“Mom wondered if Urufu got a new girlfriend.”
Ryu’s words echoed in Noriko’s mind as she made her way between tables in the typical kind of restaurant she expected to find her parents in whenever they had guests. Expensive, western food, sometimes gaudy, sometimes just stylish, but always fantastic food.
Right now food wasn’t on the menu for her. She needed to talk with Sano-san who had arrived yesterday to check in on his granddaughter. Sure, Noriko wasn’t supposed to know that, and she pretended she didn’t, but she was supposed to know that Kuri and Urufu had gotten themselves entangled in some kind of adult power game. For that she needed Sano-san’s help, because since a few hours she could no longer help Urufu directly.
When she arrived at her parents’ table Noriko dropped an envelope on the table even before she had time to greet them. She also made an effort to grab a chair with its back towards the table where Urufu and Jeniferu-chan sat chatting over a cup of coffee each.
Her father smirked when Sano-san wondered what it was all about.
“I just got notice of my expulsion,” Noriko said in her father’s place. “So did Ryu.”
“Noriko, silent!” her mother said. “Sit!”
“Expelled?” Sano-san asked again, this time to her parents.
“Who more?” her father asked instead of answering Sano-san’s question.
Noriko stared at the empty spot before her just as her mother made a discreet gesture. Soon a waiter would arrive.
“There were only four of us left,” Noriko said. She had already told them what had happened. Not that she needed. The PTA was split down the middle, and the angry half made an effort to notify every parent about what was going on. “I believe Yukio and Kyoko got expelled as well, and maybe Jeniferu-chan.” She caught her breath. There was the illusion to uphold. “Urufu and Kuri, and that new guy from Sweden probably got expelled as well.”
While her father grimaced Sano-san and her mother both gave her a long, searching stare each.
Crap, now they know that I know. Well, as long as the adults kept their silence she’d pretend she never noticed she had just botched it.
“Maybe time to take some measures,” Sano-san said.
Her mother’s gaze left her immediately.
“Don’t you even dare!” both her parents said in unison.
“You’re telling me there was a valid reason you children and all their friends got expelled together?”
Noriko’s mother put her fork down with just a little too much force. Enough to make it clatter angrily on the plate. “We’ll handle this one ourselves. Your solutions are, how should I put it, too short sighted.”
Sano-san shrugged, just like Urufu so often did. “I’d say they’re permanent, but it’s your call,” he said and offered her mother a thin smile than sent shivers down Noriko’s spine.
“Mitsuo, permanency can wait. We’ll do it the way you taught us back in school,” Noriko’s father said.
Noriko noticed how Sano-san almost flinched. “I never enjoyed it. When the two of you get angry together I stay the hell out of the way.”
What? Noriko searched her parents’ expression for a clue. Something must have happened back then, and to dare speak to each other that way their friendship must run way deeper than she had ever suspected.
“Mitsuo,” her mother began. “We’ll turn utter defeat into utter defeat. You just end things.”
“Cleaner that way,” Sano-san said silently. “I’m sorry for what I have done.”
Noriko listened in fascination as the three of them totally forgot she was present.
“Don’t be,” her father said. “You were a creepy bastard from the beginning, and you’ve been that way ever since. You’re one of our two best friends, so don’t give us that crap.”
“Me, creepy?” Sano-san and shot Noriko’s father a look of disbelief. “I just do things. You’re the creepy ones.”
As her parents and Sano-san got deeper and deeper involved in their conversation Noriko’s thoughts returned to the first words she had heard after the received her expulsion notice: “Mom wondered if Urufu got a new girlfriend.”
They sat two tables behind her, just far away enough that she couldn’t pick up on what they were talking about, just that they spoke English.
Urufu, you idiot! I’ve got first dibs on you. But she knew it didn’t really work that way. While he knew how she felt about him she couldn’t order him to fall in love with her. Only hope, and those words didn’t exactly help with that part.
Jeniferu-chan was competition. What she lacked in looks compared to Kuri she made up for in presence. And she’s a westerner, just like Kuri, Noriko thought. That makes her more like what he grew up with. Can I even compete with that?
Noriko pushed the thought away. Urufu’s head was filled with Kuri, and that was the uphill fight she had taken on from the beginning. Jeniferu-chan might represent competition, but at least she wasn’t someone Urufu was still in love with.
With renewed determination Noriko rose from her chair and turned to face the pair behind her. She felt better if they saw her arriving openly. She’d take whatever came her way from there.
She barely had time to take a step before Urufu looked up and met her eyes.
In her chair Jeniferu-chan turned as well, but rather than showing irritation she waved an invitation to Noriko. “Noriko! Why don’t you join us?”
Urufu shot them both a tired look and gestured for the waiter. “Girls!” he said, but there was no anger in his voice neither. Rather he looked kind of relieved to see her there, any any reaction that showed appreciation at her presence made Noriko’s heart bounce in hopeful anticipation.
“Sure,” she said and walked to their table on wobbly legs.