Monday, 30 May 2016

Chapter two (segment six), 2016, December, Ulf

Long before they came back to their flat Ulf regretted the way he had treated the man from that black car. Maybe it was unavoidable, but that still didn't make it right.

While Amaya parked the car Ulf ran up the stairs and hurried inside. There was a little something he needed to do that involved a computer and their television set. More exactly it involved connecting his laptop to the media-box and making certain all signals went through the way he wanted.

Ulf got his confirmation before Christina arrived together with Amaya, and he hastily closed the lid and hid his laptop behind the TV.

They barely made it inside the door before Amaya threw a hand to her mouth in the worst attempt at acting Ulf had seen for a very long time.

My my, I forgot the cake! No worries, I'll just leave and get it. Should take about half an hour.”

What are you up to now?

Ageruman-san, that should be enough time for you to take a bath. Thirty minutes.”

What the hell?

And Amaya was suddenly on the outside of the door.
Left inside was Christina who stood facing the door with her arms hanging by her side. Despite watching her back Ulf knew she was grinning wildly, and blushing while doing so.

Take a bath. Sheesh! Thank you Amaya!

Half an hour, it turned out, was more than enough for the kind of bath Amaya had in mind for them when she left to fetch a cake Ulf was certain had never been forgotten in the first place.

Two flustered teenagers with the experience of most of a full life each tried preparing food pretending that nothing had happened. In that sense the doctor Principal Nakagawa had brought with him down at the beach resort during August was right. All that experience couldn't prevent Ulf from behaving like a teen, and from what he saw of Christina, neither could she.

But you're cuter this way, he thought and was rewarded with yet another deep red blush.

He sliced up some green vegetables for their mostly Japanese Christmas dinner when he heard keys inserted in the door and Amaya returned with an overly loud greeting.

You never wait in the doorway like that when you come home. Amaya, you're sweet. Thank you, I really mean it.

Then his guardian must have heard the sound from the kitchen and entered the flat. Ulf could hear her dropping off her shoes in the hallway.

Beside him Christina flared red once again and busied herself with something that would give her another few seconds before she had to face Amaya.

Christina, in what alternate universe do you believe Amaya would expect us not to have shared a bed until now?

Ulf shook his head and smiled down at the food he prepared. Then he felt his own face heat up and realised he was just as prone to blush as Christina right now.

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

Embarrassed for the very reason that he could still become so embarrassed he left the kitchen and rushed into the small living room. There he busied himself with laptop, cables and the TV.

After a minor eternity he had finished his work and checked the time. Almost three pm.

I hope you like my Christmas gift for you Christina. It's the only thing special for Sweden I could think of.

Christina, could you come in here? Dishes can wait,” he called.

Amaya stared at the laptop hooked up to her TV. “Why?” she asked. Shouldn't the two of you get ready for your Christmas date instead?”

Trust me, Ulf said. Just trust me.”

Can't it wait?” Christina shouted from the kitchen.

Sorry, no. It's three pm.”

Eh?” She came out into the living room with hands still wet from preparing food and washing some dishes.

The TV screen flared into life and lit up the room with a very old Disney cartoon.

Trust me, Amaya, trust me,” Ulf said again. I hope you like it Christina.

Christina sagged in the door opening. “Ulf?” Then she dropped to her knees. “Ulf, no way!”

I'm sorry I could only get last year's show, but I guess you missed it anyway.”

Ulf, how could you...”

How could I not? Merry Christmas Christina!”

She was crying silently when she crawled on her knees across the floor, and she was sobbing loudly enough for Amaya to hear when she grabbed Ulf and pulled him into her arms.

For once I want you to be a little kid again and just enjoy Christmas. I love you, I love you so very much. Merry Christmas.

He cradled her tall body in his arms and met Amaya's perplexed look. “Swedish tradition,” he whispered and nodded at the TV.

But why?” Amaya mouthed and stared at Christina who lay in his lap smiling and sobbing at the same time.

When we grew up this was Christmas. Stupid tradition, I know, but the entire nation used to drop everything at three pm sharp and watch this show.”

Amaya smiled and nodded. “And you wanted to bring some of that back to her?”

Ulf hugged Christina closer to him. “She deserves is.” Then he burrowed his face in her hair and revelled in the luxury of slowly drying hair full with the smell of the girl he loved.

You're a good man,” he heard Amaya say. “I knew that from the beginning. An arrogant and cocky bastard, but a good one.”

He wasn't clear why she heaped this kind of praise over him right now, but he felt grateful for it, and with Christina in his arms some of the feeling of wonder from Christmases past returned to him.

He sat there watching snippets of old animated films flicker on the screen, saw them but didn't really register them. For him that one hour long show had long since become the backdrop for Christmas, and now he just enjoyed silently sharing those memories with Christina.

Somewhere far back in his mind he wondered how the rest of the gang enjoyed their Christmas.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Chapter two (segment five), 2016, December, Christina

Christina stood waiting in the foyer to her apartment complex. Hers since less than a month. Her luxury living and her prison.

Outside the car chauffeured by someone on Vogue's payroll stood parked on the other side of the street.

Damn, I was so smart I fooled myself, she had time to think before her worries about whatever plans Ulf's guardian had in mind took command.

'We'll celebrate Christmas at my place,' Ulf had promised.

She wasn't clear how he thought he could manage that. Her bodyguard, the very same who had followed her like an obedient dog the last months had taken position by the doors, but he was unlikely to prevent her from leaving. The main problem was the security attached to that car.

Looking at her smart-phone Christina saw how morning marched towards noon, and soon Sato-sensei would be here to pick her up. Christina didn't really understand how she thought she'd manage to bypass security, but then Ulf guardian could be really scary when she put her mind to it.

To hide her nervousness Christina walked to a mirror by the elevators and examined herself. Dolled up for certain, but not too gaudy. She hoped she hadn't overdone it. Just enough to show respect for a home you entered for the first time was what she had in mind. A good plan in theory, but a plan based on the life experiences of the Princess of Scandinavia and the Billion Dollar Empress. How did normal people dress up?

Just get here and we'll see if I can get away from this place.

She twirled and gave her appearance another look. Probably too gaudy after all, but Christina refused to give in to her fears and return to her flat just to change clothes yet another time.

Come on, she thought and shot a glance through the windows. Seeing nothing she dared leaving the building. If she cooled down outside maybe the worst of her nervousness would abate.

Three steps, only three steps she managed to walk outside before her bodyguard filed up behind her, and another four until a rear door opened and another personnel security specialist left the car. That translated to an expensive bodyguard.

Are you for real? But they were. She believed her old bodyguard might sympathise with her. He'd probably just insist on tagging along to Ulf's home and wait for her there. Vogue's goons were different though.

Then, finally, a car Christina recognised arrived and came to a stop on her side of the street. After a few moments both Ulf and Sato-sensei left it. Ulf went to the rear and opened the trunk and Sato-sensei walked towards Christina with a smile on her face.


Christina nodded but looked at the gorilla crossing the street to intercept Ulf's guardian.

Urufu, get her luggage, will you?”

Yes mother dear,” he answered.

Did you fight on the way here? Christina had heard about the reason for him to be that polite. Experienced it as well that day when she was attacked in her home.

Mrs, she'll ride with us wherever she's going,” the gorilla announced.

Sato-sensei gave him a scathing glare. “I think not. She's my guest and she'll go with me.”

I'm afraid I cannot allow that,” he said and pumped up his chest in what probably was supposed to be a threatening pose.

That's none of my concern. Leave now!”

I cannot do that, Mrs?”

That would be 'I cannot do that, Lieutenant Colonel' for you. Dismissed!”

Christina realised she was throwing glances at them both and moving her head as if she was watching a tennis match. When she accepted she was at a total loss as for what to do Ulf came up behind Sato-sensei and grabbed her luggage.

Tag along,” he said. “Mother dear will handle this.”

From the corner of her eye Christina saw that Ulf's guardian sported an earpiece, and then they passed her and walked towards the car Ulf had arrived in. The gorilla intercepted them both and made a grab for Christina before Ulf stepped in between them.

Fuck off kid!”

That was the only thing the suited man had a chance to say before he sagged and was led back to the street by Ulf like a drunk.

I've heard rumours. I didn't think they were true. There was something with the way Ulf held one arm of the would be assaulter.

Ageruman-san, would you want help with that?” That voice came from her bodyguard before he lifted her luggage and dropped it in the trunk. “May I assume your destination is his home?” he asked and pointed at Ulf who was busy throwing the gorilla into the street.

Mutely Christina nodded.

If you excuse me I'll get a transport there, Please don't leave without contacting me.”

Christina nodded again. “No, no I won't do that.”

Behind her she heard Sato-sensei calling for what had to be some kind of uniformed support. The overblown lies about an unprovoked assault by possible yakuza members made Christina cringe, but by now it was absolutely clear that the Vogue security detail would be impounded very soon.

She shook her head and walked the last steps to the car. Grinning wildly she opened a rear door and took her place in the back seat. It seemed like she would be able to celebrate Christmas after all.

Stop playing with him!” Sato-sensei's voice shouted from outside the car. It had to be a reference to whatever manhandling Ulf was guilty of.

I'll get you for this you fuck!” That also came from the outside.

Then Christina saw how two police cars arrived and came to a stop, and the shouting ceased.

Note to self, don't make Sato-sensei angry, Christina thought, but then she grinned and hugged herself. Christmas with Ulf. Yes!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Chapter two (segment four), 2016, December, Yukio

Yukio recalled how Urufu had fallen silent from just before they joined the year's end ceremony. He'd stayed silent throughout all of it, and when they waved goodbye afterwards Urufu only grunted something that you needed to be a good friend to understand that it was actually a greeting and not an insult.

It put a damper on his planned date with Kyoko. Both his dates with her. After their part time hours at the Stockholm Haven café they'd slowly make their way home and stop at the old mall. A mini date of sorts. The real one was Christmas Eve, and he'd already bought her gift.

I know you said not to, but I did anyway. A knitted scarf, and it had been just as expensive as Kyoko had feared, but Yukio didn't care. She said she had plenty of them, but he'd only seen her wearing the atrocity that didn't even serve as a worn out rug.

He dropped off yet another order at a table and returned for more. By now the cheerful booing and wolf whistles had subsided and both he and Kyoko were busy moving a never ending stream of orders from counter to tables.

Today their club celebrated the end of their second term and combined that event with a singles party for club members and their friends. With a bit of luck a few of them wouldn't have to join similar parties on Christmas eve or Christmas day.

As the only couple present both he and Kyoko had about heard it all by now, usually accompanied by boos and whistles, but he decided it was well worth it. Mainly because Kyoko shone like a sun and threw him a joyful glance whenever someone laughingly showed their displeasure with boyfriend and girlfriend working together at a singles party.

Last order?” Kyoko shouted from a nearby table when Yukio picked up yet another tray from the counter.

Last order.” James confirmed from the opening to the kitchen.

Yukio looked up and met the eyes of his employer. Ashiga James, and after a long time of demands finally James even to Yukio and Kyoko. Getting used to call a ten year older person by his first name had taken a toll on them both.

James was also the third arrival Yukio knew of, even though he suspected there were more of them, and that both Urufu and Kuri knew more than they had told him.

Kyoko, corners first and then change. I'll clean out the tables before I change.”

She nodded back at him and went for one of the trays James placed on the counter.

With his hands full Yukio went for the table closest to the entrance, placed the items ordered on the table and filled his tray with used mugs and plates.

After another two runs he was done, and from there on he concentrated on removing used kitchenware from the café proper. Inside the kitchen James for once had a part timer doing the dishes, and the poor sod would have to prove his mettle for another two evenings.

Kyoko, ready?” Yukio said as he grabbed his coat after receiving James' go ahead to finish for the day.

She smiled back and shouldered her bag, and together they left the café to the jeering of their club members inside.

Home or detour?” Kyoko wondered when they had walked a block.

She had changed since he got to know her. These days Kyoko wasn't afraid to come with a suggestion. At least Yukio believed she had changed, but if he was honest with himself he didn't know if this was a side of her she just hadn't shown him earlier.

Home,” he answered. Don't want to push my luck. We have a date scheduled for tomorrow. Which meant they had a date Kyoko's parents had accepted. Yukio didn't know for certain what would happen to it should Kyoko come home too late.

Sure, walk me home?”


Yukio hadn't planned anything else. He'd collect the bike he used by the mall Urufu-style and walk it all the way to her home. Then he'd ride it home just as they had agreed to with Principal Nakagawa.

Mail me tomorrow?” Kyoko said as they passed the school and began the route he and Urufu usually took the few days they still returned via the mall.

And they've become fewer. Either he's with Kuri, even if that happens depressingly seldom, or I'm with Kyoko.

Yeah, I will,” he said, but his thoughts weren't into the answer, rather thinking of Urufu Yukio suddenly wondered how his friend had planned to make his date with Kuri come true. A dark car with tinted windows drove her to and from school almost every day.

Worried about Kuri-chan and Urufu?” Kyoko wondered by his side.

You know how that just makes me love you even more? That mind-reading ability of yours?


Kuri-chan told me she'll be picked up by Urufu and Sato-sensei tomorrow.”

Someone who goes as his mother. Yeah, should help some. Somehow Kyoko's words lifted one small burden from him, and he grabbed her left hand and squeezed.

Thank you. Thank you for thinking of both our friends.”

He's your important friend, was what you were thinking? Well, stop it. Urufu's my friend as well.”

Yukio bowed his head and took a few steps. Scolded by his girlfriend. Yeah, Kyoko definitely had changed since they first met.

Uhum, same with Kuri,” he said, but that wasn't entirely true. He respected her, but there was something cold to the tall beauty that made him keep his distance. Kuri wasn't really someone he'd have made friends with in the first place hadn't it been for Urufu, and in difference from Urufu her lifelong experience shone through most of the time. She just didn't pretend to be a teenage kid.

I'm glad you think of her as a friend,” Kyoko's voice said from his right.

The words made him feel a little ashamed, but he still couldn't help how he felt about Urufu's girlfriend.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Chapter two (segment three), 2016, December, Ulf

Aren't you going dating on Christmas?”

As in going out? Why?”

Yukio stared at him. “Lover's day, you know?”


Christmas eve. One of the number one dating days in the year.”

It is?”

He received yet another stare.

Well, unless you've been living under a rock you'd have known that.”

Now when you mention it. No, I haven't been living under a rock. Christmas is family in Sweden. You don't go out.” Ulf thought about it for a moment. “OK, I don't know about youngsters these days, but for me Christmas is a day you spend at home with those most important to you. You can ask Christina. I think she'll say the same thing.”

Ulf thought about it. Japan wasn't a nation with a Christian background. Christmas and Easter came with traditions back home. If they were celebrated here at all they had to be purely commercial events. Kind of like Halloween in Sweden. Besides he'd spent last Christmas cooped up in that juvenile delinquent institution they sent him to after he got expelled from Red Rose Hell.

And no, he didn't intend to spend Christmas out. Christina had already agreed to spend it with him and Amaya. First she said something about staying home, but Christmas alone was just too sad a thought for him to accept. So he nagged until she caved in.

Yukio looked back at him from across the table. Soon they'd leave their soon to be former club room and walk down the stairs and to the gym for the year's end ceremony, and after that two weeks of winter break.

Former? By now most of what they needed had been moved to Stockholm Haven café, and the room looked pretty much like any other classroom in the school. Apart from the table and the sofa that didn't make the move. Ulf guessed someone would clean those out during the break.

What about you?” he asked in return.

Kyoko,” Yukio said as if that explained everything.

Ulf rose from his seat and beckoned to his friend to do the same. “I guess this is it,” he said and left for the door.

We made a lot of memories in here,” Yukio said.

The sound of the door sliding shut behind them signalled the end of something. And a new beginning? Well, they certainly had experienced a lot in the room they left. “Yeah,” Ulf said at a lack of words. “The best hangout for second term.”

Man, what's with that depressing voice?”

Depressed. I guess it shows, but it's not about the club. Ulf forced a smile to his lips. Not going to burden you with my problems. Have a great holiday!

Nothing. Just gonna miss the old place,” Ulf said and hoped he sounded sincere enough for Yukio to buy the lie.

They walked down the stairs to the entrance floor and were joined by second and third years heading for the gym. A stiff thousand students inside the gym was cramming it, but it was doable. Ulf wondered how they planned to solve that problem come April, but they must have done so many years ago when all thirty six classrooms were in use.

Three more months until I've done my second stunt as a first year high school student. He shrugged and slapped Yukio's back to remove those kinds of thoughts. Real first years didn't think about April just prior to winter break. Real first years only thought of the break ahead of them.


Hurry up kiddo. We're running late.”

Yeah yeah, whatever, baldy,” Yukio said, but his grin belied the insult.

Soon they were hugging the school building and freezing now when the unseasonal rain finally had abated and the temperature dropped to more proper and miserable levels.

More or less any other day he'd change in the boys' locker room and walk out the other side of it before going to the gym, which cut the distance to almost nothing. Now the entire school was heading there, and both locker rooms were off limits.

Ulf wrapped his arms around himself when a sudden gust of wind told him they'd rounded the left wing and were heading towards the football field.

Man,” Yukio began, “did you ever find out why the Red Rose bastards jumped you?”

No,” Ulf answered. Because there probably wasn't an easy answer. By now he was certain it really had nothing to do with Red Rose, or at least nothing to do with the corporate part of Red Rose. “Friends of friends I guess,” he continued.

Both boys walked almost sideways to avoid the worst of the wind, but it did little to prevent Ulf from freezing his arse off.

Friends of friends?”

Yeah, even bastards have friends you know.”

I don't get you, man,” Yukio said. The words came out a bit whiny, but Ulf chose to attribute that to the bone-chilling wind rather than any dissatisfaction with his explanation.

We put the guys who attacked Noriko through hell, remember?”

Yukio nodded.

You'd better. You helped carry two of them away. And as far as those people are concerned I'm responsible for that suicide. “I believe it was as simple as revenge. They just wanted to beat the crap out of me.”

Anything else didn't make any sense. Ganging up on an arrival was inviting disaster. Ulf couldn't see anyone creating a covert organisation for handling the likes of him and Christina and then just accept when their investment was sent to hospital.

But there sure are people who hate us now. I'm afraid we haven't seen all the crap hitting the fan yet. Which was the bad thing. He could handle crap, and if he was honest with himself, so could Christina. It was just that he wanted to protect her. Her needing protection or not just didn't come into the picture. I guess that makes me a chauvinist pig. Then so be it. I love her, I want to see her happy. If that's old fashioned then I'll refuse to become modern.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Chapter two (segment two), 2016, December, Kyoko

That's just not fair!”

And she's only a first year. Some people just get everything for free.”

At least she's no up there.”

Well, she's a bimbo after all.”

Kyoko grimaced but said nothing as the indignant conversation to her right continued. To a degree she could understand the two juniors.

But it wasn't for free, was it? You kept swimming after all. And with those long legs Kuri-chan must have had an easier time eating up the distance. In the end she made the top ten and second best among the freshmen.

Sporting a happier grin on her lips Kyoko looked up at the wall. Unsurprisingly Kuri-chan's name wasn't anywhere to be seen, and neither was her own. More out of loyalty than anything else she looked for Yukio and Urufu, but as she knew their names were absent as well. Ryu squeezed in at number 45 and Noriko regained her third place.

They'd all go visit Ryu after school. He lay sick at home with a fever he caught after he collapsed little over halfway into the marathon earlier this week.

You moron! Kyoko thought and glared at Noriko. What were you thinking forcing Ryu to keep up with Urufu?

'I'm worried' the midget idiot mumbled in an attempt to defend herself a day earlier. You'd better be worried. Did it ever occur to you how much time Urufu spends training?

Because in the end Urufu won his bet with Kuri-chan when he proved the difference between cynical calculation and youthful ambition. For nine kilometres and seven hundred metres he had clung to the backside of a sophomore track and field distance runner close enough to pull his jersey had he wanted. The remaining three hundred metres turned into a display of applied humiliation. Urufu crossed the finishing line before the second year even reached the school grounds.

Still, the talk among the girls made Kyoko seethe with anger. Kuri-chan wasn't allowed her upset while Urufu turned into an instant hero.

The bimbo in question came up behind her and leaned her head over Kyoko's shoulder. “I don't mind,” Kuri-chan said. “Let them talk.”

The conversation turned into a whisper, and both juniors edged away from them. Kyoko didn't know if they felt ashamed or if they just wanted to get away from Kuri-chan's presence.

You?” Kyoko wondered and looked up at the wall.

Kuri-chan followed her eyes and smiled. “Two make-up exams. Just wait for the last trimester. I'll get a passing grade all over at my first try.”

Which two?”

Math and Japanese. Won't be a problem. You?”

Hundred and five,” Kyoko said. Her sessions with Yukio had paid off. “Yukio made number hundred and twenty, so I beat him again.”

They stood looking at each other.

One make-up exam,” Kuri-chan finally said. “English.”

English?” It made absolutely no sense. Urufu taught English to the rest of the club.”

Kuri-chan smirked before answering. “He says his English teacher is an idiot. I say Ulf is an idiot for keeping up that private war of his.”

What happened?”

Ulf thought it was a good idea to point out five errors on the exam paper, in writing. He got slammed for it and called to the teachers' room.”

Yeah, he's a moron all-right. “And?”

If he says there were five errors then there were five errors. He's the one with a master's degree, not the teacher.”

He's got a master's degree? It was all too easy to forget that both Urufu and Kuri-chan had left their high school years behind them a long time ago. Kyoko hadn't thought about any of them pursuing an academic career in their previous life. But he's still a moron. You just don't talk back to the teachers.

We come from a very different world,” Kuri-chan said as if she had read Kyoko's mind. “From my experience there's nothing wrong with pointing out a teacher mistake. Sure, Ulf's taking it way too far, but still.”

And you admire him all the more for it. At least be honest with yourself. Kyoko could only shake her head. Urufu and Kuri-chan quarrelled from time to time, but much more often they looked at each other with what was best described as adoration. In a way they were each other's fanatical one-person fan-club.

And what does that make Yukio and me? The question caught her by sudden surprise but also with realisation. We're not the same. Kuri-chan and Urufu are used to being the centre of attraction, or at least Kuri-chan is. Given a closer thought Kyoko decided it was probably true for Urufu as well, even though in a different way.

You're silent,” Kuri-chan observed.

I just found something out,” Kyoko said. “About the two of you.” There was no reason to be anything but open with Kuri-chan. Their friendship might have changed since summer, but both tried their best to be honest.

Winter break next I guess,” Kuri-chan said and looked past the shoe-lockers and across the school-yard.

Kyoko tugged at her friend's sleeve and pulled her towards the stairwell. Halfway there the sounds of excited, sullen and happy students watching the wall had faded behind them.

What are you doing for Christmas?” Kyoko asked as they started up the stairs.


Well, unless you're stuck with complementary lessons,” Kyoko said and managed to squeeze in a rather blunt warning that her friend had better be serious about her make-up exams.

Kuri-chan just laughed and climbed another flight. “I'll have a batch of those, but not because of the make-ups. I'm taking middle school level lessons in Japanese.

Kyoko knew about the cram school her friend tried to keep a secret, so she didn't say anything. “Apart from that. I guess you're not joining the party,” she added and grinned.

For the singles? Don't think so. I've got Ulf.”

There was something forlorn in the voice that made Kyoko look closer at her. Keep fighting. We'll help you.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chapter two (segment one), 2016, December, Ryu

Finals came and went as did any reasonable chance for the golden couple to spend much time with each other.

Together with his sister Ryu created small windows of opportunities. They owed those friends at least that much.

With the help of Yukio and Kyoko Ryu managed to turn the club into a dating central for Urufu and Kuri, and despite failing to make most of those dates come true a few fell through the tightening net around the two of them.

This was one of them, or rather this wasn't one of them but it was. A freezing morning saw the student body line up for five respectively ten kilometres of wet depression. While the girls ran a different course than the boys everyone still gathered at the same place before the start. That place being the soccer field.

Boring!” someone shouted from somewhere in the middle of the crowd.

Got to agree with you on that one, Ryu thought, but he knew he'd place among the best of the first years. Maybe among the top fifty in the school, which was more than decent considering juniors and seniors participated as well.

I'm worried,” Noriko said.

Worried about what?” Ryu replied and threw a sidelong glance at his sister.

She looked back at him, eyes hidden under bangs plastered to her forehead by the stubborn rain that seemed to have gone on for over two weeks straight by now. That wasn't true, but there hadn't been many days in December without a downpour, which made for the wettest winter month he could recall.

With a scowl on her face Noriko elbowed him and nodded in the direction of a golden halo that stood out among the students like sunshine at night.

At first Ryu didn't get it, but then he saw Urufu behind Kuri. She was tall enough to hide even his face, but a sudden gust of wind threw her hair sideways and Urufu's face became visible as he moved to shelter her from the wind.

Always playing the knight. Why are you trying so hard to act like some stupid hero? Because it was outlandish or old-fashioned, and in the case of Urufu perhaps both. Ryu sighed and smiled. It also made him a little jealous of his friend. Daring to be so lame that it was somehow cool came natural to Urufu. He had half a century's worth of experience, and caring about what he looked like to others apparently didn't have all that much of a priority for him any longer.

Worried?” Ryu asked again. Urufu looked like he was having a blast.

Noriko nodded. “Yeah, look at them. That's all desperation.”

Ryu stared at the pair. Just as she had said something was off. Damn, you're right sis! Wait a moment. “Sis, when did you learn...”

I didn't. Mom did.”

Huh? Mom?

We had a talk last night,” Noriko continued. “She told me a lot I didn't know. She told me that she was you and dad was me.”

At first that didn't make any sense, but Ryu knew his parents well enough to eventually grasp what they meant whenever they tried to be cryptic. Still, dad being Noriko he could understand, but mom? You really mean you played merry hell with the boys during your high-school years?

She told me she almost lost dad after graduation and that their best friend saved them.”

Looking at Kuri clinging to Urufu Ryu felt something cold slither down his spine. She told you that after meeting Kuri? “Sis, I know they're having a hard time, but that's not why you're worried, is it?”

In response his sister shook her head. “She told me Kuri's desperate to show Urufu she'll be able to handle school, career and their relationship, but that she's already given up.”

Then he should act accordingly, Ryu thought. He searched his friend's face for clues, and despite the distance Ryu saw how hyped up Urufu was. Crap! He's going to run for it. He'll want to prove to her that he's worth her feelings.

Ryu, please keep pace with him. I'm not in love with him any longer, but I still care. For them both,” his sister added after a moment of silence.

He didn't need to be told. Ryu guessed Kuri would pace her marathon well enough, and even if she didn't there wouldn't be any danger, but Urufu. Have you recovered enough for this?

The sound of a whistle woke him from his thoughts, and as Ryu walked to his starting position he made an effort to look for where Urufu and Yukio made ready.

Then everything slowed to a crawl as expected. They had to wait an eternity for everyone to get ready and the PE teacher to run what he hoped was a heart warming speech but only forced them all to freeze in the wind for that much longer.

Then the girls were off and Ryu saw Kyoko and Noriko group up together with most of the club members and slog off somewhere in the middle. Kuri, however, caught up with some girls he recognised from the track and fields club.

So, maybe not pacing it too well. Have fun as long as it lasts.

The girls would be back within half an hour to an hour, Ryu guessed. The winner possibly in a bit over twenty minutes.

After the girls had vanished the boys lined up for real. As usual Ryu felt anticipation rising in him. He was a natural athlete and genuinely liked competitions. He just wasn't interested enough to spend his days trying to become the best.

At long last a subdued boom from the starting gun sent them away and Ryu stretched out to take a position just behind the track and field club members. Then he remembered Noriko's request, but just as he was about to slow down he saw Urufu well ahead of him.

Idiot! You damn idiot!

Pushing a little Ryu made the extra effort to get behind Urufu. From here on he could only wait until the idiot either collapsed or realised the tempo was way too high for him.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, noon

By noon even the most die-hard party-goers from the night before had woken up. A few nurtured a serious hangover, but youngsters these days normally didn't have to be told to avoid alcohol. For them that was the drink of old people, which made parenthood a lot easier.

Noriko's oldest, however had chosen to make an exception to that rule and apparently stole a bottle of strong liquor sometime during the night.

Christina watched him receive a verbal lashing of an epic scale from his mother. He deserved it, and it had to hurt twice as bad given his headache.

James, keep your kids in check! Because the real perpetrator had to be one of James' two kids. Around twenty both of them but with the sensibilities of high schoolers. Mix with an easygoing aura and it made for a bad combination.

Noriko, my friend, we grew apart in the end, didn't we? And yet Christina still considered Noriko one of her best friends. Throughout these last twenty five years they'd shared the most important moments, not all of them good, but important nonetheless. For very different reasons both were relatively young mothers, which was a mixed blessing to those kids.

Smiling Christina looked at the main reason why Noriko's son had chosen to drink himself into a stupor. Her daughter who stood on the hilltop looking down.

Sorry kiddo. I know you have a crush on her, but she's in love with someone else.

Noriko's son accepted the last of her scolding and threw Christina's daughter a sullen look. Then his face twisted into rage and when Christina turned she saw her daughter's boyfriend climbing up the hill.

It hurts, I know it does, but at least you have the blessing of your parents to love and hurt for all you're worth. Savour that freedom!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Chapter one (segment ten), 2016, December, Noriko

Wet sounds under her feet accompanied her walk from the train-station. Her brother, her very much not an idiot brother at the moment, walked a bit ahead of them leaving midget sister and tall model an opportunity to talk undisturbed.

These were the rainy days of Tokyo, and more so these were the rainy days of her heart. While she had all but buried her feelings for Urufu, Kuri had become an important friend, and watching the two of them breaking apart hurt more than Noriko had thought possible.

I don't understand you. I don't understand you. I don't understand you! How two people so obviously in deep love with each other could let what they shared slip though their fingers was beyond her.

I can't say anything more. I gave Urufu a promise,” Noriko said and looked up at her friend.

Coming to Japan this way, to a new life in a new world. I don't regret it. I never will,” Kuri said.

Are you really talking with me, or are you just thinking aloud?

You see, there was never any promises. It's a transition and restart, but there's no guarantee I'll always be happy with it.”

But...” Noriko began.

Urufu is an adult,” Kuri interrupted. She made a pause to jump across a suspiciously dark pool of rainwater. “In many more ways than I am he's an adult who lived an adult life.”

Go on,” Noriko said. Kuri would anyway, so there was no point in pretending this was a conversation. When Kuri was done emptying her soul she'd say so.

I chased dreams in that other life, and I reached my goals one after another, but I never really grew up.” Kuri smiled and Noriko saw a perfect line of white teeth glimmering in the street lights. They looked just as alone as the rest of Kuri's face.

What do you mean?”

I never had to stop behaving like a spoiled teenager. Apart from marriage I got everything I pointed at. Sure I worked hard for it, but I never failed. Not once.”

The billion dollar empress. Yeah I can see how you became a force of nature, like Alexander the great.

You didn't die,” Noriko said.


Sorry, I was thinking of something else.”

Kuri tugged her coat tighter around herself and burst out in laughter. “You're a morbid one. No I didn't die.”

Noriko felt a little ashamed that she had forced an end to Kuri's monologue, but she didn't really understand what the beautiful woman turned girl spoke about. Friend, you're my friend despite being older than my parents. That was the most important. Friend. Noriko's life hadn't been filled with those.

They turned left at a red light and followed Ryu along narrow streets leading to her home. Kuri would spend the night with them. Noriko's mother had already agreed, and it wasn't exactly like Kuri had anyone to ask permission from.

Thinking of home made the next question come natural. “What about your new place?”

By her side Kuri flinched, and Noriko guessed whatever came next would be a watered out lie.

It's the kind of luxury I grew tired of many years ago.”

Closer to school?” Noriko wondered and immediately regretted the inane question.

I guess so. Not that it matters. I'll get a driver.”

I'm so sorry. Kuri, I'm so sorry for you!

It's the kind of high security living only the very rich can afford.” Kuri's voice died a little with every word in that sentence.

Watching her friend so lifeless stabbed at something inside Noriko, and she understood just a little better what it meant to care for a friend. So they made sure Urufu will never get inside. I'm so sorry!

They even offered a transfer to a private school for that kind of people.” Then Kuri's face lit up in a beautifully malicious grin. “That didn't fly though. It seems us arrivals attending Himekaizen isn't optional.”

No, you're no longer an empress. You gave that up for a chance at living, didn't you? Somehow Noriko grasped that such thoughts weren't for a child of sixteen, and somehow she grasped she had just lost a little bit of innocence.

And I don't have to pay anything for it. They even quadrupled my salary.”

Didn't have to pay anything? You had to pay everything you idiot!

I've never been paid so well for being betrayed. There's this magazine, Vogue, and they set me up for life.”

With that sentence Noriko knew Kuri had just put words to the lie.

Is it worth it?” Noriko had to know. In a way it was a little like the kind of life expected of a daughter to her parents.

No,” Kuri said, and for the first time since they left Stockholm Haven café her face radiated real happiness tinged with a large dose of love and pride. “No, I'd throw it away in a heartbeat. I already lived this life once, but I never had Ulf before. I'd even become a good Japanese wife and stay home if I could just keep him by my side.”

Then why don't you?” Despite asking something that went against everything she believed in Noriko just couldn't let go. Frustration mounted in her, and just as she was about to continue Kuri sighed and voiced her answer.

Because Ulf would throw me away in an instant. He'd never agree to me betraying myself. That's what I admire most about him.” Large eyes, blue even in the poor light of the night met Noriko's. “That's what makes me love him more than life itself. If he was anything less I'd love him less.”

But you'd get to keep him.”

And live a life of lies? No, I couldn't do that to him. I'll never play house with him. I'll have all of him or nothing at all.”

Friday, 13 May 2016

Chapter one (segment nine), 2016, December, Ulf

That was way too close.

With a sigh Ulf finished explaining the last problem and looked at the club members present. It seemed they hadn't caught up on his mistake. He guessed that as long as they believed the discrepancy between his real knowledge and his graded knowledge was a result of moving from Sweden to Japan he was safe.

They wouldn't understand anyway. Damn, most people involved in tertiary education won't for that matter.

Content before methods, and methods before context, or else the student would inevitably fail to create new contexts in which to try analysis. That was why he had forced the walking talking sessions onto the club.

And it had bloody better not be either the one or the other, Ulf thought as he walked over to a third whiteboard.

The Japanese education system excelled at content and pretty much nothing else. The Swedish counterpart lay at the opposite end on a scale of criminal incompetence with a stubborn focus on methods without any content to apply them on.

Even an idealised aggregate of the two lacked a systematic application of context, even though Ulf was bound to think Sweden was slightly better off. Those who gained understanding despite twelve years of sabotaged learning tended to have an easier time to apply knowledge and re-evaluate that very application compared to what he had experienced from cooperation with Japanese software developers.

What are you thinking?” Noriko asked from nowhere, and Ulf became aware he had been caught up in a world of his own.

I'm thinking I'll make you the best of the best,” he answered.

Best of the best? In what sense?” Noriko wondered.

Ulf looked at his short friend who had just taken a break from running through some essential data on Japanese history. Essential for the upcoming exams that was. As far as he was concerned it was worse than a monkey see monkey do approach. There wasn't even any doing involved. The exam would test their ability to mimic high performance parrots.

Knowledge, competence and experience,” Ulf said to give Noriko an answer. He knew he sounded cryptic, but the kids in the club needed to learn how to apply methods to their knowledge before anything else. Some of them already had, and come spring term he'd start giving them case studies to apply those methods on.

With a bit of luck the brightest of them would accuse him of being a first class moron when their second year started.

You always have those easy three step solutions to everything,” Noriko said.

They're models. Verbalised abstractions, but you wouldn't understand. Not yet at least, but I count on you to call me moron soon.

From the whiteboard he had left he heard conversations in broken English, a broken English that was a vast improvement over the atrocity they had displayed half a year earlier.

I'll give you your results old goat, Ulf thought. Two percent overall for the midterms and I think we'll get closer to five after the finals.

Because he had promised Nakagawa improved test results that day when he was scolded for the locker room incident over half a year earlier. While a five percent improvement wasn't much the club members only had half a year to adapt to his alien views on learning.

I was never this absorbed in work before. Why is it so important now? Then Ulf admitted to himself that he was running from his impending doom, or at least the threat to him and Christina.

I love you, and but for all the crap happening to us I'd tell you in an instant. Still, she'd give up on her career if he told her, and he just couldn't do that to her.

Ulf threw a glance in her direction, filled his mind with her strength and beauty and turned his attention to Noriko again.

In order to grow you need to know what you don't know,” he said.

Before she answered he looked at Christina again. I'm an idiot. At first I didn't tell you because of Maria, and now when my feelings finally are sorted out I still can't tell you.

Noriko looked as if she was about to voice her answer, but when she followed his eyes she closed her mouth again. Ulf could see how she looked at Christina, then at him and then at Christina again. In the end an expression of determination spread over Noriko's face and she tilted her head and stared directly into his eyes.

Really? Are you two idiots, or what? She should have dragged those words out of you by now.”

Meeting her eyes Ulf just shook his head. “Don't tell her that!” he begged.

Noriko screwed her mouth into a frustrated smirk. “You are two of the most important people in my life. If you believe I'll allow the both of you to hurt each other like this then you're sadly mistaken.”

Damn, this is Noriko here. She'll do whatever she thinks needs doing. Ulf still remembered her confession when she dragged her brother into the scene, not to speak about the spectacle at the amusement park shortly after.

We need to talk,” he said and grabbed her hand. “Now!”

Dragging her through the door only took moments, but it still wasn't fast enough to prevent someone from shouting.

Wrong girl, man!” the voice called out, but he was already outside and continued through the main entrance to make certain they were outdoors before he said anything more.

Outside lamplights blinked miserably in a rain that never seemed to stop these days. It was just as bad as an especially awful December week in the Gothenburg he remembered from his former life. For a moment Ulf regretted that he hadn't brought an umbrella, but now it was too late for details like that.

I have to make her understand how adults think. And what great adults we are Christina. What an awful mess!

Noriko,” he said and let go of her hand. “You really mustn't tell her. If Christina requests I say how much I love her I will, and if I do I'll destroy everything.”

Noriko stared back at him with incomprehension in her eyes.

Look, if she quits her career for me she'll regret it for the rest of her life.” Noriko, I hate telling you how life works. You should stay a child for a little longer. But Christina was more important to him, and in the end he decided to force his friend to grow up a little in advance. “There's no way in hell the two of us will survive that in the long run. Please, please, please don't tell her!”

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Chapter one (segment eight), 2016, December, Yukio

With final exams looming closer Yukio firmly pushed the scandal aside. Besides, apart from their English teacher most of the school staff had been surprisingly quiet about Urufu's and Kuri's rumoured night-time activities.

Now he sat in the inner room of the Stockholm Haven café which had been fully converted into their new club-room just in time for the cessation of all club activities in preparation of their exams.

Noriko sat together with Kuri going through math problems with the famous model turned slut. By their side Sango-chan and Kyoko ran through the same problems but at a distinctly higher pace and without Noriko's help.

And this one?” Ryu asked from Yukio's right.

Same. Look, if you replace the numbers with letters it's a lot easier to detect the pattern,” Urufu said.

Pattern?” That was Nori-kun, and Yukio noted how another two club-members congregated around them to follow Urufu's explanation.

Now this is just hysterically funny, Yukio thought. Urufu the flunkie teaching math. But he's not really a flunkie is he? Didn't he have a college exam from engineering?

Yes, by token substitution you'll be able to immediately identify equalities on both sides and remove them. Clears the real problem from excess data. See the pattern now?” Urufu said and crossed out almost a third of the information on the whiteboard.

Yukio watched him leave the white-board and walk over to the one where another group were struggling with English. Despite bombing that topic on his midterms virtually every club-member knew his English knowledge was superior to what any teacher at school could muster.

And I think you have a better grasp of Japanese history than I do by now. What kind of study monster are you?

Truth be told the only thing that kept Urufu from popping up on the wall was his written Japanese. By now Yukio recognised the difference when Urufu spoke about or listened to the material they had to study compared to when he was forced to rely on his reading skills.

And you're closing that gap as well. It's scary how much better you are at reading and writing now.

Kuri was the same. Even though she paled in comparison to Urufu her Japanese had improved by huge strides since summer. That realisation made Yukio a bit uncomfortable. He hadn't known how important the preferred language was for grading other subjects.

Would I look like an idiot if I had to go to school abroad? Or even Noriko? Yukio pushed the last thought away. Noriko failing exams was ludicrous. She was one of the best freshmen at Himekaizen after all with results that probably placed Todai within reach of her aspirations.

In the background he heard Urufu's strangely melodic explanation when he gave examples in Japanese for the English text they were analysing. Whenever he read a sentence aloud for the group to hear the correct pronunciation Kuri interrupted him with a laugh and read it twice. As far as Yukio understood she delivered one version in some kind of British English and then in American English.

Urufu grimaced but never protested. Instead he told his group they should listen to Kuri because her spoken English far surpassed his.

How good is she?” Yukio shouted when he tired of Urufu belittling himself.

Everyone by the whiteboard turned, and Yukio saw Kuri glance at Urufu rather than the one to blame for the interruption.

Depends,” Urufu said. “As for pronunciation she bulldozes right over me. There's no comparison.”

Depends?” Kuri said to test the waters.

Well, I'd guess your vocabulary is between half to two thirds of mine. What's your take?”

Spoken, close to ten thousand words,” Kuri suggested and grinned.

Damn! You're just as good as I suspected.”

And you? Native level is around fifteen thousand.”

Native college level, yeah. I'm above that average.”

Kuri's eyebrows shot up. “What kind of vocabulary do you have?”

The tests couldn't measure above sixteen thousand, so I don't really know.”

Kuri palmed her face. “He killed the test. Why am I not surprised?”

What tests?” Sango-chan asked.

Both Kuri and Yukio shot Urufu warning glares.

There were some… ah...” Then Urufu must have caught up with the looks he got from the friends who knew about his first life. “Ah, there are proficiency tests, and I took a few before moving here,” he finished.

You took a few before moving here. Well that's one way of expressing it.

You took a few tests at college level?”

You're not out of the woods yet. Think, think!

It was painfully visible how Urufu tried to come up with a plausible explanation, but in the end he lit up in a bright grin. “I like programming, and most of the literature is in English, so I needed to learn it to read the books.”

That had to suffice, and from what Urufu had said earlier it partially explained his knowledge of math.

But you failed your midterms,” came a less than helpful comment from Nori-kun.

Urufu's face clouded over. “I didn't in Sweden,” he said in a subdued voice.

Huh?” That was Nori-kun again.

Guys,” Kuri said. “Here in Japan we're graded on how well we can express our English knowledge in Japanese, but neither Ulf nor I are Japanese. When we translate we usually translate from English to Swedish in our heads.”

And that's a lie, Yukio thought. You both told me you don't translate at all any longer. Then it struck him why Urufu had lived through such problems with his Japanese, and a moment later Yukio understood how Urufu's spoken Japanese had developed so insanely fast the last months. You've stopped translating Japanese as well!

With that line of thought something clicked inside his head. Suddenly Urufu's explanation of learning models made sense. 'Learn the rules, break the rules, write the rules' Urufu used to say when he tried to describe what he called analytic-synthetic learning or reverse triple loop learning.