Thursday, 4 August 2016

Chapter six (segment seven), 2017, spring break

When Ryu came home far too early from his date with Ai-chan Noriko got worried. She thought of cornering him, but there was something in his face that made her stop. Instead she sent a message to Ai-chan and asked if they girls could meet up. After that she sent one to Kyoko as well.

Only three of us, or maybe that is three of us again. Messaging Kuri was pointless. She worked and worked and worked.

After some delay they decided to meet at the Haven. Ai-chan could make it in almost no time at all, which just served to worry Noriko even more.

What happened today?

She got into her coat, pulled on her best boots and left the house silently so as not to call Ryu's attention to her.

On her hands she wore thin leather gloves, a White Day gift from Nao that taught her a lot about his absolute eye for what suited her. They hugged her fingers, but she'd have been a lot happier if it was Nao doing the hugging. He spent the break working almost as hard as Kuri.

The road to the station took its usual ten minutes, and just three stops later she left. In theory she could have walked to the café; it was just a little too long for comfort. Well, unless you were Urufu, but that maniac walked or cycled just about everywhere.

Thinking of Urufu soured her mood a little. He still hadn't been found.

From station to haven a mere five minutes, and when she got inside James pointed her to the table where Ai-chan sat waiting. Kyoko still hadn't made it there.

Noriko ordered some black tea and a sliver of a cake and walked to the table. When she was almost there Ai-chan turned to greet her.

Gods! What happened today?

With eyes ringed red in a way no make-up could hide Ai-chan gave her a weak smile. “Hi Wakayama-san.”

Always forget you're not part of the club. Not even our school. Still call my brother Ryu-kun? “Hello, thanks for coming on such short notice.” Noriko took a chair and sat down.

Ai-chan sniffled and smiled again. “Don't thank me. I could need someone to talk with right now, and you've always been a good friend.”

What happened?” No point in avoiding the topic now. Ai-chan had as much as invited her.

I broke up with Ryu-kun.”

Oh dear! “Did he cheat on you?” Despite being the first words to come to her mouth Noriko didn't believe them even as she spoke.

No!” For the first time Ai-chan displayed anger rather than heart break. “You have a wonderful brother. He'd never cheat on me!”

OK, so then why?

I love him, and I can feel he loves me back. He's honest and good and kind.”

Don't tell me this is a repeat of Kuri and Urufu! “Why, then why did you break up?” Noriko sipped some tea while she waited for Ai-chan's answer. She must have known the question would come, but maybe an answer didn't come easy anyway.

Biting her lower lip, Ai-chan looked like she had problems deciding whether to tell or not. “Dad,” she said eventually. “It's dad.”

But for the love of all gods! What's with adults and breaking couple up? So it was a repeat after all. “Who broke up?”

Noriko immediately regretted that question. No sobbing, but Ai-chan's face tore open in a silent display of desperate hurt. One tear ran all the way down to her chin and dropped into her tea cup.

I did. I called him out and broke up with him.” She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “But I still love him! Am I a bad girl?”

No, she really wasn't. Too abrasive by far for Noriko's tastes, but despite that still a sweet girl. “I think Ryu likes you still,” Noriko said. There had been that look in his face when he came back home. No, he really still did have feelings for her.

Over the door the bell chimed, and Kyoko came inside. Noriko saw her turning her head, searching for them both until James gave her a helping hand.

She ordered something and walked between tables and chairs to join them. When she came closer she made a big 'O' with her mouth. Noriko guessed she had discovered Ai-chan's swollen face.

Is it Ryu? I'll kick him between his legs if he hurt you!”

And Ai-chan broke down again. This time her sobs carried all over the café.

"I don't think my idiot bro is at fault this time,” Noriko said silently. So much easier if it had been his wrongdoing. “I think,” she continued and took a bite of her cake. She barely noticed the taste. “I think this is more of the fallout from what we did earlier.”

Kyoko nodded and sat down. As a supporting person she was much more sensible than Noriko, the latter noted when Kyoko buried Ai-chan's face in a bear hug. “So, so. Just cry.”

A bit ashamed she had lost out in humanity, Noriko took one of Ai-chan's hands in her own. She patted it, unsure what people usually did in situations like these. When Kuri crashed she had given her a blanket, but she spent that afternoon listening to Kuri crying her heart out from a safe distance. Maybe it's not just a western thing to touch your friends when they're hurting.

Maybe she suffered from some emotional flaw. Noriko couldn't remember breaking down. Not really. She had hurt when Urufu rejected her and chose Kuri instead, but breaking down? No. I always thought only weak people did. But Urufu was one of the strongest she knew, and Yukio had told her his friend crashed into a sobbing wreck late Valentine's night.

Maybe I'm the one who needs changing. Noriko patted Ai-chan's hand. Clumsily, but she kept on patting it hoping it offered at least a glimmer of comfort.

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