Urufu knew of the strangest places, and he bought the strangest things. All of it food after a fashion. Most of what he shopped for their dinner she knew of, or at least had heard of. Some of it, however, Noriko saw for the first time in her life that afternoon.
What’s he planning to cook? she wondered when she sat waiting in the small living room while Urufu made himself busy in the kitchenette.
Noriko decided that wasn’t a question worth pursuing. Sooner or later she’d know anyway.
Bookcases lined one wall, and her eyes were drawn to it. She saw a strange mix of children’s book and literature aimed at young teenagers. Why Urufu wanted to read that kind of books was beyond her, especially when she realised an entire bookcase held English literature only.
With a book picked at random in her hand she stared at it. It was heavy, and most definitely not fiction. A Change to Learn, by some author she had never heard of before. With renewed interest she picked another title. Iterative Processes: A Second Chance, and once again an unknown author.
How could I forget he’s grown up after all. She slipped the books back and looked at a few more titles. Organisational processes, accelerated quality management, responsive human resources decision making, and on and on. Most of it was beyond her grasp of understanding, but Noriko’s respect for Urufu grew another notch.
There’s a lot of effort behind your ad-hoc solutions. She stared at his backside. Funny how I was immediately drawn to you. You were nothing but a trouble maker. Hero worship maybe. He had saved her after all, but Noriko knew it was something more profound than that. Had it been only worship of her knight in shining armour she wouldn’t have fallen in love with him again last year when he pretended to be a geek. But you really are one, aren’t you?
Noriko’s eyes left Urufu’s back and wandered across the bookcases again. No, not a geek, but a professional? Or is that the same thing? Heading towards the adult world wasn’t the same as being part of it, and there were aspects of it she still didn’t understand.
“You’re silent.” Urufu suddenly said and turned. He gazed at her with an open question in his eyes.
Noriko smirked. “A little uncomfortable being alone with you here,” she admitted. It was at least a part of the truth. The thoughts foremost in her mind she kept to herself.
“Why? I know it’s smaller than you’re used to, but I thought you’d feel better without anyone listening in on our conversation.”
Urufu, you! “Thank you for the consideration,” she said and decided it wasn’t worth explaining anything. Another adult thing? Have you forgotten what it was like to be a teenager?
Noriko looked at the man trapped in a boy’s body. Do you feel trapped? I think you do, and I believe you are.
When Urufu gave her an uncertain smile Noriko felt her heart jump. Those eyes, and that smile! But I prefer your grin. In truth she longed for it; that wolfish grin filled with so much mischief and raw happiness.
I need to understand your anger. Because Noriko didn’t believe Urufu really was a violent man, or even an angry one. She recalled listening to him explain how he really was a teenager to a degree, and how he reacted like a kid even though he thought like a man.
But these days you just react. It’s like you’ve stopped thinking.
“How are things with Kuri?” Noriko asked. She deliberately picked the most sensitive of topics.
By the stove Urufu flinched, but apart from that there was no reaction. “Strange you should ask now. She broke up with me in February, remember?”
Noriko walked along the bookcases and sat down in what had to be Urufu’s chair. An ultra ergonomic monster that must have cost a fortune. “You broke up with each other to be honest.” It wasn’t comfortable at all.
For a moment, just for a moment, colour rose to Urufu’s face, but Noriko saw how he fought his emotions down.
“I lost her anyway.”
Noriko waited for him to finish stirring a sauce.
“So why are you so angry now? Why didn’t you flare up in rage back then?” Because that was what Noriko genuinely couldn’t understand.
“You don’t… no my bad. I was the one who didn’t understand.” Urufu’s hand stroked a chin that had yet to grow any beard. It was the kind of gesture you’d expect from a middle aged man. “Back then, when I still didn’t know any Japanese. I was angry then as well.”
Suddenly a picture of a tall boy with raging eyes and flaming, spiky hair popped into Noriko’s mind. Her rescuer. The boy she gave her first love, even if it was only a one-sided crush. Yeah, you were angry back then as well. “Explain!” she said, even though she guessed.
“I was desperate to make it back home. I lost my wife and my kids. Then...” Urufu’s face mirrored two years’ worth of memories. “Then I believe I gave up, and that made me angry. So I dyed my hair and behaved like some kind of hooligan.” His face broke into an embarrassed grin, almost but not fully the grin Noriko wanted to see more than anything else.
So it was like that after all. He’s angry with himself and blows up at any nearby target. “You did the same when you were young? I mean the first time?”
Carrying a pot in his hands Urufu walked to the table and set it down. “No,” he said when he stood upright again. “I didn’t dare back then. I was shy with girls, clumsy and had just found out I had an easy time making friends despite my shyness.”
Shy? You? Noriko stared after Urufu’s receding back as he went back to the kitchenette. “I don’t understand.”
“I made a lot of friends during university. Even became kind of popular. So I got a lot of self confidence, and that has stayed with me ever since.” He collected a couple of plates and a pair of glasses. “Back then being impotent didn’t scare me the way it does now. I’ve grown used to being in control, I guess.”
Urufu placed plates and glasses on the table. “Thank you for asking those questions,” he said. “They’ve helped me understand more than anything else. You’re a wonderful friend."
Something caught in Noriko’s throat and she barely stopped herself before she rushed up to hug him.