Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Chapter one, 2017, a new year, segment one

Entrance ceremonies were supposed to be framed by a reasonably cute pink colour, and this year it was. Every stupid attribute promising a glorious new start beckoned to the new students with promises of a wonderful future.

A pity Wakayama Noriko wasn't a new student.

She entered the Himekaizen school grounds a junior. A second year, starting the best of her three high school years; the freshmen admiring them and the seniors envying them. The spring of her youth, and all that.

Then, given such an auspicious event, why was her stomach a hard knot of uncontrollable fear?

Urufu gone missing, Kuri a shallow shadow of her former self, and worst of all, she pretended to go out with Ryu.

What happened to Ai-chan? Ryu, you bastard. Did you hurt a girl deliberately?

Yukio and Kyoko were late, also deliberately. Sato-sensei, Urufu's guardian, created a huge ruckus when she forced the school to accept an armed escort to follow the pair to and from school.

The reason, the reason made Noriko want to throw up in fear.

How the bloody hell did we end up this way? How, how, how did Kareyoshi become principal?

Around her fellow schoolmates milled around, a third of them all shiny and new, and the rest in their worn beige blazer and black trousers or skirt. None showed any sign of Noriko's kind of fear, because for the rest of them Kareyoshi was only a dull English teacher best known for having a private war with the Japanese guy in 6:1 who wasn't Japanese after all.

She tried to pretend she was just nervous for the same reason as the rest of the second years. That she only wondered which class she had been assigned to, or rather which classmates.

Noriko walked over to the billboards where the second year classes were divided in two sections. One for sciences and one for liberal arts. That selection each student did themselves.

Which of the four classes in each section, or from this year, which of the five classes, since Himekaizen and Irishima had cannibalised Red Rose. Ten classes in each year. Two more than when she started a year ago, and two less than what her parents had experienced when they were students here.

She looked up at the science section. 1:2 – 5:2. After reading the class list for 1:2 she reread it again.

What the hell?

Wakayama Ryu was there, but no Wakayama Noriko. Searching again she noticed that Hamarugen Urufu was missing as well.

Did they split me out?

She found herself in 2:2, and Urufu in 3:2.

No way, you bastards! You didn't! They did. Ageruman Kuritina was in 6:2, Takeida Kyoko in 7:2 and Matsumoto Yukio in 8:2. When she looked closer she saw that the club members in The Himekaizen Cultural Exchange club had been spread evenly among the classes, and every single couple in the club split between two classes. Why? That's just hurtful!

The coming two years with none of her best friends in her class. Bastards!

Fuming with rage she punched a contact she never thought she'd call in her life.

Nakagawa speaking.”

This is Wakayama Noriko, you might be familiar with me.”

A moment of silence. “Ah, certainly Wakayama-san. How may I be of assistance?”

Noriko went a bit away from the students looking at the billboards. A lot of them were talking in loud, disappointed voices. So they broke up other groups of friends as well?

Did you know about the class assignments for us juniors?”

Yes, most certainly. I wrote them together with your home room teachers.”

Why, you fuck!” Noriko was so angry she didn't care she had just called her old principal something that could have her expelled.

Young lady that's no...”

Why the hell...”

Shut up!”

That voice was enough to make Noriko obey.

Before you continue your cursing, please tell me what's wrong, Wakayama-san.”

The sudden politeness, with just a pitch of anger had Noriko calm herself down. She did as Nakagawa-sensei had asked.

But for all demon spawned fucking piss rats in hell! The arsehole can just go die in a cesspool!”

OK, that was more than I expected, Noriko thought as she held her phone away from her ear. She had no doubts at all the cussing was directed at someone else.


By now some of the shouts from under the billboards were outright angry. Some of the sterner parts of the teaching staff came walking from the school entrance, and Noriko chose to back away to the gates. Whatever had happened was deliberate, and she didn't plan to be caught up any more than needed in the repercussions.

Wakayama-san, do you have time after school?”

OK, he's not involved. “Inner room?”

Ah, yes, that will be fine. At six?”

Noriko confirmed the time and closed the call. Has to be Kareyoshi's dirty work.

She walked directly to the entrance to avoid the confusion when the teachers broke up the angry mob under the billboards. On her way there she saw scared freshmen looking at the spectacle.

Your first day as high schoolers. I hope you enjoy it. Because Noriko wasn't going to.

With her fear somewhat calmed, doused in anger as it was, she quickly dropped her indoor shoes in her new locker and returned outdoors.

On her way to the gym she passed four lines ending in a member of the student council welcoming the freshmen and giving each one a pamphlet with the basic Himekaizen information. Nothing that couldn't be found on the school website. Noriko had received hers a year ago.

She rounded the left wing, followed the wall and came up to the pool area. From there she walked to the gym and lined up to get inside. This year she planned to listen to the canned clichés. Maybe there was a threat or two hidden in the principal's speech.

Given what Urufu said about their new principal, he couldn't find his own arse in the dark, and if he really was a king among morons, then he was all too likely to spew out one idiocy after another.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, grilling

When did your parents transit?”

Noriko turned to Yukio. She had studied him and Kyoko. Had studied them since high school as an example of how some couples get it right from the start. Just like her parents.

Ten years ago,” Noriko said and turned a slab of meat on the grill. “To help Nakagawa out.”

You're staking a lot on him arriving and building himself a position of power.”

Noriko shrugged. “And you? You're transiting yourself. We don't even know if it works.”

It works, Urufu said it does. We have the signals. Sure, their future and cryptic like hell, but signals anyway.”

That was trusting the Swedish branch of the transitioning foundation a lot. Noriko knew why Urufu did, but she had never been able to trust anything that blindly.

After turning the slab once more she decided it was good to eat. She took it on a plate and went to find a place where she could be alone. Transitions and arrivals as an everyday topic for their dinner talk. It had been years since.

And you say they'll be even more open about it in the downstream world. I hope you're right.

Because before trust came betrayal. Always betrayal.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Prologue, 1991

Sano Mitsuo, at your service.”

Masuda Natsumi stared at the boy who had been assigned as her desk neighbour. He talks like an old man!

There was something strange about his way of speaking as well. As if he had relearned Japanese after living abroad.

At her other side she had the silent Wakayama Tadao. A shy boy who just didn't understand how gorgeous he looked. Thankfully he was shy enough not to take much notice of the looks the other girls gave him.

I'll reel him in good. Bright, honest to a fault and with a little devil grinning in his eyes whenever he smiled. What else was there to want? Nothing, not since she had laid her eyes on him when her parents moved from Sapporo to Tokyo last year and she transferred into his ninth grade class.

He never rejected her advances, but neither did he agree to date her. Well, at least he knew she had a crush on him, and he still wanted to be friends with her. You can't leave an opening like that, you know. I'll have you mine!

What Natsumi wanted she got. Luckily for her parents she wasn't a greedy girl, but whenever she set her mind to something she got the results she wanted in the end. It didn't always come easy, and it didn't always take only a short time, but in the end.

Excuse me, but could you please help out an old man here?”

The strange kid again. And he called himself an old man! “Sure, if you tell me how old you are.”

Let's see. That would be seventy one this year,” he answered without batting an eye.

If you plan to play it like that. “Sure grandpa.”

And here I was so worried about youth today. Seems my worries were unfounded.” He grinned. A predatory grin, and suddenly Natsumi didn't like the joke any longer. Her instincts screamed: Danger!

Was there anything you needed help with?” That was Tadao-kun's voice. Secretly just 'Tadao' in her mind.

Natsumi gratefully threw him a glance when he came to her help. Whenever things threatened to get ugly he simply forgot to be shy and acted on his own sense of honour.

Another polite kid. I'm so fortunate today.”

Kid? I'm oldest in the class.”

I'm afraid you might just be mistaken. By fifty five years or so, if I may add.”

You may not,” Tadao-kun said, and his voice grew something steely into it.

How could I not fall for you? Tadao, you dummy. Just give up and be my boyfriend, will you?

You're perfectly right. Age isn't a right. It just is,” Sano-san said and met Tadao-kun's eyes.

Why does he keep up that creepy joke? It isn't funny any longer.

Sano-san and Tadao-kun locked themselves in a staring match. In the end Tadao-kun lost and gave Natsumi an embarrassed look.

He tried. He tried for me. Now or never. “Tadao, I love you.” She had told him she was interested before, implied she wanted a relationship with him, but she had never confessed outright like this.

Surprised shouts from the desks around them told her her confession hadn't gone undetected.

Then please be my girlfriend,” he said.

My my,” Sano-san commented.

Natsumi didn't care. Her chest swelled with joy. Finally! I'll even forgive you for being creepy, Sano-san.

One meeting. One that defined their lives. On such circumstances are friends for life made.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, second dinner

Urufu fired up the grills with Kyoko watching and Yukio helping. Talking about having children made her remember the reason she and Yukio would transit in a few days.

Unfortunately she also recalled the events that followed. Urufu and Kuri-chan breaking up, the chaos between Ai-chan, Ryu and Kuri-chan during and after spring break. Her own fears when they had a gorilla in a costume tagging along whenever they left school.

Noriko, how Noriko alone had tried to keep it all together, and how she eventually failed in the end. Urufu's absence and return, and over everything else, the shadow of a man whom she only knew of as Yukio's English teacher until everything changed.

Second year in high school was supposed to be the spring of youth. Sure, a stereotype, but still.

Second year in high school had started like anything but.

Kyoko squirmed uncomfortably when the memories took her back. Only by anchoring her sight on Yukio's back did she regain the feeling of trust and safety he always gave her.

Her Yukio.

Her lovely Yukio.