Sunday, 27 November 2016

Chapter two, 2017, schism, segment four

Just as she picked up her phone from the table Noriko noticed someone heading for their table. She looked up. “Yukio?”

After a moments hesitation he smiled. “Yes, that would be me,” he said.

How did you know?”

Across the table Urufu turned and looked over his shoulder. “I’ll be damned. Yukio the sleuth.”

Even a moron like me could guess you’d go sulking here man,” Yukio retorted.

Only a moron like me would have a date with his rival’s sister in a shabby place like this.”

A date?”

A date?” Noriko echoed.

Don’t you people call everything when two people meet away from home a date?”

Noriko saw Yukio’s smirk before he opened up a broadside. “Cut it with that crap about ‘you people’! You’re part of us now.”

Friends, they really are best friends. She admired Yukio’s courage to bite back at the older man. Kyoko, you sure got yourself a good boyfriend.

Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Urufu growled, but he grinned when he turned around and grabbed his cup of coffee. “Just like old times,” he added. This time his smile reached all the way to his eyes.

I haven’t seen that grin of yours for so long. Thinking of the reason why Urufu never smiled with joy these days reminded Noriko of Nao, and a hard lump formed in her throat. She almost managed to keep her tears down.

I had it repaired,” Urufu said just as Yukio sat down beside her.

Had it repaired? Oh, my phone. “You didn’t have to.”

I wanted to.”

It’s not like I couldn’t afford to myself.”

Exactly why I wanted to.”

Comedy duo, much?” Yukio interrupted.

But he really didn’t...” Noriko started. She stopped and slapped her hand to her mouth when Urufu threw up his hands in mock exasperation and grinned widely, and this time his smile twinkled in his eyes as well.

Noriko’s heart almost stopped.

I give,” he said.

I remember now. It’s been almost two years.

You’re cute when you blush, you know that?”

Say what again?” Then she felt her face heat up. No way! He can still make me feel this way?

Don’t flirt with her like that. Nao could get grumpy.”

The fuzzy feeling in her stomach was immediately replaced by a burning pain in her chest, and Noriko saw Urufu’s eyes throw daggers at Yukio. All the heat that just made her blush left her at once.

The mood around the table dropped to just above freezing point.

We don’t talk about that person here,” Urufu said. His voice held an edge to it that made Noriko flinch, and she suspected Yukio must feel like he was being bulldozed over.

She waived at a waitress just to force a change to the table. Besides, she hadn’t had time to order anything yet.

And you read my messages, or did Kuri tell you? That was unfair. Kuri wouldn’t. But then who? Noriko threw a glance to her right. Yukio’s face was an open book to be read. Kyoko, of course.

I’ll have black tea and this cake,” Noriko said to the arriving waitress and put her finger on the menu. She hoped it landed on a cake, because she hadn’t really looked at it.

Hidden by her bangs Urufu ordered something as well. She couldn’t see him, but she heard him rummaging through the plastic menus and slap his finger onto a few items.

One coffee,” came Yukio’s voice from her right.

Noriko pretended to study her menu despite having ordered already.

Around the table silence covered all of them like a wet blanket. Noriko realised she had to be the one who broke it.

You know it’s bad to read other peoples’ phones,” Noriko said and regretted her words as soon as they came out of her mouth.

Urufu stared down at the table. “I apologise. I thought it was something important...”

Something important? What do you call Nao cheating on me? “You idiot!”

Tact really wasn’t Urufu’s main strength, or at least not when he didn’t need to think before he spoke, which usually only happened with customers present.

Noriko studied Urufu’s face to see how he planned to get out of the situation. Even though Nao’s betrayal hurt, her cynical curiosity never fully left her.

I didn’t mean it that way,” Urufu began.

No, he won’t, she thought.

I wondered if someone had been hurt or something,” he continued.

Insert foot in mouth. You’re hopeless!

Man! Listen to what you’re saying!” Yukio said just as Urufu’s face told Noriko the meaning of his words finally made its way to his brain.

And I once fell in love with this guy. Wonder who the real idiot is. She shook her head and forced a smile to her face. “No wonder Kuri dumped you,” Noriko said. This time she just almost regretted her words. What Urufu had said was beyond the pale. “You should take social interaction 101 for a change.”

She rose from her seat, picked up her bag and dropped a few coins on the table. 

“Thanks for the phone. I appreciate it.”

She left the table and a dumbfounded Urufu behind her. Yukio’s stunned face made her feel a little sorry for him, but if he chose friends like Urufu he deserved feeling like an arse.

Noriko, sorry. I didn’t...”

Man, drop it! Sometimes you’re just so damned clumsy.”

Yeah, friends. Urufu, I envy you a friend like that. Walking down the stairs Noriko admitted the one she really envied was Kyoko. You got the best boyfriend of all of us, you know that?

She left the mall and walked down the street in the direction of a train station. Behind her Urufu’s bike glimmered in the rapidly darkening evening as it caught the last of the sun.

Sheesh, what an idiot. Her anger made her forget about Nao for a while, and reluctantly she sent Urufu a thought of thanks. Did you do that on purpose? No, I think you’re just that stupid. Suddenly angry mirth filled her, and Noriko grinned despite of everything.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Chapter two, 2017, schism, segment three

A queue? Yukio stared at the Stockholm Haven café entrance in disbelief.

He shook his head. So it’s gone this far now. Well, means Urufu isn’t there. With that thought Yukio turned on his heels and returned down the street he had arrived on.

He’d stubbornly defended Kuri until the moment she showed up on Ryu’s arm. After that, well, the less he saw of her the better. Or, if he was honest with himself, after he saw how devastated Urufu was when she did.

Halfway back to Himekaizen Yukio noticed the other half of their escort. The first tailed him half a block behind him.

So you’re headed to the Haven? Yukio kicked at a pebble and grimaced. Kyoko wouldn’t turn back at the sight of a queue. Damn, that’s another evening gone. Of course he respected how Kyoko stuck to her best friend, but it meant he spent more evenings than he liked separated from his girlfriend.

And we’re not even in the same class any longer. Which sucked even more. Well, at least they shared the same wing at school.

Yukio hastened his steps and looked down. He didn’t want to meet Kyoko just to say goodbye.

The car with Kyoko and bodyguard passed, and Yukio heard it stop behind him. Probably so both escorts could chat and decide how to handle Yukio and Kyoko going to separate destinations.

Damn! Cause Kyoko wasn’t stupid. Yukio hardly had time to turn around before the sound of the car’s door being thrown open reached him.


He turned fully and met Kyoko’s gaze. A bit shamefacedly he waved to her. “Here.” Like she didn’t know.

I was looking for you. They said you went to the clubroom.”

Yukio bit his lower lip before answering. “I did,” he said. “Urufu won’t be there. I went looking for him.” Which was a lie. Besides, going looking for Urufu required a top quality bike and knowledge about where he was. He covered absurd distances on that bike of his, more so after spring break.

Why?” Kyoko asked, but Yukio could see in her face she already knew. The queue outside the café was a dead give away anyway.

He looked at her. As always the most beautiful girl he had ever known. Hair a bit longer now. She had let it grow during her first year here, but apart from that very much the same girl he fell in love with.

He hurts, you know,” Yukio said. “Kuri dumped him and found herself a new boyfriend.”

For a moment Kyoko looked like she was about to blow up. “They’re adults. Both of them. Urufu just didn’t behave like one.”

That was, Yukio admitted, the truth. He’d tried to make Urufu man up late that valentine’s night, but to no avail. Urufu was a stubborn bastard. One who disliked getting rid of his bad habits. Bad habits? Hang on there. A smile came to Yukio’s lips, and he locked eyes with his girlfriend.

Kuri’s your friend. She’s in there. I need to go looking for mine.”


I love you. I’m just angry with your choice of friends, but I love you.” With those words Yukio turned on his heels and ran.

From a distance he heard Kyoko calling his name, but there was no resentment in her voice, so Yukio grinned and ran on. You bastard. Bad habits, eh?

With that thought Yukio ran past the school and onto the road he and Urufu had spent so many mornings and afternoons on their way to or from school and their old café. Their old haven, before Urufu found Stockholm Haven.

Lagging behind Yukio’s escort started sprinting, but when he turned and looked he saw that the bodyguard effortlessly caught up to a position some thirty metres behind. The phone he pocketed while he ran told Yukio why he temporarily lost speed moments earlier.

It was a long shot, but Yukio felt fairly certain he’d find his bets friend sitting on the second floor. Their old mall, their old memories. Memories from before they knew a girl named Ageruman Kuritina, and before they she knew she was as little a young girl as Urufu was a boy.

Because that’s where you made peace first. He hadn’t understood then, but Yukio was over a year older now. I must have been there when it happened. Still, Yukio couldn’t exactly recall a specific moment when Urufu gave up trying to return to his old life. Long before he stopped talking about going back home. That much Yukio was certain of.

He’d almost made his way to the mall when he saw Noriko enter the café. For a moment Yukio played with the thought of making it for home instead, but then he recalled Noriko’s crush on Urufu was of an older date than the recent events that had split their tight-knit group of friends.

For whatever reason, you made the same guess as I did. Yukio stopped to catch his breath before he opened the door and walked up the stairs to the café.

Below him his escort arrived through the door before it even had time to close, but he didn’t climb the stairs until Yukio had done so. Apparently there were some rules to body-guarding that Yukio didn’t understand. Keeping your distance but always staying close. If the reason hadn’t been so scary Yukio would have laughed at the entire situation.

When he entered the café proper Yukio noticed that he didn’t recognize any of the girls waiting tables. Has it been that long? By the windows, at their usual table from old, Urufu sat with his back to the door, and across the table Noriko stood folding her coat.

As Yukio walked there he saw Urufu slide something across the table. Noriko reached down and took it just as Yukio recognised the shape of a phone.
When she looked up her eyes met Yukio’s.


What’s with the girls around me and calling my name? “Yes, that would be me,” he said.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Chapter two, 2017, schism, segment two

A few days earlier he had given Urufu a questioning look, or at least Ryu hoped he had. Still, in the end Urufu never budged one bit. He held on to Noriko’s phone and left Ryu to fend off the incessant attacks from the foreign girl. She’d be called Jeniferu-chan if she joined club, Coperu-san otherwise, but her joining was pretty much a given, so Ryu decided to go for the former.

Look, Jeniferu-chan, I already have a girlfriend,” Ryu said, when the girl made herself comfortable by his table at the café.

Jeniferu-chan ate half of her biscuit and met his eyes. “She’s about as much in love with you as I am,” she said.

Dammit, you could at least pretend to be taken in by my princely charms like the rest of the girls. Ryu smirked, but then he felt his smirk twist into a grin. Jeniferu-chan was a little devil, but she was an irresistible one.

I guess you played merry hell with the boys at your middle school,” Ryu said.

Jeniferu-chan looked up from her coffee, absent-mindedly dipped her biscuit in it and ate the second half. “What if I did?” She dropped her spoon and it fell onto the plate with a clattering. It almost sounded angry. “Boys are either too shy to say what they want, or take what they want without asking first.”

You’re a cynical one. “Look, I’m going out with Kuri, so just give up, will you?” And this was the real reason he was on a date with a girl other than his girlfriend. With said girlfriend just a door away. The date was Kuri’s idea in the first place. “You’re giving me a bad reputation, not to speak about your own.”

Bad reputation? This is our clubroom, isn’t it?” Jeniferu-chan said and swept dramatically with her arm around the café.

Ryu downed his own coffee, waved to James for another one, and looked at the girl sitting across the table. Cute, but no match for Kuri after all. But damn what a presence.

Around them boys and girls alike either glared at them or threw them admiring glances. Kuri, what were you thinking? “Actually, it’s in there,” Ryu said. He pointed his table spoon in the direction of the door behind the counter. As is Kuri, he thought.

The two of them came here more and more often thee days. Club hours were a convenient excuse, but mostly they did so to get away from all the attention at school. And that made Jeniferu-chan a major pain, because she glued herself to him as far as Kuri tolerated her.

OK, if we make you an official member, will you play nice then?”

Sure. Long term I’m more interested in that Swedish guy anyway.”

Cynical indeed. “Which of them?” Ryu asked, but he already guessed the answer.

So force him to join as well,” Jeniferu-chan said and surprised him.

What, not Urufu? Maybe a sulking Urufu wasn’t all that attractive. Which brought Ryu to his second problem. Kuri and him coming here almost every day Kuri didn’t have a photo shoot meant Urufu was demonstratively absent. He avoided Kuri to a degree that made Ai-chan seem almost clingy in comparison.

On top of it all Noriko seemed more morose than Ryu ever recalled her being, but she flat out refused to tell him what it was all about. Some kind of falling out with Nao-kun, that much was clear, because the tall senior never showed up with Noriko on his arm.

Some kind of answer would be good,” Jeniferu-chan said.

Uh, sorry. Sure, you’re both members.”

That quick?”

Anything that stops you from making me look like a two timer,” Ryu responded and shot her an angry look.

Maybe I’ll have the other Swede by the side. Like a snack.”

You bastard! “Wouldn’t it make you look bad if you went after Kuri’s discarded belongings.” I’m sorry for using your name like this, Kuri. “But then maybe that’s the best you can get.”

It was a dirty way to protect his friend.

Discarded? I’ll make him shine so everyone understands she couldn’t keep up with him.”

Damn brat! But you probably could. Besides, who was he to decide whom Urufu got attached to? “I’d shoot you down. Prince of Himekaizen here.” Still, he just had to try protecting Urufu anyway. Jeniferu-chan was bad news.

The short period of grace time ended, and the café filled up with students from Irishima High who took longer time to walk here, Ai-chan among them, and in that crowd Kuri’s stalkers mixed in. Ryu saw her long term bodyguard move closer to the counter, and the escort Vogue had assigned to her entered through the door.

The joys of being famous.

Right now Ryu felt a sense of gratitude that their school uniforms were kind of drab. Kuri in Irishima High’s traditional sailor uniform, well, there was more than one way to be cruel to boys.

Falling in love with your girlfriend?”

Ryu flinched and stared at Jeniferu-chan. What was that all about?

You know, I can help with this. I’m not really an arse, but if you treat me like one I’ll behave accordingly,” she said. She looked at him, and at the moment she was merely cute. “I understand you’re torn between your ex and your girl, but don’t you think it’s better if all three of you talked it over.”

None of your business,” Ryu barked.

Jeniferu-chan gulped down the remains of her coffee and tilted her head sideways. “I just made it my business.” Then she turned and faced the counter. “Christina, you can come out now,” she shouted in English.

What do you think...”

Stuff it! I’ll handle the stalkers.”

The door behind the counter opened and Kuri entered the café proper. Just as the first camera flashes started blinking from a multitude of phones Jeniferu-chan rose from her chair.

Ryu just had time to see her flash a devastating smile before she dialled her presence up to eleven and blasted everyone in the café with a wave of charisma.

Damn, why do every freak have to end up in our school? Ryu hardly had time to finish that thought before he noticed how quite a few girls glared at Jeniferu-chan and then threw him longing glances. Fine, including me. Still, why?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Chapter two, 2017, schism, segment one

I can’t do that. She’s hurting and I want to be here now.”

Noriko listened to the silence following those words. Kyoko spoke on the phone, with Yukio most likely.

No! Look there’s a guard in a car outside, and I don’t care that you don’t trust Kuri-chan.”

What? Trust Kuri?

Yes. Noriko’s hurt and you just have to wait, OK!” A hard, rapping sound told Noriko Kyoko had slapped the phone to the table a little harder than was good for it. “Damn he can be so stubborn sometimes.”

Kyoko came back from her call and clasped Noriko’s hands in her own. As if that had been a signal, Kuri rose and punched a call of her own.

Are you sure you don’t want to talk it over with Nao-kun?” Kyoko wondered for the umpteenth time.

Noriko shook her head. Talking with Nao was the last she wanted to do right now. First she had to wrap her head around his message. Slept with a girl? That can’t mean… can it? But there really was only one way to interpret the message. But maybe I read it wrong.

She needed her phone to know for sure, but she had lost it somewhere.

I don’t care. Cancel the shoot.”

Noriko felt Kyoko flinch at those words. Going back on a promise to work was alien to her. Noriko could understand why one might have to, but on a fundamental level she agreed with Kyoko on this.

No. You stupid little fuck. Mess with me and I’ll trash the next shoot, so just cancel this one and shut the hell up!”

This time both Noriko and Kyoko flinched.

Yes, I can sit this one out. For two years and start working in Europe instead if I have to. Wrap your tiny brain around that you shit-head!”

Kuri didn’t slam her phone to the table, but it disappeared into a pocket in her baggy clothes. She’d changed into them a little earlier when her bodyguard arrived at Noriko’s home for the second time, this one with two bikes and a bag of clothes.

The first he’d joined them in the car driven by the escort assigned to Kyoko and Yukio. The other half of that escort waited at school for Yukio to finish. Three bodyguards, plus the one Vogue sometimes added when the magazine deemed it too dangerous for Kuri to be out with only one guard.

Who was that?” Noriko asked. Anything was better than talking about Nao.

My boss.”

Noriko flinched again. Talking with someone superior in that way was alien to her.

Look, Noriko, he made me go through what you’re feeling now, and I had to do it to myself.”

I suspected as much.

Besides, he’s powerless if I quit modelling.” Noriko felt Kuri’s hands caressing her head. Long, slender fingers, entirely different than her own small ones. “He already cost me my love. I’ll be damned if I’ll let him have my friends as well.”

Noriko looked up and met Kuri’s eyes. “Your still not supposed to behave like that in Japan.”

I’m not Japanese. I’ll never be. Given the way they treat women here I don’t want to.” The last came out like a whiplash. “Urufu is tedious with his comparing with Sweden all the time, but don’t believe for one second that I don’t agree with him!”

Kuri’s sudden wrath almost had Noriko want to talk about Nao again. Almost. I forgot she’s hurting as well. I didn’t know it could hurt this way. Noriko fought down her tears. She wasn’t the emotional kind anyway, and she really didn’t want to burden her friends with how empty she felt after Nao’s message, or how her self-image was one of a discarded dishcloth. She didn’t want them to see…

Two pairs of arms wrapped her in a hug, and Noriko broke down again, just like she had done over and over the last hours.

He slept with a girl?

Then what she really wondered, and what really hurt struck her. He slept with a girl who wasn’t me? Thinking that was oddly disturbing. Not once had she tried, or even wanted, to get into bed with Nao, but now, now after that message, Noriko felt betrayed because Nao hadn’t tried to seduce her first.

I’m not rational. But then again, rational didn’t hurt this way. Rational wasn’t raw emotions. Rational wasn’t love.

What the hell?”

Kuri’s voice broke Noriko’s chain of thought, and she felt Kuri release her embrace and fish up her phone to get yet another incoming call.

Ulf, why is he calling me?”

Despite the pain in her chest Noriko heard how Kuri’s voice almost broke.

Christina here, you want something?”

A few moments of silence followed.

Noriko, it’s for you.”

For me? Noriko took the phone. “Yes?”

It’s me, Ulf,” Urufu said. “I have your phone. Do you want me to hand it to your brother, or should I hold on to it until we meet next?”

Would be easiest to have Ryu handle it. But Noriko knew her brother would rummage through the contents of her phone if he got his hands on it. “Would you keep it for me?”

Will do. I’ll have if fixed as well.”


It’s in pretty bad shape.”

Bad shape? Oh, yes, I dropped it on the floor. Then Noriko recalled how expensive it was to get phones repaired. “Eh, Urufu, don’t mind. I’ll handle that part myself.”

No problem,” came the voice from the other end. “It’s only money. Until a while ago I had a reason to save them, but it’s no longer there.”

Urufu, you do know that your voice can be heard in our end as well? Noriko looked up and met Kuri’s eyes just as she flinched. Yeah, she heard al-right. You had no reason hurting her.

But that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true at all. Kuri clinging to her idiot bro was enough to make Noriko want to hurt her, or at least had been until Nao’s message.

Whatever, just as long as I’m not without a phone for too long,” Noriko said. Moments later she finished the call.

Thank you Urufu. Making me worry about something different took my mind off Nao.

Had that been the purpose? With Urufu you never knew.

Feeling better?” Kuri asked. “He knows how to make you angry in a good way. Up to some tea and sweet pastries?”

Bribing me?” Noriko said.

Sure are,” Kyoko said from her place behind Noriko. “Bribing is good.”

Noriko smiled for the first time that afternoon and rose to her feet. “Consider me bribed.”

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Midsummer’s day, 2040, coffee

Noriko poured some more coffee for herself. For once she didn’t care to ask if anyone else wanted some. The taste was nothing like what James had spoiled her with, but it still offered the kick that tea simply couldn’t deliver.

I’m becoming less Japanese for every year, she thought. Still she held no regrets. At least not concerning that part. It wasn’t as if she didn’t care about Japan; that was still home, but a home that grew more and more distant. In a way she suspected the Japan she knew no longer existed, but for a dream and memories mixed together.

With another gulp she corrected that thought. It’s still there. It hasn’t been that many years.

Noriko smirked and basked in the weak sun the people here called summer. If she was to be honest with herself the reason she was here right now could be traced back almost another two years before the nightmare she had in mind.

She poured down some more of the traditional, weak coffee Swedes drank in stupendous volumes. Slightly bitter, with a tinge of sour, and too cool for her taste. Coffee should be creamy and thick, and hot, just shy of burning.

When did things start to break down? she thought. Ah, after Nao. Noriko recalled the tall model. A year older than her. She had been so very much in love with him, but then he betrayed her, and she hadn’t even been the one to chase after him in the beginning.

But we were breaking apart before that, she remembered. I just didn’t see it, and to be honest, neither did he.

Being cheated on, in the end wasn’t the worst. Watching a wedge being driven in between her friends had been. Kareyoshi, I hope you burn in whatever hell they found for you!

In the end she came to respect and adapt the Swedish way of holding a grudge and exact revenge. A never ending grudge, the absolute refusal to forgive until your opponent had been utterly destroyed, and most often not even then.

Cool, like their coffee.

Urufu, was it you who helped me, or was it me who helped you? It didn’t matter. The result would have been the same anyway.

Noriko grimaced, looked at the sea broken by islets and gulped down the last of her coffee.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Chapter one, 2017, a new year, segment ten

A couple of hours later, after the last period, Ryu found himself on his way to the Haven café, or their clubroom to be more precise. The number of members took a dive after Principal Kareyoshi announced to the entire school that the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange club was disbanded.

It wasn’t. Not after parental outcries and a hastily assembled meeting by the board of directors. An eight percent increase in test results compared to the rest of the student body was hard to argue against, but Ryu was certain Kareyoshi would force the club to close shop one way or another.

Test results, however, was the last on his mind right now. The latest arrival, Jeniferu-chan turned out to be a first class pain in the arse, much more so than Tomasu-kun, who just couldn’t let go of his old academic merits. At the moment Ryu was more afraid of Kuri than anyone else. She’d go livid if she saw how Jeniferu-chan glued herself to Urufu.

What a mess. I’m scared about how my girlfriend is going to react when she finds out about the guy she dumped. Which really meant she wasn’t his girlfriend in the first place.

When Ryu came inside, accompanied by the chiming of the bell, the first thing he saw was a different kind of mess, one he didn’t mind confronting at all. He’d recognise that back anywhere.


His ex jumped up from her chair, and somehow managed to turn mid-air. “Ryu? Why are you here?”

Now that’s a new high-score in stupidity. “Eh, because our clubroom is here, like it’s been since the start of the year.”

I forgot.”

Ryu looked at her and her friends. No you didn’t. You were looking for me. “Wanted something?”

Ai-chan quickly regained her composure, one of the reasons Ryu fell in love with her. “Actually I do. Your sister to yell at. She had me come here, but I never thought she’d stoop to the level where she set us up.”

Noriko? Ryu gave it a thought. Actually she would stoop that low. He grabbed a chair by the table next to Ai-chan and sat down. When James waved a question, Ryu nodded a silent approval. Soon enough his standard order would arrive.

You’re saying you’re unhappy to see me?”

By Ai-chan’s side her best friend looked like she was going to explode. She grabbed her glass of water, and Ryu braced himself, but then the girl thought better of it and put it down again. A clatter of kitchenware from behind Ai-chan told Ryu the other friend was burning with ire as well.

No, I’d never do that,” she said.

Because this is not about what you want, is it?” Suddenly irritated Ryu felt the need to be mean. “Just for the record I still love you. Very much,” he added when he saw Ai-chan stare at him, mouth wide open, while she blushed furiously.

This time the clatter was replaces by the sound of a fork being slammed to the plate. “If you love her so much, then why did you dump her?”

Dump her? Ryu glared at Ai-chan. I didn’t think you were the kind to lie.

He didn’t. I broke up with him.”

Is what you’re saying, but let’s hear it from him as well.”

Oh, so you didn’t lie about it after all. “Like Ai-chan says. We agreed to break up, but she took the initiative.” Hearing her defend him warmed him somewhat. “Why are you here?” Time to change topic. This one still hurts.

Ai-chan looked down at her shoes while she dangled her feet.


Your sister called me here.”

James arrived with coffee and cake; Ryu’s standard order, but in the beginning something Urufu ordered by chance.

Noriko?” Ryu said and sipped his coffee. As usual a superb blend. James might cheat on interior and exterior design, but what he served was first class. “How so?” Ryu continued when Ai-chan didn’t answer.

I think it’s about you, or me, or us.” Ai-chan fidgeted a little until she finally looked up and met Ryu’s eyes. “She thinks you dumped me for another girl.”

With a bit of cake in his mouth Ryu mulled over Ai-chan’s explanation. “You know what, the part about another girl is true.”

As expected both of Ai-chan’s friends growled angrily.

Wait,” Ai-chan said. “Ryu’s not like that. Explain.”

He still saw the hurt in her eyes. “Kuri saw us that day.” So now you dropped the honorifics. I wish you had done so earlier. Ryu looked at the girl he still loved. Kuri, Urufu, I’ll kick your butts to kingdom come. What a mess!

She’s hurting. She loves Urufu maybe even stronger than I love you,” Ryu began. There was no maybe in that, but he had no reason to hurt Ai-chan. An adult’s love wasn’t flimsy in the way of a teenager’s, that much he understood. “Kuri saw us and asked me if it was a new beginning or an end.”

Ai-chan bit her lips but said nothing.

And then you just got yourself a new girlfriend?” Ai-chan’s best friend, and she showed signs of losing her control altogether.

Please, listen to him!”

She needed a cover, a convenient lie, for her work,” Ryu continued. “Two people in love with someone else they can’t have, she said.”

Ryu,” Ai-chan said. Her voice was very small. “Do you really love me?”

He looked at her, and then he looked inside himself. “I do, but I’ll never keep my girlfriend a secret, just as I told you that day.” Knowing that she’d need time to process that Ryu drank some more of his coffee. Still hot but no longer scalding. Make of that what you want.

Ai?” That was the girl hidden behind Ai-chan.

The question made her flinch. Ryu watched her looking down, just to turn around and face her friends.

So you didn’t tell them everything?

It’s my dad. Ryu did nothing wrong.”

Ai, if he loves you and you love him, then why...”

It’s not that simple!”

You know, Ai, Ryu thought for himself, and dropped the honorific, even if only silently, it really is that simple.

He looked at her as she explained what had happened, and then Ryu’s thoughts went to his sister. I wonder what happened, but this sure is a shitty way to start a new year.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Chapter one, 2017, a new year, segment nine

Ryu stared after Kuri when she dragged his sister out of the cafeteria. Then Kuri’s parting words reached him, and he looked down just in time to see Urufu pick up a broken phone from the floor.

What was that about?

Urufu, give that to me. I’ll hand it over to sis later.”

Shut up! Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage already?”

And what was that about? On the verge of flaring up Ryu got control over himself. He’s jealous, and hurt. Damn I’d be if I saw Kuri all over someone else like this.

She said you needed help,” he said instead.

You’re in love with her, but you got turned down?”

Ryu looked at the girl who asked the question. A foreigner. European or from North America. Her uniform spoke of a freshman, all shiny and new apart from the tell tale ribbon, colour coded for each year.

None of your business,” Urufu barked in return.

So you can sound like this. How cute.” Then the girl turned her attention to Ryu. “And who are you?”

Trying to play cute are you? “I’m Wakayama Ryu,” he said. “I have something of a reputation here,” he continued and turned on his best smile. A few girls further back in the queue blushed and most of them stared at him. I’m way out of your league.

A naughty reputation?” the girl said. “Or a bad one?” she continued, and nuked the cafeteria with a devastating blast of charisma. “Please be kind to me in any case, would you?”

What was that? Ryu staggered backwards. When he got hold of himself he saw how almost everyone in the cafeteria stared at the girl. Quite a few of them had risen from their chairs.

Dammit, just stop that pissing contest, will you?” Urufu growled, and for the first time in over a month Ryu saw a glimmer of a smile in his eyes. “Ryu you lost anyway.”

They made it to the counter and Ryu ordered lunch for the three of them. Behind him Urufu and the foreign girl exchanged insults, and the students next in line gasped from time to time when an insult got extra juicy.

At one time a senior came over to play the knight and save the girl from Urufu, but he just stretched a little and looked down at the third year. Just when things looked like they were going south the girl clung to Urufu.

Hey, I haven’t rejected him. Just told him I need to think about it.”

See, we’re friends,” Urufu said and walked right into the trap.

Ryu grinned and used the moment of surprise to get in between Urufu and the third year. “She’s quite the stunner, isn’t she?” Ryu said and nodded in Urufu’s general direction. “He was so taken in by her he confessed earlier today,” he lied and smiled.

Whoa! I did what?” Urufu protested.

Ryu and the girl gave him an elbow each and Urufu went ‘Oomph’ and shut his trap.

Just who are you? Ryu wondered. Another arrival, like that Tomasu-kun Noriko told me about yesterday? Given the impact Urufu and Kuri had made the monstrous charisma the new girl displayed maybe wasn’t all that surprising.

So, just how old are you?” he asked her when they made their way outdoors.

Coperu Jeniferu, nice to meet you,” she said instead of answering his question.

Ryu stared at her as she passed him in the doorway, and a few steps ahead of them both Urufu shook his head in exasperation.

Wakayama Ryu,” Ryu offered automatically. His parents hadn’t spent the years raising him to be impolite.

You can call me Jeniferu. I’m not used to go by my last name anyway.”

Ryu followed in her steps. I would have anyway, you know, he thought. Cause Urufu refuses to have it any other way, but you could hardly know that. “I’ll do so, Jeniferu-chan,” he said.

Thank you, Ryu,” she said over her shoulder in a tone that both displayed an exaggerated familiarity as well as a life spent without the use of honorifics.

Looks like the new year is going to be interesting. Ryu grimaced. As if it needed to be any more interesting. Then he got hold of himself and followed Urufu just as Jeniferu-chan caught up to him and clung to his arm. And I don’t believe you’re really interested in him at all, so why the show?

Quite a few of the students sent them greetings, and more than a few gave Urufu ironic salutes filled with sympathy. Kuri dumping him on Valentine’s day was still a popular topic, and Urufu had made more friends than enemies.

What a waste, Ryu thought. He’s not over her at all, and I’m certain Kuri loves him enough to cry when she goes to sleep.

But he’d play the boyfriend still. Kuri asked him to, and for whatever reasons she had, Ryu believed she’d continue to embrace her pain rather than make up with the man she loved. As for himself Kuri’s stupid game helped him get over Ai breaking up with him. She’d become much more dear to him than he ever believed she would.

Nice catch, Hamarugen-san,” someone shouted. A second year, unsurprisingly. To the juniors Urufu was still something of a hero, especially with the sports festival coming up.

Urufu just smiled, and Ryu knew he was just about the only one to see how pained that smile way. Jeniferu-chan clung to his arm and blasted freshmen and juniors alike with her presence.

You’re going to make enemies with the girls if you keep this up, Ryu thought. Still, something told him she was just as eminently suited to handle that kind of problem as Kuri was.

He grinned while they made their way to the empty pool and decided to give his sister a call and tell her about the insanity. Then he recalled that she didn’t have her phone on her, and after that the look in her face when she dropped it.

He called Kuri, only to have his call rejected immediately. Giving it a second thought Ryu decided against trying again and settled down for lunch with Urufu and Jeniferu-chan.