With only a few days left until the short third school term Ryu returned to his senses after over a week's worth of luxury spent with Ai-chan.
He liked her enough to disregard everything that happened around him when he was together with her, even though he admitted that his prior crush on Kuri had been deeper.
Hence it was a rude awakening when he noticed that his sister was far too polite and silent for being her usual midget sized ball of opinionated energy. It wasn't until he asked her to join him for a double date with Ai-chan and Nao-sempai that he understood that something was wrong.
“What do you mean he isn't answering,” Ryu asked as they walked out of the Shibuya station to pick up Ai-chan. Noriko had spent local train as well as the subway in sullen silence, and by now Ryu was thoroughly tired of her attitude. He hadn't done anything wrong.
Faced with a direct question she couldn't ignore it, and he watched her screwing a smile to her face before she replied. “He's in Kyoto. With Kuri.”
He's what? Ryu wondered if he should poke some more or wait until Noriko continued of her own volition. In the end he settled for the latter as he saw Ai-chan waving at him from a bench close to the statue.
“Nao got caught up with whatever punishment Kuri received for spending Christmas with Urufu,” Noriko said, something that Ryu barely registered when Ai-chan rose and hugged him.
When Noriko and Ai-chan greeted each other Ryu took a look at his surroundings. Even though it was a clear day January was as stingy with its warmth as usual. A lousy two degrees barely kept things above freezing, and anything even resembling a gust of wind blew right through his coats and chilled his bones. For once he wished he had one of Urufu's atrocious jackets.
Is it colder where you used to live? Ryu doubted the polar bears, but Sweden was pretty far north. Maybe like in Hokkaido, which meant freezing your butt off.
“Ryu, I heard rumours, are they true?”
Rumours? “There are a lot of rumours about me,” Ryu said and grinned.
Ai-chan gave him a playful box on his arms. “Not about you, stupid!” She smiled and laughed. “I heard some people from your school got caught up in gang violence.”
Huh? “No, not that I know of. Noriko, you?” He didn't exactly expect her to answer. It wasn't like his sister followed the rumour mill; she was just a bit too studious for that.
A sudden tug at his jacket made him turn around. Noriko stared at him with worried eyes. “Ryu, I was about to say. Thing is none of them are answering.”
'Them' could only mean one out of two things. Urufu and Kuri, or all four of their closest friends. “Kyoko or Yukio said anything?” Ryu asked to narrow down the options.
Noriko shook her head. “I can't get through to them. I was going to ask you if we should contact Sato-sensei.”
Sato-sensei? You're worried for real, aren't you? “Don't you think it's a bit rude to disturb them during break,” he said instead.
He looked at Ai-chan where she stood and looked a little abandoned. To make up for his chatting with his sister he took her hand and squeezed. He was rewarded with a smile and the feeling of her fingers hugging his. 'Don't worry,' they seemed to tell him. 'If it's your sister it can't be helped,' her smile said, but Ai-chan's eyes didn't agree.
This was our date. Sis just tagged along after we failed to reach Nao. “Sis, this isn't really a good time,” Ryu said. Noriko was the only girl he could be inconsiderate with. That was what siblings were for after all.
Noriko nodded understanding, and Ryu felt he should at least show her the courtesy to stay waving with Ai-chan until she vanished back inside the station.
After that he and Ai-chan started hunting for shops, just as they had planned from the beginning. He got a new pair of casual trousers, she a new jersey and a fluffy something only girls could really think was cute but boys had an obligation to say it was. At least if the boy wanted to be seen as someone who knew the basics, and Ryu accepted that he was one such boy.
He even allowed her to make him buy a pair of mittens that he wouldn't be seen with outside dates with her. It helped that today was abysmally cold and that the knitted horrors felt warm on his hands. It helped doubly that they had room for her hand as well.
So all in all it was a pretty good date.
But there was something.
Going down the escalators in a department store he finally caved in and grabbed his phone with his free hand. He and Ai-chan made it well into the next section before he gave up on calling any of the four of their shared friends.
“Something to drink? My treat,” he offered.
Ai-chan shone up, and he left her at a table with their bags. It really was an ugly excuse to get some time away from her, but Ryu didn't want her to listen in on his next call. He didn't intend to call Urufu's guardian, but rather Principal Nakagawa who knew all about Urufu's and Kuri's real backgrounds.
“This is Wakayama Ryu speaking. I wonder...” Ryu began after the old man answered his call. He got no further.
“You're needed at the clinic,” Principal Nakagawa cut him off. “Your sister as well.”
After the call there was time to gulp down the drinks, but after that Ryu spent the extra cash on a taxi and made sure to pick Noriko up on the way. Ai-chan rode with him. Given the contents of that last phone-call he wasn't going to let her get back home on her own.