Sunday, 31 July 2016

Chapter six (segment three), 2017, spring break

She finally got to make use of the make-up kit Kuri-chan had given her in the locker room during the cultural festival.

The first night of the two they spent in the resort, Yukio made no approaches more than suggesting they use the family bath. The second night Kyoko had enough with his polite refusal to suggest they share more than their bed.

It was warm and sweaty, and it hurt a little; and she'd never wish it undone. Now the connection between them was stronger than ever before.

Come morning he was less shy with her, and she experienced something close to pleasure. It gets better with time, you said. Thinking of Kuri-chan soured her mood a little, but she couldn't live Kuri-chan's life.

As it was Kyoko really didn't want to live that life. As soon as spring break started Kuri-chan was whisked away by her employer, and since a few days she didn't even respond to messages.

Spending a few days at the resort only left Noriko and Ryu back home in Tokyo, because Urufu had vanished just as thoroughly as Kuri-chan.

Idiot! Do you know how worried Yukio is? You should at least have told him.
Kyoko growled and swallowed another bite of delicious breakfast.

They needed to leave early for Nagoya where the first of their sessions was being prepared. Both Ryu and Noriko would arrive in the evening and the coming three days were packed with work for Urufu's customers.

She wasn't worried about the customers. Urufu had made certain the four of them only had to work with people who were long used to having teenagers running the show. Besides, this was the kind of facilitation Ryu could run in his sleep with the backup of his sister.

Why Urufu wanted her and Yukio was a little more unclear, but Kyoko was happy to work together with Yukio. Especially as he cut away content with a brutal ruthlessness, making the presentations she had to produce that much shorter. Urufu never complained, rather he just gave Yukio a stare filled with equal parts wonder and curiousness.

She gobbled down some more food and turned to Yukio. “Half an hour?”

His face rose from a huge mouthful he tried to hide behind a bowl of miso soup. After a frantic and successful attempt at swallowing it all he nodded.

That had to hurt, Kyoko thought. As a reward she gave him what she hoped was a sweet smile. You're so honest. You're the best that ever happened to me. I love you. Just to be on the safe side she gave him another smile.

Then I'll have a taxi ordered,” Kyoko said. Working for Urufu changed her perception of what was usual in more ways than one. A year ago the very concept of 'taxi' was something she associated with adult. Now, merely efficient when he needed them somewhere with little time to spare. It helped that his company paid for the fares.

Three days. 75 000 yen. I never even thought it was possible to make money like this. And because of that she saved most of her money. Somewhere in her mind she was vaguely aware she earned more per day than she was likely to do after she finished university and entered the workforce.

To make it even better she thoroughly enjoyed her part time job. She learned more there than in school, and by now she honestly felt she deserved her salary. She wrote the invoices. Three days amounted to well over half a million yen, almost two hundred thousand a day. Urufu's documents even stated that was a hefty discount because he liked the customers so much.

Then Kyoko decided she had enough breakfast and left for their room. Our room. Thank you mom and dad! She sent a thankful thought to the lady at the inn who hadn't as much as batted an eye when she and Yukio arrived two days earlier.

Packing took almost no time, and when Yukio arrived she had finished with their bag. He carried it down the stairs, limping and all. She could have done it herself, but she didn't want to deny him that little token of manliness if he desired it.

When they reached the entrance floor she saw the taxi waiting for them.

Yukio, it's here,” Kyoko said as if he lacked the power of sight.

He just nodded and smiled.

The ride to the station was shorter than she remembered from the club field trip last August. The train to Nagoya, however, wasn't.

To make up for the agonisingly slow train the circle line subway took them to the conference centre in a breeze, and when they checked in at the hotel Ryu and Noriko stood waiting for them.

Any news?” Kyoko asked while Yukio handled the formalities. They had two rooms. Urufu had been sensible enough not to push Japanese norms when that might cause them problems. She'd share hers with Noriko.

News, you tell me,” Noriko said, and a grin that threatened to split her face in two spread over her face. “Ryu, help Yukio!”

Ryu looked at them, smirked, but promptly did as he had been told.

Kyoko, I want to know everything.”

Oh dear! This is so embarrassing! “What do you mean?” Kyoko said, but she knew exactly what Noriko meant.

Noriko looked at Ryu and Yukio by the counter, and Kyoko saw in her eyes that she just wanted to make sure they couldn't hear. In the end Noriko seemed satisfied with the distance to the boys.

Did you do it?”

No way! Then an evil demon popped up its head in Kyoko's mind. “Yeah, we went to the family bath.”

The nonplussed face staring at her was worth it.

No, I mean it.”

There was no point in dragging it out any further. Noriko and Ryu bought the vouchers after all. “Uhum. Yes.”


That had more than a few faces turn in their direction, and Kyoko felt her face flare red. “Not so loud!” But it was already too late. That a few of the strangers looking at them smiled knowingly didn't matter, but Yukio's beet red face gave no wriggle room for misunderstandings. He had heard.

Noriko, in our room, OK? First I want to know everything about Kuri-chan and Urufu.”

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Chapter six (segment two), 2017, spring break

The second and third day Ulf rode through a less and less populated landscape.

He suffered from bruises after an ugly fall early the second day. Failing to respect his aching muscles he tried speeding up a curve, only to be rewarded by a visit into the nearest bamboo grove. At least going uphill made the fall less than fatal. It still reminded him he was mortal though.

Muscles he had forgotten he even had still ached well into day three, and always, always, the hurt concerning Christina followed him like a ghost.

He tried joking that he had finally become unfaithful to Maria to the degree where he didn't even miss her, but that only made him remember their dead daughter. So he shoved the memories of that life into the darkest recess of his consciousness, but that only had Christina resurface again.

Get over her! Start anew! But there was no getting over her. Some people you only met once in your life, and until he met Christina he always thought Maria was that one person. They spent a good life together after all, and he had loved her, but never with the burning intensity of the last year, or better part of a year.

Ulf ate at the cheapest restaurants he could find, drank from the vending machines whenever water was hard to find, and slept in another love hotel, even seedier than the last one.

There would be one more night in such a hotel. After that Ulf planned to make use of his bivouac. There were shorter routes to the Kansai area, but he wouldn't use them.

Japan might not have the generous unwritten laws about camping in the wilderness that Sweden had, but Ulf suspected he'd get away with squatting for a night at a time as long as he carried his gear out of sight from the road.

The main problem would be fuel for his kitchen, but petrol stations should have the alcohol he needed.

After two years in Japan he wasn't about to suddenly miss out on a decent cup of tea. Or his beloved espresso for that matter. That was his one piece of sheer luxury, a portable espresso brewer.

Ulf forced his way up a long slope. The northern route was a killer to his legs, just the way he wanted. When he arrived in Nagano he'd rest for a day in Matsumoto, after that small roads to Takayama. There he'd decide whether to bike south through Gifu or continue east through Ishikawa.

Avoiding the saner, southern route meant staying away from Shizuoka, Hamamatsu and Nagoya, each large enough to increase the risk of someone picking up on him visually.

Are they looking for me? Probably. Ulf allowed himself a little rest of the pedals when he reached the crest. From here downhill for maybe a kilometre, then another murderous climb. If they set up that secret organisation for us arrivals I guess they're not too keen on one if us vanishing.

He focussed on the road. Going down he quickly gained speed, and here in Japan he had to be careful so that he didn't break the speed limit. On a bike to boot. Still, forty kilometres an hour was nothing for him on a downhill slope. Curves might be dangerous, but he'd paid for a bike that would handle speeds twice that.

On both sides of the road wooded mountains reached upwards in that steep greenery he had only seen in Japan. Sometimes the greenery was broken by a patch of brittle pink where a lone sakura made itself reminded. Murderously heavy uphill of breathtakingly fast downhill his tour never felt boring like biking back home too often was. For that reason Ulf sought out the Alps during his more adventurous years.

He grimaced when a road didn't deliver what it promised. This was the third time he'd taken a wrong turn, and he had to backtrack for over half an hour before he hit the correct one. Without a GPS he'd lose well over a day, but turning on his phone would also squeal his position to anyone who was interested. Quite a few, Ulf guessed.

So he endured the hit and miss whenever he consulted his map. Besides, orienteering the old way was just so much more fun.

And, I won't be found this way. Only an idiot would bring a bike cross country right through the mountains like this.

Because, in a way, that was what he was. An idiot, and a craven one at that. For the first time in his life he ran away from a problem he brought upon himself. But I'm sick and tired of playing the guinea pig.

He grunted and wheeled into something too large for a village but too small for a town. Food. Hungry. Should be a ramen shop or something here.

There was one. While noodles might not be the best for nutrition he had more need of replenishing energy than anything else.

Ulf stopped, climbed off his bike and went inside. It was the usual diner style shack that promised a large bowl of something hot for almost no money at all. It made a burger joint look outright expensive.

South, Ulf decided as he wolfed down his bowl. South after I hit Takayama. It was a risk. He couldn't really avoid Nagoya that way, but there was a village inland of Yokkaichi he needed to go to. The village where his mother had been born. Well, not his mother in this world, but still a place he remembered, despite never having gone there in since his transition to this version of Japan.

Nothing rational, just a desperate need to connect with his own memories.

It doesn't matter if they've never seen me before. I'll remember, and I'll get to visit the graves even if they're not really my family any longer.

One way or another he'd make it there, make himself as unobtrusive as was possible in a village, and after that he'd continue his hike west.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Chapter six (segment one), 2017, spring break

Gearing up had cost him almost nothing. Almost two years' worth of shopping had him equipped with most of what he needed. Sure, he had to compensate for growing a bit, but from what he recalled from being a teenager the first time he'd only add a couple of centimetres more.

Ulf checked his bags one last time, and then he did the same with his climbing sack, the one he preferred for long biking hikes. Nothing forgotten, and with a deep sigh he straddled his bike and started east.

Fuck, they'll wonder what happened, but I really need a break now.

Back in their shared data repository lay everything needed for the sessions his customers had already ordered. He'd only accepted facilitation, because he wasn't going to break his friends' belief in themselves. The work wouldn't earn the company all that much money, but it would give the four of them all the pocket money they could possibly need.

When he waited by a red light a few pedestrians and the driver in the car at his side gave him strange looks. Probably gave his clothes strange looks. Japan might be number one in the world when it came to manufacturing super light weight gear, but very few people wore them. For some reason they seemed to prefer hideously expensive European and American gear of lower quality.

Their loss. I get the best for a discount.

He'd left just about everything he usually carried along at home. His phone he carried in his backpack, but it was shut down. As in had its battery removed and placed in a separate plastic bag. Ulf didn't trust the software shut-down to guarantee he didn't leak some kind of signal.

This was his personal break, and he didn't intend to be found before he was done, no matter how long that might take.

Fuck it. I hurt you really bad. Half a truth. I hurt us both. I'm sorry Christina, but I can't take your life away from you, but neither can I live without you. He needed this break. He needed to find a way not to betray them both after the damage he had already done.

With wind flying in his face his thoughts were easier to collect. He'd get lost from time to time, but he'd also lived long enough to learn to read a map and a compass from a time before GPS was available to everyone. So I can find my way in Japan, but I can't find my way in my own life. Funny that.

A nagging suspicion that he had forced the solution on Christina crept around in his mind. There was a feeling he had neither given her the respect she deserved nor the right to make her own decisions about her future and their relationship. That suspicion was what finally drove Ulf to flee from everything. If he had done wrong. If he had, the he had cost himself the chance of a lifetime, and if what he read in her eyes, Christina as well.

He sped up and used an uphill run to punish his legs as much as possible. Don't dwell on it. Don't think about it. Just get out of Tokyo and as far as possible.

The way he was right now he'd refuse to employ himself. Mentally unstable people weren't the kind best suited to guide others.

Ulf understood he had another problem as well. Some kind of shit scary acquaintance of the Wakayamas was on a killing spree, and only Urufu's asking Amaya to abuse her indecent powers put a stop to it. Now, offline for the first time since the early nineties he had no way to make sure the body-count didn't rise again.

It didn't help that the shit scary man was Christina's grandfather. But I can see where you came from. Did you ever realise that hard part of you was one of the reasons I fell in love with you?

Thinking of her hurt. Had hurt for over a month now. Ulf wiped tears from his face when traffic allowed, and then he wheeled under one of the highways feeding the east Kanto region.

Been a while since I last hiked like this. Last time was on foot, but damn that sucks! He grinned, and for a short moment there was only the glory of his silent wheels, the wind in his face and the feeling of being in control of his destiny. But am I really?

So much time spent on preparing to change the world around him to the better. The way he had always lived his life, even when it turned out he was wrong. And again that nagging suspicion this was one of those times came eating on his mind.

He skidded to a halt, left his bike and fed a machine some coins. Despite being Mars with optimal temperatures for a hike like this, he'd still consume huge amounts of water. He recalled those vending machines being just about everywhere in Japan, but he didn't want to chance it, so he bought a litre of sports drink. It should suffice for the next two or three hours or so.

The afternoon saw him leaving the parts of Tokyo he knew behind him, and as darkness fell he had made it firmly into the outskirts.

While Ulf didn't have anything against cycling in the dark he decided to call it a day and spend the night at a hotel. A love hotel more precisely. They happily accepted cash and asked no questions. Besides they were surprisingly good value, seldom asking much more than five thousand yen for a night.

Ulf locked his bike and went inside.

It took him a while to decipher what went for a reception, but then he realised the display of rooms worked pretty much like the restaurants where you bought a food ticket and gave it to the waiter.

There was no waiter here, just a tiny hole by the counter that allowed him to pay, receive his keys and leave without neither him nor the receptionist ever seeing each other's faces.

Shoddy living for a shoddy person. Let's see how long I can keep this up.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, sunbathing

Urufu leaned over on his side. “So, what are your plans?”

Plans? I wouldn't call them plans. “Dunno, man,” Yukio said. “We don't know what it's like in the downstream world. Going to school I guess.”

If Nakagawa listened at all, yeah, you're going to school al-right. Different schools for a year. If Himekaizen is still there in that world they should group you together there for high school.”

Yukio grimaced. Splitting up from Kyoko for a year wasn't his idea of fun. He stared out over the waves with one hand shading his eyes. “We've prepared for that,” he admitted.

Urufu's laughter had him look to his side again. Behind Kyoko Urufu sat up and grinned. “You agreed on a few hangouts and aliases?”


For a moment Urufu looked thoughtful. “Well, you're transiting for a reason. Your real plans, Kyoko?”

She smiled. “I'm having kids.” Then she sat upright. “Not at once! Yukio, I didn't mean it that way.”

It's OK. I know. We already talked about this.” Yukio smiled and looked out over the sea. A quarter of a century in a childless marriage, and Kyoko had almost never complained. He knew more than anyone else what a hole she carried in her soul.

Ten years or so. Then if he still wants...”

I do,” Yukio interrupted. “I'll look like fourteen, but I'm your husband since long enough for you to know.” Kyoko's words had hurt a little, but he knew how much she longed, and he also knew her fears of restarting their lives. “Urufu, what do you do when you're scared?” he asked to change the topic.

When I'm scared. There's always my bike, I guess,” he said and smiled.

You and your damned bike. You scared the hell out of us!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Chapter five (segment ten), 2017, year's end

Ryu looked at his sister smirk at most every word during Principal Nakagawa's speech. Canned clichés, isn't that what you call them?

Another few minutes, each an eternity long, and they were no longer freshmen. The third years had already been given their diplomas, and for them high school was over. Ryu wondered what went around in their minds. University, their first real job, what to do next, because 'next' had to be what occupied their minds.

He followed his sister up the stairs for a last visit to their classroom. In two weeks they'd occupy the second floor, but he didn't know exactly how the classes were composed. That was another exciting moment when the second years gathered under the billboards to see what class they had been assigned to.

Ryu rose to the call for their last home room as freshmen, bowed to the teacher and sat down again.

He could feel the tension in the classroom. Most of his fellow classmates just wanted to leave and celebrate the end of their first year, and Kondo-sensei didn't even attempt to grab their attention. Perhaps she looked forward to two weeks without students as well.

Drop it, Ryu! She's a good teacher, and she put up with our stupidities for a year. He emptied his desk and dropped the contents into his bag. For once he'd made certain it was empty before he left home. Later he'd grab his PE clothes and clean out his shoe locker as well. In two weeks they'd change lockers as well as classrooms.

Glancing sideways Ryu looked at the classmates who were also club members. They'd celebrate at the Stockholm Haven Café, their second home just like that café in the old mall had been Urufu's and Yukio's a year ago.

I hope to see some of you for English lessons when you're juniors as well,” Kondo-sensei said. “Well, that's it. It's been my pleasure having you as my class. Enjoy spring break!”

With that it was over. They filed out of the classroom and walked down the stairs. Dammit, I'm walking. Sis, you won't have anything to complain about this time. Just to prove him wrong both Watabe twins bounced down the stairs, and Ryu heard Noriko yelling after them. Oh well, maybe not after all. With that thought Ryu grinned, slapped Dai-kun on his back and jumped down the rest of the flight.

Once again Noriko's angry voice accompanied him all the way to the entrance floor. More fun this way.

He rushed to his lockers, but was beat by the smallest margin possible by one of the twins. His sprinting ability was more than a match for Ryu, which showed every time they shared a soccer field together.

Hideo-kun, Haven?”

Ryu looked around and saw Sho-kun shouting from one end of the lockers to the other, where Hideo-kun was busy pouring down whatever mystical treasures he hid in his locker into a backpack he'd brought instead of his bag.

Haven,” he confirmed when the last of his locker lay inside his backpack.

Ryu shook his head and emptied his own locker in a much more orderly fashion. The contents went into a cloth bag he'd brought for just this purpose. Too much time spent with Urufu had him dead set against backpacks. It wasn't that he hated backpacks per se, but Urufu's apparent colour blindness made Ryu detest the blindness generating atrocities Urufu happily carried on his back.

Noriko, need anything before Haven?” Ryu asked his sister when she finally arrived.

She shook her head, and nothing in her face showed how she had shouted at him just moments earlier. As usual her outbursts were short-lived, and as far as he knew she wasn't resentful.

He waited for her to put her indoor shoes in a cloth bag of her own. Then Noriko got into her loafers, gave her locker an extra look as if to make certain she hadn't forgotten anything inside, and together they hit the school yard.

Most of it was dominated by groups of third years, or rather former third years, wearing their uniforms for the last time and taking photos to celebrate their graduation. Parents, siblings and the occasional girl or boyfriend joined the photo sessions as well. By the gates sakura dressed up in pink, but it was still far too early for the blossoms to fall.

Ryu and Noriko were almost at the gates when his phone rang. He picked it up while he waved for Kyoko to join them, and just as he took the call he saw her pointing at where Yukio came running from the school entrance.

Sato-sensei? “Hello, Wakayama Ryu speaking.”

Have you seen Urufu?” she said without as much as giving her name.

He hadn't, and he told her so.

If you see him, tell him I need to talk with him!”

What? Why don't you just call him? “I'll do that, Sato-sensei.” Ryu pocketed his phone and looked behind him.

Yukio ran past Kyoko and beelined for him.

Now what?

Ryu, have you seen Urufu?”

OK, this isn't funny any longer. “No, and his guardian just called me with exactly that question.”

She called me as well.” Yukio panted from sprinting across the school yard. “Hi Noriko.”

Hi,” she answered, but Ryu noted how she was more interested in what Yukio had to say than in exchanging greetings.

Sato-sensei told be his outdoors gear is gone.”

A burglary?”

Idiot bro!” Noriko said. “So he's gone.”

Gone? What's going on? “Yukio, again and slower, please!”

No need,” Noriko said before Yukio caught his breath for a repetition of his message. “Urufu's gone. I think he stashed his gear somewhere before coming to school. Yukio, you can't reach him on his phone I guess.”

No, yes.” Yukio gave them both a frantic look. “I can't reach him. His phone is out of service.”

Damn! I was too busy making sure Kuri didn't do anything stupid.” Noriko grimaced after her words, and Ryu wondered if she knew something he didn't.

Guys,” he said. “What's happening.”

Urufu gone is what's happening,” Noriko said. “Yukio, did he say anything?”

Yukio looked at her. “Nothing important. Just that he needed to think things over.”

He's gone al-right. Yukio's words confirmed a nagging suspicion that had started to grow in Ryu. What a shitty way to reach year's end.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Chapter five (segment nine), 2017, year's end

Damn! He really did it!

Yukio stared at the exam boards. Noriko at a superb second place among all firs years, and Ruy climbed to number 42. None of the rest of them made the top fifty. Still, he was more than pleased with himself with place 119, which left him a full fifteen places behind Kyoko.

And then there was Urufu. Place 165 might not be anything to brag about, but he passed every exam just as he had promised. And so had Kuri, even though she barely climbed inside the top two hundred and got herself a position solidly in the middle among the bad.

But you're damn scary. I wonder how long it takes before anyone notices. Because here was no holding Urufu back at math now. Despite problems reading the exam he positioned himself at a solid twelfth place in that subject. The day Urufu could read as well as the rest of them Yukio suspected funny stuff would happen to the result lists.

Of their first year less than a day remained. Tomorrow the graduation ceremony for the seniors, and after that two weeks' worth of spring break.

I'm scared, Yukio thought. Spring break meant two weeks filled with the luxury of not having his fears interrupted by exams, club activities and classes. In short a luxury he didn't want. Pretending that Kyoko hadn't been stabbed and that the grown ups around him weren't involved with a dangerous game of hurting people, pretending that he lived an ordinary high school life was so much easier.

Around him happy and dejected voices told him other students had found their names, or failed to find them on the list of the top fifty.

Yukio sighed and walked into the cafeteria for a short lunch.

Lunch ended, and too shortly after that, so did the school day. With great apprehension Yukio walked down the stairs and waited for Kyoko. They were to ride her father's car to her home, grab something to eat and then he'd be driven home.

Her father might be an uptight arse, but for some reason he had seemed to have taken a liking to Yukio.

Outside spring was in full command of the weather, and more and more of the brave students voided their sweaters and chanced going to and from school in blazers and shirts only.

He tested his walking. Some of the limp was still there, would probably be there for some time coming. His own fault, Yukio knew that, but it still felt unfair. He hadn't asked to be assaulted.

Yukio, ready?”

That was fast! Turning around Yukio noticed how Kyoko had all but recovered fully, or at least recovered as much as she ever would.

Ready.” He shouldered his bag and gave Kyoko his arm. Nowadays it was more for his own support than her needing any help. Still, any excuse to feel her near him was a good excuse. “Shall we?”

Kyoko leaned closer to him. “Sure, let's go.”

Accompanied by the sound of gravel shifting under their feet they walked to where Kyoko's father waited. Yukio took the front seat and Kyoko made herself comfortable in the back. Had he been given a choice he's shared a seat with her, but her father preferred some company to chat with for the short drive.

As usual they passed streets and stop lights in the usual interrogation thinly disguised as a father's interest in what occurred at school. Yukio could see the difference in his face whenever the topic touched on the Wakayamas and Urufu or Kuri.

He knows something. And as always that interest dimmed when Yukio told him about what the friends had done. He wants to know what their parents are up to.

Therein lay the problem. Since the attack Urufu had been close-mouthed. As if he tried to protect the two of them. But I don't want to be protected. I want to protect.

If it only was that easy. Urufu threw an employed thug to the street and Yukio got his sorry arse kicked to kingdom come. Screw this! It's not Urufu's fault. Besides he got beaten up as well. Making up excuses didn't help. Someone had hurt Kyoko, and Yukio wanted in on the deal. The need for revenge was so strong he could taste it.

“… to eat?”

Huh? Kyoko's voice reached him from behind. “Sorry, I didn't hear you.”

What do you want to eat?”

Eh, anything.”

Don't be a bore. We're going south in a few days, and dad has to go to a conference starting tomorrow.”

Ah, forgot they gave us permission to travel to Ise. “Hot pot?”

Dad, what about it?”

Hot pot. Sounds delicious. I'll stop by the mall then.”

I guess they're not that worried any more. Damn, how can anyone think of their own daughter as damaged goods? She couldn't have children, so there wasn't as much as a sound of protest when Kyoko showed them the vouchers she had received for a birthday present.

They stopped at the mall. Urufu's and his old mall. Shopping food was a silent and sombre affair. Even Kyoko stayed strangely subdued, a little like the Kyoko he fell in love with close to a year earlier. He hadn't know at the time, Yukio admitted that to himself, but she walked in the shadow of Kuri without a complaint. That also, was an untruth. When he learned more about her he found out just how rough she could be with her best friend, and he loved her all the more for it.

Bags in hands they returned to the car. Conversation hadn't picked up at all, but Yukio was thankful for that. This close to the end of their first high school year his head was full of memories how it had all started.

Funny that. When they began he'd been full of thoughts about the future, and how to make the most of his lucky shot to share classes with Urufu. Looking back, is this is part of growing up? He'd ask Urufu when they met next time. Man, I miss your insane ideas. I'm not a girl, but it hurts in my heart to see you hurting.

Then Yukio laughed when he realised how angry Urufu would be if he knew Yukio made a difference between boys and girls when it came to hurting. I won't ask you about that though. Some secrets are best kept, well, secret.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Chapter five (segment eight), 2017, year's end

What Noriko just did was incomprehensible. Still, no true malice, of that Kyoko was certain.

She held Noriko's hand and squeezed a little to show there were no hard feelings, despite her own heart falling apart. Noriko had been there, the last time Kuri broke down. She kept the rest of them away. Anyone turning against them all to protect her friend couldn't be a bad person.

But it was incomprehensible.

Over the gravel, steps with a broken rhythm announced Yukio's arrival. His foot never healed perfectly, more a fault of his than his assaulter's. One more week properly on crutches, just as the doctor had said, and he wouldn't limp like this.

See you, man. Six? I have it. Will tell Kyoko.”

Too many words. Too much willingness to please. Sometimes it was easy to forget how broken Urufu was, and how much Yukio tried to help his friend.

Four of us in 3:1. They're only two.

Yukio, over here,” Kyoko called as if he could possibly have missed her where she stood with a crutch in one hand and Noriko in her other.

And there he goes. Kyoko followed Urufu's back with her eyes. They'd meet later. Six o'clock apparently. Their main customer probably, as neither Noriko nor Ryu was wanted. There was no end to how many sessions they bought.

Stay with me, please.”

Kyoko looked at Noriko and saw how much she hurt. Kuri, you and Urufu owe both Ryu and Noriko an apology. They're not adults like you. “I will. Care to join us?” Kyoko added and tilted her head in Yukio's direction.


Where? Somewhere it didn't hurt. “The mall,” Noriko suggested to her own surprise.

Those were happier days. She could still relate to them, and somewhere inside her she cherished the memory of what hadn't happened. Walking home from cram school that day almost a year earlier and noticing two Himekaizen blazers hanging from a hook a floor upstairs in that café. One of them belonged to her Yukio.

He looked at her, and she could almost see the cogwheels turn inside his head. Yeah, I saw you, so what? But she had nursed a mild crush on Urufu shortly after, not Yukio, and she hadn't even known Urufu was Urufu at the time. Well, I got the best guy of those in the end.

Remember Urufu's bike?”, Noriko began.

Yes! Kyoko's impulse looked like it would pay off.

He still rides to to school,” Ryu said. “That overpriced racer of his.”

Overpriced?” Kyoko hadn't thought of Urufu's stuff that way. He preferred high quality items, that much was certain, but overpriced?

Ryu took a few steps, turned and bowed like an old style westerner. With an invisible hat in his hand he returned upright. “May I, dear lady, present for you Urufu's, or moron-sama's' shopping habits?”

By all means,” Kyoko said. She had learned a little helping Yukio with his part in the play 6:1 did for the cultural festival. She even curtsied a little on the pavement.

A bike, a mere 300 000 yen, an offer you can't refuse. A backpack. It's a give-away, a fantastic deal in orange that would make its namesake proud. Almost free, just 15 000 yen!”

Kyoko bowed. If she was supposed to curtsey or bow she didn't know, but she wanted to continue the game. A few cars passed and Ryu made a pause for some relative calm to return again.

When it rains, why settle for an umbrella. No, I've found you a light weight rice boiler for a mere 60 000 yen, trousers included. If it's merely windy, why not have this orange atrocity for 10 000 yen. It doesn't even come with a hood.”

By her side Noriko had started laughing, and Kyoko could see how Yukio stood grinning wildly. Apparently he approved of Ryu's exaggerations.

For more formal occasions, a business suit. A find at a mere quarter of a million yen.”

That was unfair. It had been a gift from Kuri.

A watch, same price, but the phone, alas, is a mere hundred thousand.”

Maybe you should stop now. Then it struck Kyoko it was exactly what Ryu shouldn't do. The list of excessive prices put Urufu's White Day gift to Kuri in a different light. Presented like this it was just a reflection on the only way Urufu knew to buy things. Expensive, always horribly expensive, because he lacked the knowledge needed to find find something good without paying in excess.

In front of her Ryu had gone silent, and Kyoko found herself standing still as well.

He's a self-made man. Dad taught me about those. They're powerful people in their own right, but they never have contacts from birth. They always, always compensate for what they weren't born with.”

What Ryu just said went past her. Maybe it mirrored his upbringing, but Kyoko couldn't place herself in that kind of world. Noriko nodded her understanding, and her smile displayed something akin to respect for her own brother. Yukio just shrugged his shoulders like Urufu would have done.

But I wonder what Kuri-chan would have done. Shrug, most likely. But there would have been that flash in her eyes that said she understood more than anyone else. I think I understand you a little better now. Didn't you say you never bought jewellery but always bought the jeweller?

While the conversation had fallen flat there were smiles on their faces. When they rounded a corner and saw the old mall ahead of them Kyoko pointed at the stand where Urufu's bike used to be locked.

Right one?” she asked Yukio.

Damn girl even knows where he placed his crap. But I got her in the end anyway!”

He was never interested in me, but I love you all the more for making it sound like he did. “You got nothing. I reeled you in,” Kyoko said. Loving what Yukio said wasn't the same as allowing him to grow too large a head.

Upstairs?” Ryu asked.

Yeah, let's celebrate the absence of Kuri and Urufu,” Yukio said, and Kyoko watched how the two of them high fived each other out of nowhere.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Chapter five (segment seven), 2017, year's end

A few minutes after they finished the last exam her idiot brother came up with another of his harebrained questions.

It was brain-dead to the extent he immediately regressed from 'brother' or even 'bro' to 'idiot brother' in seconds. In what alternative universe would she be able to solve the love problems of her best friend, the fifty year old supermodel with men clinging to her like grapes. The one who decided to cut off the man who must have been the love of her life, and who was Noriko's first love as well.

But I promised I'd ask you.”

And that makes it better exactly how? Noriko stared at her idiot bro. Did we really have the same parents? “Fine, you asked.”

Ryu's face lit up enough for Noriko to glare at him.

You're on your own with this one. She hands him crap chocolate and he returns a million yen ring?”

Ryu nodded.

And how did you expect me to talk them out of that kind of monumental idiocy? Moron, is it contagious?”

That he nodded again didn't make things any better.

You really thought I could? Gods! “Ryu, they're beyond help. They're so disgustingly stupid I feel ashamed I fell in love with one of them. So should you.”

She had to keep her voice down. Ryu was still Ryu, girlfriend or not. When anyone spoke with him people tended to eavesdrop. The midget sister equipped with an up and rising model as boyfriend didn't make it any more discreet.

Thinking of Nao soured her mood some more. He worked more than could be accounted to Kuri's well paid prison. Her amazingly paid prison. Noriko guessed Kuri alone made more than Urufu's company, and the way Urufu worked the last month money kept pouring in.

Broken and rich. Is money really worth all that? But money wasn't part of it. Noriko knew that. Working to death as a means to escape the trap they built of themselves, to pretend they didn't notice how much they each hurt the one they loved the most.

If that was becoming adult, then Noriko would stay a child for the rest of her life.

You're silent, sis.”

Noriko fidgeted a bit. Sorry, forgot you were here. “Follow me!”

She led her idiot brother down the stairs, en route their lockers and through the entrance. Not until she reached the line of sakura trees, which already showed signs of breaking out in beauty, did she stop.

Master of morons, I'll help. OK?”

Ryu nodded. He even knocked a fist to his head like an elementary schooler. “How...”

Silent! Contagious. It's contagious!”

Ryu stayed silent, and Noriko could afford enjoying spring some more while they waited for Kuri to show up. Her car already stood waiting, but it didn't worry Noriko as much now as earlier. A phone-call to Sato-sensei and car, thugs and Kuri each vanished in different directions. After Noriko found that out she didn't care, and neither did Kuri.

Then the midday sun shone from the entrance, and soon thereafter a halo of golden hair floated above school-yard gravel. As had been the routine since she dumped Urufu, Kuri came with a reinvigorated fan-club tailing her steps. Even the number of confessions increased.

Idiot bro, last chance. Do you really want me to got through with this?”

He nodded.

Sorry Kuri, but this will hurt.

Noriko waited for her best friend to leave the school yard before the ambush.

Kuri, Ryu here asked me why he fell in love with you.”

Kuri's face clouded over.

Had to tell him I can't understand why.”

For once an angry glimmer lit in Kuri's eyes, but it died as soon as it awoke.

Shut it Wakayama...”

She didn't have time to allow Kuri's fan-club to get involved. “I mean, wasn't all that much there to love after all.”

A gust of wind ran along the street. Noriko heard it rustle branches above her, she heard Kuri take two steps and stand absolutely still, she heard fan-club members gasp for breath, and she heard strangely running steps from the school yard. Kyoko? Why are you running?

Don't do it! Noriko, stop!”

I have to move in for the kill. “Kuri, if you don't love him, then just throw away that toy.” I'm not doing this for you Ryu. This is for Kuri. But her idiot bro knew that. It was why he asked her in the first place. Noriko was aware of that. He was the catalyst and she the mover.

Toy?” one of the boys wondered.

Noriko, I couldn't.” An ember of life lit in Kuri's eyes.

Yes, please, we want you back. Yell at me, scream and hate me, but come alive!

Back when I wanted him you never let go.” That was grossly unfair and untrue, but Noriko couldn't afford being nice. “Now when he only looks your way you dump him by the road.”

Kuri didn't say anything, but her silence spoke of anguish.

Keeping that ring of his for the money?”

The gust of wind ran it's course and made a left turn at the end of the street. Kuri took another step forward and the fan-club growled with anger.

Sis, there's no one like you. Thank you!” her idiot brother whispered.

Noriko, how low do you think...”

Got you! “To any depth. There's no stopping you from sinking even deeper.” And now I kill her. “You even made money when Kyoko got stabbed.”

Kuri looked as if Noriko had slapped her.

What happened to the Kuri who came first to Urufu's hospital but last to Kyoko's. How little is your best friend worth?” I can't make you two work again, but I can give you a clean break. Noriko looked at Kyoko who had stayed silent during the assault. I'm sorry for dragging you into this, Kyoko, but this is my last gift to Kuri and Urufu.

Why would...”

To smash what you broke. Kuri, it's broken. Don't try to mend it! Now off you go to the job you love so much.”

With Kyoko's hand in hers Noriko watched Kuri get into her car. Ryu stood behind them and made sure none in Kuri's fan-club tried to attack Noriko.

She'll hate me, but this is the best I can do,” Noriko said to Kyoko. It hurt.

I'll explain 'some day'.”

Some day. I just lost one of my two best friends, and I have to wait for 'some day'. I didn't want this.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Chapter five (segment six), 2017, year's end

Ryu handed over his tablet to Hitomi-chan. This was their last day before exams, and the club members were cramming like their lives depended on it. It didn't, he knew that. Ryu had looked at the statistics. With the exception of Urufu and Kuri the club members fared a lot better than the average.

And they're our teachers, or at least Urufu is. Madness.

Stockholm Haven Café. Their haven. Their changed haven. A core of half a dozen Irishima High students made it their primary hangout as well. There were over a dozen Red Rose high students as well. All of them demonstratively took off their red blazers as soon as they entered. Rumours had it all of them would transfer to Himekaizen come April.

Urufu, last one.”

No response.

Urufu, wake up!” Oh shit, sorry.

While there still was no response, this time Ryu didn't say anything. He just watched Urufu's expression of desolation when he caught Kuri in his view.

I don't understand it. You two are so obviously in love with each other, so why break up? Ryu looked as Urufu crossed the room. Is he making contact with her again? They haven't talked for weeks.

And it seemed he was. Ah, of course. Mars 14.

In return for your gift,” Urufu said to her back, and directly addressed like this she couldn't ignore him.

Thanks,” Kuri said and just turned enough to receive a very small paper bag.

Urufu returned, and to Ryu's surprise he received a high five. “Have an errand to run. Keep the place running, will you?”


Ulf! No! Ulf! You can't!”

See you later,” Urufu said and pretended not to have heard Kuri's shouts.

Ulf, dammit. Stay!”

But the boy just left the room and Ryu could only stare at a back and a waving had.

Ulf, no!”

And this was his cue. “Sorry my friend, but Urufu said he was busy. Shall we respect that?” With those words Ryu caught Kuri and pulled her back into the room. Now what on earth would bring out that kind of reaction from her in the first place?

What on earth...”

Don't touch it!” Kuri rushed back to where she had left her opened bag on the table. “Don't touch it!”

Too late. Urufu must have stripped his gift off the box it originally came in, but Ryu still saw the ring that rolled out.

Crap! Maybe dad wasn't all that showy after all.

Don't touch it! It's mine!”

Must have been real great chocolate,” Hitomi-chan said with venom in her voice. Since the break-up Kuri was worth less than a cockroach in her eyes.

Kuri flinched and sat down, but not until after she had secured the ring.

Ryu couldn't think of anyone in his circle of acquaintances who would have refused it as a wedding gift. So that's why you worked so hard? And that still didn't make sense. A need to burn time seemed more likely.

You two. I just don't understand you two.

By now more of the girls had seen that something happened.

What was it?” Sakura-chan wanted to know.

Urufu handed her some cheap crap,” Saki-chan said and nodded at Kuri.

Hitomi-chan shot her some lightning from her eyes. “Remind me to tell you future fiancé not to bother with anything expensive.”

Hitomi?” Sakura-chan said.

Oh, you two dropped the honorifics?

Kuri's Valentine's gift to Urufu was to break up with him,” Hitomi-chan said, and Ryu noticed how Kuri cringed under the onslaught. “In return he gave her a wedding ring.”

Why?” came a whisper from Kuri's chair.

Hitomi-chan knew no refrain. “It might look just like another brilliant, but if you have it checked, knowing Urufu, I promise it's a Scandinavian standard cut.”

Why? Why you bloody stupid idiot! Why, if you're going to give me this?”

Because he actually wants to show who he loves, you piece of shit!”

Something in that accusation rang false. Wasn't it always you who showered him with open love? What's going on?

Ryu, please help me. I need someone to talk with.”

More like a shoulder to cry on. “Fine, but I'm telling Ai-chan first.”

Kuri shot him a guilty stare and nodded. Then she grabbed her bag, coat and umbrella and left the room. Most likely she wouldn't come back again, and Ryu doubted she'd be welcome to. No matter what Urufu said, and to be honest he said far less than he could have, Kuri's reputation stayed glued to the floor.

Poor girl, Ryu thought as he wrenched his own coat over his shoulders. A nonchalant hand by his head he waved his way through the door and went directly for the table Ai-chan shared with some of her friends.

Seems my club president has a problem she wants to discuss with me. We're just outside if you need me.”

Ai-chan had seen who just left the café and gave him an unhappy look. “Just outside?” she asked.

Ryu nodded and zigzagged his way to the exit. True to the promise he had given Kuri really stood just outside. On the other side of the street, but still just outside. He joined her and made sure they could be immediately seen from the café.

So, what's on your mind?”

I don't get it,” Kuri said, and from her voice Ryu could tell she had cried a little.

Don't get what?”

If you need a girl to break up with you for her own best, why would you give her something like this?” On her annualry a large diamond glimmered under the street-lights. Even Ryu could see it must have been horribly expensive.

For your own best? Isn't that for you to decide?” The last question made him wonder just to what extent he had allowed himself to be influenced by Urufu.

He won't let me. I know he loves me, but he never said so. So I had to break up with him, even though I love him.”

But for Ai-chan, this is when I would have made my move on you. Kuri attracted him. Ryu didn't even pretend anything else, but he was no longer in love with her, or at least not as much as he liked Ai-chan.

I don't get you two,” he said. “For now, just keep it and wait until after the exams, OK?”

Wait for what?”

I'll ask sis. She's the smart one.” As if she would know anything about a mess like this. Whatever, anything that allows us to take our exams in peace.