January went by in a rush, and when the juniors vanished for their week long trip to Kansai, Noriko decided she'd had enough. Kuri spent all her free time modelling, which meant she had no free time at all, and if she had no free time, neither did Nao. If she couldn't get time with her boyfriend then she'd be damned if she couldn't get some with her friends. And that meant outside club hours.
A day earlier she tried to have her father pull some strings, and to her surprise he did so with a malicious grin on his lips. While he placed a few phone-calls, Noriko's mother rang a few friends of her own, with a gleeful expression just as creepy as her father's.
Sometimes Noriko wondered about her parents. She had a feeling they would have made better friends with her brother than her if they met when they were all high schoolers. There was a lot of Ryu in her mother, and sometimes she saw an echo of Urufu in her father. I should ask, one day. Or maybe not.
The most important right now was that Kyoko would be discharged within the week, but before that Noriko planned to spend an evening with Kuri. Two in fact. The first to plan a later sleepover with all four of them. The boys could spend that night at one of Yukio's two homes for all Noriko cared.
To that end Kuri had been called to a business meeting with her father. It was to set up her new company, CAMODE, or something like that. Apparently some kind of pun in Swedish. And to avoid any complaints Noriko made certain that her father and Kuri would actually have a meeting.
Amounting to well over quarter of an hour.
A little cockroach inside her head poked at her soul and reminded her that a bad consciousness isn't so easily stomped out, but she slammed a pair of mental feet down on it, just as she had all since she started planning. The thing was, if she could wrestle some time out of Kuri's schedule for herself, then she could have done so for Urufu; probably for Kuri as well if Noriko was to be perfectly honest with herself.
She didn't intend to be. Honest that was. Honest was for those who didn't get things done, like her idiot bro.
The sound of an engine on the street brought her back to reality, and when she went to a dark room and moved aside the curtains she recognised the car that brought Kuri to school every morning.
Kuri had already left it and stood by the gate.
Noriko heard the bell as she saw Kuri press her hand to the gate. With a thin smile Noriko left the room, slipped into her shoes by the front door and walked outside to greet her friend.
“Kuri, been a while!” Which wasn't entirely true as they went to the same class, and today had been a school day.
“Yo!” Kuri answered and grinned.
What was that? “Yo?”
“Sorry about that, it's a thing Kyoko and I used to do,” Kuri said, and by now she had come close enough for the inevitable hug. It was one of those strange western habits of hers, of Urufu as well, which was worse.
“Get in, it's freezing!”
Kuri did as told, and well inside she took off her shoes just as any civilised person would, but she placed them to the side, which looked a little strange. It didn't look untidy, just strange.
Just in case Noriko grabbed Kuri's shoes and moved them just under the step, toes out, and grinned at her friend. Kuri was quick on the uptake whenever she cared.
“Oh, sorry. Didn't know. We never put our shoes where they're in the way.”
That 'we' didn't need an explanation. It belonged to a past that Kuri would never regain, a world lost and possibly one she didn't long for any more.
“Dad's upstairs with the contracts.” As was her mom, but Noriko didn't think Kuri would care. “How's Kyoko,” Noriko asked just before Kuri vanished up the stairs.
“She's fine, on the outside. Should be back Monday,” Kuri said and continued up to the second floor.
On the outside. Noriko shivered at the cold assessment. It's your best friend. How much do you have to hate to sound that calm?
There wasn't much she could do about that. She got into the kitchen area and checked the cook books once more. With some luck she'd be able to lure Kuri away for some shopping. Anything to make her think of something that wasn't work, school or revenge.
Besides, Valentine was close enough to merit at least some pre-planning. This year Noriko planned to be one of the starstruck girls who made something sweet and dark by hand, because this year she had a reason to.
Nao, dammit, make some time for me will you?
But for him to make some time, Kuri had to make some time. Noriko intended to find out how far she could push her friend. Some free time had to be possible. At least if Kuri was as much in love with Urufu as she said she was.
Noriko brought the cookbooks to the living-room and took her place in a sofa. Behind her the sound of the kettle told her tea should be about ready when Kuri returned, and with that knowledge Noriko opened up the English book. 'C'. She had found some recipes that were a little different from the ones she knew from before. Or rather knew about from before. She had never tried her hands at chocolate before. Her mother had, every year, but Noriko found the practise ludicrous.
Nao, you idiot, you broke a good habit of mine!
But it hadn't really been Nao doing that. This year Noriko would have made chocolate anyway. Honmei as well as giri, just as she planned right now. But for Nao there would have been a difference in recipients, and but for Nao she would have felt forced to have Kuri present for that difference.