do you have it?” Yukio asked.
“Someone sent it to me. I've never seen the email address.”
Yukio palmed his face and sighed. “Wrong question, sorry. Why do you have it. Why wasn't it sent to Kuri?”
Maybe it was, but Kyoko didn't know. The moment she decided not to intrude on Kuri-chan's and Urufu's fight was also the moment when she lost her chance to ask exactly that question.
“I don't know,” Kyoko admitted. She swallowed a mouthful of lukewarm tea while the thought about Yukio's question. Why had anyone bothered with sending her that photo. A warning? A threat? It didn't make any sense.
“OK, the important thing right now is that someone has a photo of Kuri that could be bad for her.”
“Bad. She could be expelled,” Kyoko said.
“Unless they can prove it was her job I don't think so. Besides Principal Nakagawa is on our side.”
“What do you think will happen if this blows up?”
Yukio screwed together his face until it was wrinkled like an overripe fruit. Then he sucked in some air and sighed again. “Don't know. Suspension for breaking curfew maybe. I honestly don't know.”
“Think we should tell them to stop spreading the rumours?”
Even though Kyoko was the one asking that question she suspected she knew part of the answer. Kuri-chan was her most important friend, but that also made her more aware of Kuri-chan's shortcomings, fifty years old or sixteen didn't matter when it came to those. Kuri-chan suffered from an overblown self-confidence, and since she started modelling again Kyoko had seen shadows of a personality she didn't care all that much for. There was something vengeful about Kuri-chan, an ugly resentfulness that made her keep jabbing at an opponent until she got a killing blow.
Yukio rose from his chair and went for the counter. “Why don't you ask her?” he said and waved at the door through which Kuri-chan and Urufu entered.