Ulf understood the situation with Christina couldn’t stay the way it was for much longer. Even though she was with Ryu now she still needed his support, and he hers.
Together with Thomas, the freshman arrival, there were only three of them who could share the experience of being both teenagers and fully grown adults with a life left behind.
Add that Christina’s grandfather requested Ulf’s support. And she really needed it, or at least needed to do something. Almost daily she received a confession, most of them not even from students at Himekaizen, and Ulf suspected there were a number of stalkers lurking in the shadows as well.
So she needed a solution, and she created one, and Ulf could never have guessed even if he had tried.
The day after his suspension ended Ulf arrived at school and felt his chin drop. He stared through the gates flanked by sakura trees all green. The bloom was long gone.
Christina sat in a chair just inside. Behind her an infinitely embarrassed Ryu held a placate that proudly announced: “Confession queue. Rejections and no bad feelings guaranteed.”
There was a queue.
Ulf shook his head. Ina, my Ina. No wonder I loved you the way I did. Which was a lie. He still loved her, but admitting it hurt too much.
First in line was the idiot Nori. Maybe not an idiot this time. He must have known he'd be rejected with his own girlfriend watching the spectacle, but in doing so he'd help his idol to an easier second year. Ulf suddenly liked the guy a lot better.
“Morn, Yukio, welcome to Himekaizen. A school day like any other.”
The queue filled up, mostly with guys from the old fan-club. Some of them had girlfriends with them who surprised Ulf by nodding with approval.
I just love them all. A demonstration of friendship.
Beside him Kyoko slapped Yukio on his back. “Can't miss this opportunity,” she said and laughed mouth wide open.
Kyoko, that's most unladylike of you. Outright improper I'd say. Ulf grinned. Then he joined in her laughter.
She winked at Yukio, and promptly joined the queue.
Now that's gutsy! Yukio hold on tight to her. You'll never find anyone better. No, dammit, most of the guys here won't find anything close.
As if he had heard Ulf's thoughts Yukio grinned widely. “Right out of an anime, wouldn't you say?”
“If I recall correctly I have yet to see this in any anime,” Ulf laughed in return.
The queue slowly dwindled. A warm wind blew over the gravel and made the paper placate shudder. Guys grinningly received their rejections. Freshmen stared in utter disbelief. And Ulf, Ulf found it impossible to stop laughing. Especially when Kyoko found leniency in the eyes of her princess to the roaring approval of the students present.
Ryu, he blushed even deeper, but he never ceased looking at Christina, and Ulf noticed a softness to his eyes that spoke volumes about how the prince of Himekaizen had fallen into the trap he dug together with Christina.
If you’re really in love with her, then I give up. You too, my love, I wish you the best. With a tinge of regret, and surprise at how easily he admitted his love, Ulf turned on his heels and made for the school building. He left the last chance to rebuild their relationship behind him.
He almost succumbed to the need to look over his shoulder. The show hadn’t been all play. Ulf knew that. If he had lined up with the others he wasn’t certain what the outcome would have been.
Just as he entered the school he met teachers on their way out. They belonged to the small faction who agreed with Kareyoshi’s ideals. Himekaizen wasn’t free from its share of arseholes.
Guess it’ll be Ryu’s time to skip classes. Christina’s upcoming suspension was just a formality, and Ryu was likely to get his share of Kareyoshi’s wrath as well.
Ulf wiped tears from his face after he quickly changed into his indoors shoes. Then he was on his way to the stairwell.
Almost there he felt a tug on his blazer.
“Are you fine with this?”
Ulf slowed down a little, but he didn’t stop and turn to face Noriko.
“Urufu, she wanted you to be there.”
“Maybe,” Ulf said. He began climbing the stairs.
“You know she could have chosen a day while you were still suspended.”
He did. That was why he understood Christina had given him a last chance. But he also understood arriving here had broken him, and that he needed a broken heart to dare love someone openly.
He sent Christina a silent thought of gratitude. I’ll probably always love her.
“Noriko, as I said, I’m bad rebound material.”
That made her let go of his blazer. Ulf had received more than a few meaningful glances from people they met in the stairs, and it took him a while to grasp those were due to Noriko’s holding on to him.
When they reached the second floor she grabbed on to his clothes again. “I don’t care. If you feel uncomfortable I’ll leave you be at school, but you don’t get to decide how I should feel.”
Ulf grinned. She was the best of friends, even if she had strange tastes in men. “I’m not uncomfortable. Who would be with the attention from a girl as cute as you?”
She released him so fast he laughed. When he turned and looked at her she was red from her neck to her hair. Ulf winked. “Bad rebound material, didn’t I say?” He could act like a player. He had those memories from his university days, after his shyness left him. Just as long as he didn’t fall in love he could do pretty much what he wanted.
But when he did. Maria had him tongue tied for the weeks she courted him, because it had most definitely not been the other way around. Come to think of it, he hadn’t really taken the lead in any of the three longer relations he had, if half a year with Christina could even be called long.
Ulf looked at Noriko with more respect. She was braver than he had ever been. “Look,” he said. “Your feelings for me make me proud, and a little flattered, but I can’t respond to them.”
She looked down at her feet.
“But I promise not to treat you like a child, and I very much want your friendship.”
“I want more than your friendship,” Noriko murmured. She looked up at him and grinned. “But I’ll make do with it for the time being. Now when you know how I feel I don’t have to be shy about it.”
Much braver than me, Ulf thought. “Fine, I’ll accept that,” he said.