Thursday, 13 October 2016
Chapter one, 2017, a new year, segment five
A few days later Ulf wasn’t as certain about how good the new year looked.
A number of the teachers yelled at him when he showed up despite being suspended, and Kareyoshi screamed bloody murder. It took a couple of men in black business suits to stop the yelling and screaming, but they had the sense to ask him to cease flaunting his invincibility in the face of his principal.
After that Ulf decided to stay away from school for the duration of his suspension. He didn’t care for getting problems with the acquisition of new customers after all. On top of that, the presence of bodyguards came as a surprise to him, and right now he didn’t need that kind of attention.
The next day he saw Christina on Ryu’s arm. That hurt. Amongst the jealousy welling up, Ulf managed a thought of pity for Ai’s sake. He hadn’t heard anything about the pair breaking up.
After yet another day, that he spent at home wallowing in self pity, Ulf called Noriko. Asking Ryu for help right now was out of the question, and Ulf couldn’t call Yukio without Ryu getting involved. The two of them had made just as close friends as Ulf wanted from the beginning.
So what remained was hoping Noriko would agree to help him without calling in the cavalry. With Christina glued to her brother’s arm Ulf had higher hopes Noriko might agree to it. If not, he’d play the lovesick boy to convince her she really couldn’t get Christina involved; not that it required any acting from his side. Watching Christina with Ryu made him want to throw up.
As it turned out Noriko was more than willing to help.
Two days later, after three grossly overpaid work sessions, Ulf walked Noriko to exactly the kind of restaurant he had ruled out on that first date with Christina almost a year earlier. If money was easy to get by, it were harder to spend now when he no longer had Christina to enjoy his time with.
When he met Noriko she gave him an amused smile. “You do understand this looks bad?” she said instead of greeting him.
Ulf did, and he didn’t care. He grabbed her in a bear hug and swung her around. She was the first of his friends he’d talked to since he fled Tokyo astride his bike.
“Down! Down this moment!” she said, but she didn’t push him away.
Ulf let her down anyway. “Sorry about that. Just that I really missed you guys.”
“Idiot bro and ex girlfriend as well?” Noriko said and twisted the knife.
Ulf didn’t take that bait. Whenever he got into bantering with Noriko he couldn’t be sure he’d end up on top. She was just too bright.
Feeling a little morose he escorted her into the restaurant, where they were led to their table.
Christina’s tailor-made suit from last summer guaranteed no one questioned his right to dine here. Noriko’s choice of clothes only strengthened that impression.
Forgot you were always the rich kids. Does you honour you never flaunt it to the other students.
For a moment Ulf harboured the idea to order an excellent wine to go with their dinner, but he quickly abandoned that idea. First of all he had no idea what normal amounts of alcohol would do to his teenage body. What binging did he knew from that horrid evening in the Stockholm Haven café after he witnessed the suicide.
More importantly, he just didn’t think it would be worth it in terms of taste. Wine was an acquired taste from his mid twenties during his previous life.
“I apologise,” Noriko said from across the table.
Ulf realised she read his silence as a reaction to her barb earlier. “No, I’m the one to apologise. You’re a good friend and make splendid company, and I treat you with silence.”
She smiled. “You know,” she began. “I’m together with Nao, and because of that reason I’d appreciate if you treated me like a woman and not like your daughter.” She didn’t say: ‘Because Nao already does’, but Ulf didn’t need her to. Noriko had grown in her relationship, and she deserved being treated like someone with her own wishes and goals.
“I’ll try,” Ulf said. Then he grinned. “I won’t promise I’ll succeed, but I’ll do my best.” That had to suffice. She was still very much a child in is eyes; a very bright child, and one he wouldn’t have minded courting had he both truly been a teenager as well as one who hadn’t been as tongue tied as he remembered from those days.
“You wanted to ask something,” Ulf said when their starter had arrived. It tasted just as delicious as he remembered.
Noriko swallowed her food and looked up from her plate. Ulf could see how she was both used to eating out like this, and still very much a child, but he pretended not to notice.
“It ties in with my request earlier,” she said. “I need to understand what’s happening. I want a reason I can accept as to why Kuri would do this to you, and Ryu to Ai-chan.”
Ulf shook his head. He didn’t know. Growing up didn’t make you omniscient. “I can’t say for certain, but in Ryu’s case I believe it’s a matter of moving on.”
“But he hurt Ai-chan!” Noriko’s eyes showed pain at the betrayal of her brother.
Did he really? Yes, he probably did. “Who broke up?” Ulf asked. He’d been away, and answering questions with insufficient data was a common source for errors. Insufficient data, ha, trying to behave like the great CEO. Cut crap! Here you’re a school-kid.
“I, I don’t know,” Noriko said between two mouthfuls. “You think Ai-chan might have broken up with bro?” She put her fork to rest on her plate and waited for him to answer.
“As I said, I don’t know. I just try to avoid speculating too much.”
The waiter arrived with two glasses of what looked suspiciously like white wine.
Midway through the starter, and they suddenly serve wine? Ulf looked up and gave the waiter a long look.
“Watered wine, sir. It’s very weak. Courtesy of the kitchen.”
Ulf nodded and accepted the gift. Then he took a sip. It was heavily watered down, or rather mixed with something very close to water. While he could taste the dryness there was very little alcohol left.
“You should try it,” he said to Noriko. “It’s good.” It was time for the reason he had asked her here. “Tomorrow, would you mind being my date for a day?”
“Date?” she asked and sent him a quizzical glance. “Are you cheating on...”
“We already broke up,” Ulf interrupted, “and I’m not asking you to cheat on Nao. It’s strictly business, and besides we have school tomorrow.” And this is where you differ from the other school girls? Ulf thought. You’re already able to understand this is a business dinner and not a date.
He shot Noriko a long look. In some ways you’re older than your years.
Noriko gave him another glance filled with questions, but in the end she nodded.