Noriko was just on the verge of joining their Swedish guests for yet another session in the sea when she noticed Urufu’s face a bit further up the beach.
One face among others lit up by the rapidly falling sun. One face a little too far away to recognise this easily, but it was Urufu. She knew that, and she knew why she knew.
By now her conviction that this time she’d hold on for all that she was worth was stronger than her friendship with Kuri.
That the tall goddess would hurt the day Noriko finally managed to reel Urufu in was a given. That Kuri would have a hard time forgiving as well. Kuri being a couple with Ryu didn’t have anything to do with it, and as Noriko gazed at the face she wanted close to hers more than anything else in the world she finally understood why Kuri would hurt.
Idiot. My idiot friend, Noriko thought. Crushes and lovers in high school might be nothing more than attributes of the spring of youth, and most often it probably was, but Kuri and Urufu. What they had had, and what they allowed to slip through their fingers was so much more.
Am I willing to take that risk? She knew the answer to that question, and somewhere deep inside Noriko understood she’d never have Urufu entirely to herself even if she made him hers. Would that be enough? That she didn’t know. She only felt how much the hole inside her would hurt if she didn’t even get whatever he could give her, and therefore it had to be enough, and for that reason she just had to take that risk.
With anxiety filling her she left the sand and walked toward Urufu. He sat facing two men, and Noriko saw she had to round the construction and enter facing his back.
More of a surprise that way, she thought and grinned. Grinning was something Urufu taught her. That wide open, defenceless expression of mirth which had captured her heart almost two years earlier.
That time, when he saved her, his face didn’t radiate rage despite the slap he gave her to make her run for safety. It was a grin filled with relief and satisfaction that sent her on her way in search for her brother while Urufu fought her battle behind her back.
Rage and despair came later, and while those expressions had scared her it was the memory of that first grin of his that stayed with her, and she fell in love with him before even understanding what falling in love was. That understanding didn’t come until he was expelled.
I lost him twice. I’m not going to let it happen a third time. And she had to make a move. Warning signals blared in her whenever Rika-sempai got near Urufu. He might be in love with Kuri, but Kuri would never do allow sanity to prevail and live out the love of her life together with the only mad she could share it with. Noriko knew she could trust Kuri’s insanity.
Rika-sempai, however, was a totally different thing. She had the financial muscle to find out what kind of beast Urufu was, and Noriko didn’t want to take that kind of risk. The day the classic beauty understood that Urufu didn’t act like the two year younger boy he might look like, well that day would see Rika-sempai turn into competition.
Maybe the love stories were usually right about younger girls having an advantage, but there was nothing usual about Urufu.
Noriko smirked and took the nearest path around the wooden deck where adults sat drinking sun and beer, one of them Urufu, even though Noriko suspected he didn’t join in on the beer.
Less than a minute later she entered the deck.
Oh! Nakagawa-sensei, and… it took her a few seconds to recognise the other man. Kuri’s father? No, grandfather. It was supposed to be a secret, but there were very few secrets between the six of them. Can you even say that we are still the six of us? They didn’t keep together like they did until Kuri dumped Urufu.
She waved to her former principal, and he returned a nod Urufu didn’t even notice, because his head didn’t move the slightest.
Then he must have noticed, because just as she came up behind him and made ready to cover his eyes with her hands he turned and shot her a nonplussed look.
And then his face split up in the wolfish grin that made her heart tumble. For a moment every trace of the worries which had etched themselves into his eyes vanished and he looked just like a sixteen year old boy who had an innocent prank played on him.
Stronger, much stronger than the crush she had on him flaring up all inside her an intense feeling of gratitude grew in her. You changed me. You made me feel joy again.
Long gone, just over a year ago, but still long gone, were the cynical Noriko she had made into her persona. Now she only needed her own sixteen year old self. Standing in the shadow of her brother didn’t matter now when she could shine on her own.
“So you’re Tina’s rival?” Kuri’s grandfather said?
Tina? Ah, yes he calls her Tina. Noriko felt a grin taking over her face, one she suspected could compete with Urufu’s. “Yes, yes I am.”
For once mentioning Kuri didn’t cast a shadow over Urufu’s features. “At least she’s trying the best she can,” he said.
“I’m not just trying,” Noriko responded and placed a hand on his shoulder. “After finals, during our summer break. You’d better be ready. I’ll go all out for you.”
“I’ll be waiting,” he said teasingly, but Noriko filled with pure joy at those words. The Urufu she knew was never false. He migt not have understood himself, but in those words lay the opening she had hoped for.
“Summer break,” she repeated, and then she surprised herself with an audacity she never knew she had in her. “I’ll have you long for this before autumn,” she added and hugged him.