Noriko saw Kyoko arrive at school in a car her father drove. It was only temporary, but still, watching one of her friends driven to school gave her a bad taste in her mouth. It reminded her too much of the prison that was Kuri's life these days.
Kyoko, will your family do the same to you?
Kyoko left the car, and to Noriko's surprise, so did Yukio.
Oh, maybe not. Did you gain their approval in the end?
“Kyoko, lean on me if you get tired.” Yukio waved to the car. “Thank you Mister Takeida.”
Now that's a western greeting if any. You really spent too much time with Urufu.
Then the next car pulled up by the gates, and this time Noriko only felt bile in her mouth.
Kuri left her guards and waved at Kyoko, then Noriko received her own set of waves as Kuri noticed her.
“Hi gang,” Noriko said in what was probably a weak attempt at raising the mood.
“Kyoko!” Kuri shouted and ran to her friend.
Noriko smiled and continued waving. She wasn't about to interfere when the two best friends met at school for the first time in weeks.
Around then Urufu came biking, threw Noriko a quick wave and continued to the bike stands.
Ryu was already in their classroom, and the juniors were somewhere around Kyoto. The only way to get a full week was to include the weekend in the trip.
You're happy now, but I didn't see any of you visit Urufu at the hospital. It was a bit unfair, because Urufu had no friends among the second years, and Nao had joined her during one of her visits. However, being fair wasn't in Noriko's mind right now. She was too scared for that.
She turned and started walking over the gravel to the school entrance. Halfway there Kyoko and Kuri made her company, and she saw Yukio waving to them from where he had joined Urufu.
While it was still winter, she felt the first promises of something else in the air. If it was a difference in smell or something else, she couldn't tell, but there was a difference. Noriko tried tasting it, but intangible as it was she gave up and went inside. A few steps later she changed into her indoor shoes and headed for the right wing stairwell amidst the usual chatter from her fellow students on their way to their respective classes.
Himekaizen was eerily silent during their breaks, with the second years away on their trip to Nara, Osaka and Kyoto, and more and more of the seniors voiding classes in favour of studying for their university entrance exams.
Lunch break was just as strange, with little or no problems for the freshmen getting a table in the cafeteria. Noriko joined her brother, and no one complained about them holding chairs so that even Kyoko and Yukio could be seated when they arrived after everyone else.
While she understood it was only part of a yearly rhythm, this was still a first for Noriko.
A first for Kuri and Urufu as well; their memories of the Swedish high school system from decades ago told a very different story. No entrance exams, and most definitely no acceptance of large amounts of absence during the end of their third high school year. For once Urufu was adamant on not knowing what it was like now; he had experienced differences large from conversations with his children to understand that his school years were different from theirs.
Noriko ate her food while talking about everything and nothing, but all six of them avoided the topic that was foremost on her mind. It was as if not talking about the attack on Kyoko and Yukio would make it go away. There was something about this kind of lying by omission that didn't play well with Noriko. Especially as Urufu and Kuri both had opened her eyes to it, but now when they faced things that go bump in the dark, none of them wanted to talk about it.
Noriko watched Urufu while she ate.
He wore his bruises as a badge of honour, and when she threw a glance at Yukio it was clear both of them had gotten over Yukio punching him. Ryu was still morose though. Maybe because he didn't share classes with them, Noriko guessed. He never had the chance to talk things over like Urufu and Yukio did.
Well, you are best friends after all.
Noriko turned her attention to Kyoko and Kuri. They had planned to head into the city after club hours, and now they needed to find a way to avoid Kuri being picked up by that car.
“What if we run for it?” Noriko suggested.
Kuri shook her head. “Kyoko, up for some running?”
With a grimace on her face Kyoko shook her head. “Let's not.”
Sorry, Kyoko, I forgot. “Sneaking?”
“This is not a B movie thriller, you know,” Kuri said. “I have a little leeway, so we should just walk to the station.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Urufu said from his side of the table. “I'll call Amaya if they try something funny.”
Kuri laughed, a sound Noriko had longed for these last weeks, and it was infectious enough that Kyoko and Yukio soon joined in. But it wasn't that funny, really!
“It's enough if they see you,” Kuri said. “No need to call.” And she continued laughing.
Ryu shrugged and looked at Yukio. “Spit it out. You know we hate being left out,” he said and met Noriko's eyes.
“Sorry, man. Urufu told me about Christmas. The guys in that car tried to stop Kuri from going home with him.”
Oh dear! Noriko remembered how she had first met Urufu. Yes I can see why they wouldn't want to get involved with him after that.
“You didn't!” Ryu said.
“I did,” came Urufu's response. “Convinced a gorilla in a suit that he should take a nap on the street.” Then he lit up in that wolfish grin of his. “Amaya called the police on them. You should have seen it.”
Sato-sensei is kind of scary when she gets angry. You're lucky to have her as your guardian. “So, Kuri and Kyoko, what about we just don't return from the walking talking session?” It was a compromise between stealing away and Urufu's confrontational way of handling things.
Kyoko nodded, and with that it was decided.