Ulf fought down an urge to tease the girl in front of him a little more. Despite being a kid she adamantly persisted in her notion of being in love with him. From time to time he played with the thought of taking advantage of it, just to help him get over Christina, but he’d told Noriko he was bad rebound material, and he refused to hurt her in more ways than declining her feelings for him.
My midterm results? Ulf forced his thoughts to the reason she had called him out.
“Not the top fifty, or you would have known,” he said.
“Stop avoiding my question!”
Why does she want to know? “I’m not absolutely certain, but top hundred at least.”
Noriko blanched. “You made it into the top third?”
Top fourth, more likely. Still a long way from the top ten where he really belonged. Rather than answering he nodded.
“Scores?” Noriko said.
She really doesn’t let go, does she? Reluctantly Ulf dug up his phone. He had the results there.
“Per subject?” Ulf pretended to look if there was any ramen left in his bowl. If it had he wouldn’t want to eat it anyway, but it was worth a try to see if she would drop the topic.
Noriko tapped his hand with her fingers and nodded. “Per subject.”
Better not give her a shock immediately. “Japanese 62.”
Noriko nodded again. Apparently she took his improvements with the language for granted.
“English 78.” And Ulf knew he was an idiot for answering the exam questions the way they were written rather than the way they were supposed to be written. He could have crammed out another four points.
Once again Noriko nodded.
“Social sciences 80.” Which was OK. At the rate his Japanese improved he’d score higher next time.
Noriko just looked at him and smiled.
Well, guess I can’t keep it a secret. “Science 95.”
“95?” This time she didn’t just look at him.
“You do know I’ve done this before?”
“Still, wow!” Then she tilted her head and looked at him. “Math?”
Here goes. “Nailed it.”
“Nailed it? Eh, no way!”
That made him feel more than a little self conscious. “Yes way. 100,” Ulf said and grinned.
She was really cute when her eyes opened in surprise, and Ulf could see how she summed the numbers up and compared them with some kind of information he didn’t have access to.
Now what? For the first time Ulf felt genuinely interested. “What is it?”
“You almost caught up with Ryu.”
“Urufu, you barely missed the list!”
Top fifty? Impossible. There are just over 300 of us. Something nagged at the corner of his mind. Crap! This was Himekaizen, and not his old high school in Gothenburg. Aw I forgot just how huge the difference is.
“Sorry, I took my old school for granted.”
“Yeah, back in Sweden, all those years ago. We don’t grade this way, or didn’t at least, but I’d be below average with results like these.” Among the bottom 20 percent more likely, but there’s no point in boasting about my old school.
Come to think of it. Ulf admitted he had absolutely no idea how well the school did now, and in this version of Sweden.
The sound of trapping fingers brought him out of his thoughts, and he just had time to see how Noriko punched her screen before she slid her phone back into her school bag.
Did you just send an SMS? Eh, Line message. People didn’t use the messaging system he was used to from Sweden, and when he finally caught up with the way email was used instead, it also fell out of fashion.
“Noriko, were those my results?”
“Want some water?”
Ulf stared at her. Now it was her turn playing the game did earlier. “Noriko, please answer me. Did you just send my midterm results to someone?”
“Ice or not?”
Ulf decided to cut to the chase. “Either you answer my question or I’m cutting all contact with you.”
She flinched as if he had struck her. “Kuri,” she said so fast the two syllables rolled over each other.
Ulf felt sorry for her. He’d never cut the contact for something like this. Sulk and avoid her for a day or two maybe, but she was one of his best friends. Without thinking he reached out with a hand and clasped hers.
Once again she gave him a start. Her hand was whipped out of his, and when Ulf looked up Noriko’s face had flared red.
“Don’t! Not when you don’t love me back.”
Shit! I’m sorry. Somehow he’d slid back into old habits, and the habits of old friends. They were a lot more physical in Sweden. Then Ulf mentally cursed himself. A girl with a crush on him during his freshman year in university had reacted just like this.
Noriko stared down at the table. When she spoke her voice was very small. “I don’t want you to apologise for touching me. That’s even worse.”
You’re not making this easy. Ulf withdrew his hands and placed them over each other. “Christina, my scores, why?” he said to lift the mood.
“I don’t know. Ryu said it was important.”
“Ryu said it was important you send Christina my scores?”
This time Ulf didn’t hesitate. He reached over the table and tapped her forehead. “Something wrong in there?”
“Sorry, my bad,” Noriko said and smiled. “That didn’t make any sense, did it?”
Ulf shook his head in response.
“Ryu called me and said Kuri wanted your midterm results, and that it was important.”
“He didn’t say.”
Ulf grumbled. If she wanted them she could just have asked him directly.
“I don’t think she could, you know,” Noriko said as if she had just read his thoughts. “You two, well, there are things unfinished between you. Am I right?”
He had to admit she was. Getting a call from Christina would have his stomach in an uproar. You’re right, we’re not finished with each other. I wonder if we’ll ever be.
“It hurts you know. Knowing you broke up the way you did.”
“Sorry for us?”
“Yes, but that’s not what I mean. If you break up when you still love each other you’ll hurt a lot of other people.”
Ulf hadn’t thought of it that way. “I’m sorry,” he said and hid his face in his hands.