Their date did indeed take place at school. Ulf had planned it this way. For everyone else it would look like him taking petty revenge on Christina, and to a certain degree on Ryu.
Just to mitigate things Ulf called Nao and asked him it he was fine with Ulf borrowing his girlfriend for a day. To Ulf’s surprise Nao had nothing against it. Always a bad sign. Ulf kept that last thought to himself. No need to worry Noriko uselessly.
During lunch break the two of them very publicly left the cafeteria with their food and made their way all the way up to the freshmen floor. To any onlookers it would look like they made a run for the roof.
“So, what’s the point with all this?” Noriko wanted to know. Her eyes glinted with an expression that told Ulf she was less than impressed with his plans.
For a moment he thought of saying as little as possible, but that would be unfair. Instead he grabbed her in a way that made it look they were far more intimate than friends to the surprised freshmen peering out from their classrooms.
She gave him a surprised smile but didn’t try to get away. Still, there was no reason for him to tease her needlessly, especially not after what she said during yesterday’s dinner.
“New arrivals,” Ulf said as explanation for his behaviour.
“I’m gambling on there being new arrivals who start their freshman year now.”
This time she did move away, but Noriko didn’t pull entirely free. What he had just said must have piqued her interest after all. “What? Why?”
“Noriko,” Ulf said, still a little too close to her. “I refuse to believe all the shit we’ve been through is normal. The only reason for the infighting would be if there are more arrivals.”
“I don’t understand,” Noriko said, and finally she stepped clear from him. “In short words, why?”
“If they have reasons to believe arrivals would pop up every year, then the stakes are totally different from the ten years between James and the two of us.” Ulf counted on not needing to specify who the ‘two of us’ were.
Noriko’s response was totally unexpected. “You know, you’re so full of yourself I sometimes want to puke.”
Ulf stared at her, and her face displayed a distaste that matched her words. Cool girl. You’re right you know, but that’s not what I’m talking about. “Maybe, but this is about how important they think we are,” he said. “If I’m full of myself or not isn’t important. Hell, I’d prefer if they didn’t care about us at all. At least I’d have a fair shot at making a life with Christina.”
“Bullshit!” Noriko said. “You had it, and you threw it away. You both did.”
That was a statement Ulf didn’t dare comment. It came far too close to what he suspected was the truth. “Just help me round up any new arrivals if we can find them.”
Noriko didn’t say anything, and together they walked the corridor and looked into each of the freshman classrooms in the right wing.
In the third Ulf found what he was looking for.
“Noriko, do some shit on the blackboard, please. I’m grabbing that boy,” he said and nodded at a boy sitting close to the door.
You’re not from here. South-Eastern Europe?
Noriko shrugged, a western gesture he had taught the members of the club, and then she entered the classroom. When the students stared at her Ulf entered as well. He beckoned to the boy and had him rise.
“New kid here?” Ulf asked when the boy approached the door.
“Who are you?”
“You tell me,” Ulf said and smiled.
“How would I know,” came the unexpected answer in far better Japanese than Ulf had mastered after two years here.
Ulf swore. He himself looked pretty much the same as all the other Japanese students. “I’m from Sweden,” he said in Swedish.
The change in the boy’s face was worth an entrance fee. “Moved here?”
Ulf shook his head. “More like suddenly arrived here. What's your name, kid?” Ulf asked, still in Swedish
“Thomas Kanovic,” the freshman answered sullenly.
“Kanoviku Tomasu, then I guess?”
OK, let’s see if we have a jackpot or not. “How old are you really?”
Again that face changed. Now it was almost pleading. “What if I say I’m well over forty?”
Yes! “Then I’ll still call you kiddo. Ten years your senior talking to you.” Stockholm accent. Not a trace of anything else. He is born back home.
Thomas’ eyes widened. “What do you want?”
“I want you to join our club. It's becoming unofficial, but you'll see me and more who know. Unless you really want to join one of the other clubs.”
Thomas shook his head.
“Where are you from?”
“Sweden,” came the angry answer. Then Thomas’ face displayed understanding. “Red Rose, eh, Akai...”
Ulf shuddered. “It's OK, Red Rose Hell, I get it.”
“It's not really called...”
“I went there my first year here as well. Red Rose Hell, wouldn't you agree?” He turned to Noriko who had gone pale. Akai, which was enough for her to understand. Ulf nodded to her in confirmation. Just to make sure, just to make sure.
“It was awful.”
“So you got a letter of recommendation here I take it. Do you have an education from back home?”
Thomas flared up. “What's with the racism? From you of all people!”
“I could pass that joke of an entrance exam while sleeping. I hold a doctorate in Japanese classic literature. I'm… I was a professor at Stockholm University.”
Me and my big mouth! I just love myself. “I apologise. I’m a former CEO from the IT sector. Look, we really need you to join, even if that makes you get into trouble.”
“There’s another, my ex. Well, there are more of us, but we can’t talk about it in school, OK? They gather all of us in this school.”
“All?” Something broke in Thomas. “Please, could you try to find one Jennifer Cooper! She was with me when things got mad.”
Ulf grinned. Hell yeah! Jackpot! “Stick to Noriko over here. I’ll see if I can find her.”
Ulf hardly finished the sentence before he was out in the corridor and running to check out the other classrooms.