Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment six


I need professional help?”

Yukio looked at Kuri. They were on their way back from lunch to yet another midterm exam.

If Noriko says so, then you probably do,” Kyoko said from his other side.

Ko-chan!”

Yes, Kuri-chan, dear?”

Kyoko’s sugary sweet voice made Yukio cringe. He sped up and deliberately abandoned his girlfriend. When Kuri and Kyoko decided to swap blows with each other he never knew if they were serious or not.

See you after school,” Yukio announced and made for his classroom. It wasn’t like he’d be able to share it with Kyoko for the exam anyway.

And you probably do, and Urufu as well, he thought a little later when he made the last preparations for the exam. Epic levels of idiocy were probably better handled by professionals than by friends. Still, by now both Kuri and Urufu seemed to have settled down in their respective new relationships, one famous throughout the school and the other kept a secret. Well, nominally a secret anyway.

Exams ate the rest of the day, and the day after that. They were, Yukio thought after the week had passed, strangely easier than he had expected. When he mentioned it to Kyoko she chalked it down to a combination of club activities and the brutal cramming that prepared them for the spring term finals at Irishima High a few months earlier.

He tried to get a second opinion from Noriko, but when Yukio called Saturday he learned she was away paying Jeniferu a visit.

With Kuri away for work, Ryu almost certainly waiting for her, and Urufu most likely training that martial arts of his, or cycling to training, Yukio decided to spend the day alone with Kyoko. Dates had been few and far between the last weeks anyway.

With most of the old gang out of reach he suggested a change of place as well. Thus it was Yukio found himself an early Saturday afternoon waiting at the entrance to Ueno Zoo at one side of the park.

The first person to approach him however wasn’t Kyoko but rather Tomasu and Hitomi.

Funny seeing the two of your here,” Yukio greeted them.

No coincidence,” Hitomi said. “Kyoko called me earlier.”

Strange. I thought we were going to have a date. Yukio forced a smile and nodded to Kyoko’s classmate and only second year club member who had returned to Himekaizen apart from the old group.

Don’t worry, you’ll have your date eventually,” she continued. Hitomi had proven to be much less of an airhead than the girl who once joined the club. The short stunt at Irishima High had been good for her. At least in Yukio’s eyes.

Is Jeniferu OK with this?” Yukio said. This time addressing Tomasu.

It’s her request,” Hitomi answered rather than the boyfriend Yukio had just indirectly accused of cheating.

Tomasu fidgeted but chose to stare back across the park in the direction of the railway station.

Jeniferu’s?” Yukio said and followed Tomasu’s eyes. No matter if they came by subway or train they’d enter the part from the same entrance.

Hitomi turned and looked behind her as well. “Yes. She’s with Noriko and Kyoko picked them up on her way here.”

An obscure application of Chinese whispers flashed through Yukio’s mind. “Jeniferu told Noriko to call Kyoko to ask you to bring Tomasu here and notify me of the change of plans?”

Hitomi smiled when she turned back to face him. “Yes, that would be an apt description.”

Yukio shook his head. If what Urufu taught him about single points of failure and sequential dependencies was correct those inbound were likely to end up in Stockholm if they even got moving at all.

They waited. From time to time Yukio picked up his smartphone to see if there was a message.

Waited long?”

Yukio looked up. Urufu? Man, please make some sense of this!

I dropped my bike by the pond,” Urufu said as if that explained anything. “The rest will be here soon. Noriko got the zoo mixed up with the park, or rather Noriko and Kyoko did.”

Yukio shot Hitomi a glance, but she only smiled in return.

You’re telling me they’re waiting just across the...?” Yukio began, but then he saw Kyoko with Noriko and Jeniferu in tow walking from where he had once come himself.

I called them on my way here,” Urufu said. “Haven’t been here for ages, and when Noriko sent me a message I wondered...”

“… if things hadn’t been garbled in the end?” Yukio filled in.

He stared at his best friend and they both guffawed.

Something like that,” Urufu offered, and by that time Yukio’s stomach hurt a little, and the trio had made their way to them. Hitomi glared at him and Tomasu gave him a nonplussed stare.

Sorry, Yukio, but Noriko said it was important.”

He hugged her. Some of Urufu’s influence had rubbed off, and Yukio didn’t care that they were in public. “Don’t worry. We planned being together all of us anyway.”

Kyoko loosened herself from his hug. “No, we’re having that date, but it’ll have to wait a little. Yukio, this is important,” Kyoko said and looked at Jeniferu. “Could you wait here with Urufu for a while? Please!”

Yukio smiled back. If Kyoko said it was important for her he’d wait for however long it took. “Mind if we grab a drink?”

Kyoko shook her head. “Message when we’re done?”

Yukio smiled again and nodded.

He looked after Kyoko as she headed in the direction of a large fountain together with the rest of the girls and a bewildered Tomasu who was unceremoniously dragged away as well.

What’s up,” Yukio wondered aloud.

Girls’ talk,” Urufu said and frowned. “I hope they can make it work.”

I don’t understand.”

I wanted to say I hope you never will, but I’m afraid you already do.”

Yukio stared at Urufu. Sometimes he could be infuriatingly cryptic.

Together the both of them went in search for a vending machine.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment five


Noriko shook her head while she waited for Kuri to open the door. It was her first time here, and she regretfully accepted that she was a little curious. While she would have preferred to stay with Urufu in the Haven something in Christina’s voice told her that wasn’t really an option.

But why me and not Kyoko?

Suddenly the door clicked open and Christina’s voice called ‘please enter’ over a hidden intercom.

Noriko did as bidden and got inside.

Two pair of shoes waited for her in the hallway, and when Noriko looked into an enormous living room she saw Kuri waving.

I’ll be outside for a while,” Christina said to whomever her guest was. Then she ran to Noriko and hugged her. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help her. Please forgive me!”

Her? “What’s going on?”

It’s Jennifer. She’s in a bad shape, and I don’t think I’m the one she needs listening.”

No, no you didn’t! Now it was too late to back out. “You owe me for this!”

I know,” Christina said, “but I could never understand her the way you could,” she whispered.

You insensitive bitch! Why would I want to relive that? “You owe me,” Noriko repeated.

Christina didn’t answer. She just opened the door and vanished into the lift.

Noriko clenched her fists and with worms crawling down her spine she forced her feet into the living room. When she entered it she saw Jennifer’s small body hunched in a chair by a large table in the next room.

Of course this flat comes with a separate dining room. Gods it’s huge!

Jeniferu, it’s me,” she said into the silence.

No answer.

Noriko,” Noriko added at a lack of anything meaningful to say. Of course Jeniferu would know. I didn’t know walking trough a room could take this long. But it didn’t have anything to do with the room. Two years. It takes two years to walk to that table.

Memories of what had almost happened filled her mingled with the knowledge that there was nothing almost for Jeniferu. Urufu saved me, but Tomasu never made it in time for you. Did that make Urufu better than Tomasu? Noriko didn’t think so, not if she was honest, but she also admitted she might have fallen in love with Urufu the first time just because he did save her.

She left me. She didn’t want to talk with me.” The words petered out and Noriko heard how they were replaced by, first silent, but quickly wailing sobs.

I’ll never forgive you Kuri! But Noriko knew she would, even if it took a long time. Who told her about what happened to me? Ryu? But then Noriko remembered she herself had told both Principal Nakagawa and the entire student council last year.

She rushed to the table and sat down on a chair beside Jeniferu. “She’s scared,” Noriko heard herself say. She put her hands on the table. Right now she wasn’t certain if a hug would make the girl panic or not.

She?”

Noriko threw Jeniferu a glance. Maybe they would talk after all, or Noriko talk, or Jeniferu; she didn’t know. “Kuri,” she said after a moment’s hesitation.

Kuri’s scared? Of what?”

Urufu was as well,” Noriko answered. In ways it was a lie, but she believed he was. She hadn’t asked yet. “They don’t know what it’s like.” Suddenly afraid of stealing Jeniferu’s fear Noriko added: “And neither do I, not really.”

Then why did she leave you with me?” Jeniferu said and broke down again.

Good question, Noriko thought. Then she discarded it. Thinking like that was too close to the cynical freshman version of herself from over a year ago.

Because,” Noriko began. She dared touching Jeniferu’s shoulder to get her attention. “In middle school some boys tried to rape me.”

That did get her attention. Jeniferu’s eyes were suddenly wide open and she stopped sobbing at once.

Did they...”

No,” Jeniferu’s experience was far worse than Noriko’s, “Urufu saved me, Urufu and my brother.” Which wasn’t entirely true. Ryu had been too far away to know she needed saving.

I’ve been so afraid.” And Jeniferu’s eyebrows once again screwed up in a display of misery.

Noriko waited while Jeniferu cried and cried. Holding her seemed fine, and when Jeniferu turned her head and buried her face into Noriko’s shoulder she did the same. Fears she had forgotten surfaced and she joined Jeniferu in her wailing.

How much time passed before they stopped crying Noriko didn’t know, but certainly more than for any errand Kuri used as an excuse for leaving her flat.

Dad wants me to talk with someone,” Jeniferu said when they had both run out of tears.

Noriko stood heating water for some tea and turned at the sound of Jeniferu’s voice.

And you?”

Jeniferu shook her head. “Not with a stranger.”

A small cup with sugar made company on the tray where tea bags competed for space with two mugs and an equally small can of milk.

A professional,” Noriko said carrying the set through the room. “Living room?”

Jeniferu nodded and rose from her chair. Brown hair, some of it still wet from tears bobbed around her face and failed in it’s attempt to hide her red eyes.

Wonder if I look the same.

Noriko put the tray on a low table by a sofa, the two pieces of furniture that tried to hide in the huge space. Now when she wasn’t occupied with her and Jeniferu’s shared fear she had time to see how the entire flat screamed of desolation.

A professional,” Noriko repeated when Jeniferu joined her. “I believe you need one.” She looked around the empty room. “I believe Kuri needs one as well.”

Do you mean Kuri...”

No,” Noriko said and smiled for the first time since coming here. “For a different reason.”

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment four


Christina had Thomas dropped off at his home, but when she asked Jennifer if she wanted to be driven home as well the girl just shook her head.

Going with Thomas?”

Brown hair flew around Jennifer’s face once again.

Girls’ talk,” Thomas offered from outside the car. “She doesn’t get those too often. See you tomorrow Jennifer.”

Christina looked after his back as he climbed the short stairs to his door and vanished inside.

Where to?” her chauffeur said.

Home. Have them prepare for a guest,” Christina said and shot Jennifer a quick glance to see if that was what she wanted.

This time Jennifer nodded.

Seriously contemplating quitting modelling the last summer was, Christina realised, the smartest thing she had done. It must have shown, because Vogue dropped more or less all of their draconian demands, which meant she could have friends visiting her.

So why is Jennifer the first? Because Ulf wasn’t, and Ko-chan would understand that, and Noriko still didn’t feel comfortable around her.

You live on your own as well?” Christina asked.

Jennifer nodded. “Well, there’s a body guard now,” she added.

Body guard?”

Another nod.

Christina decided to wait for the girl to continue the topic of her own. Something was wrong, but pushing the freshman into a corner could backfire as well.

They continued the drive in silence. Through the windows Christina saw how autumn truly had come to the city. Later here than in Sweden, by well over a month.

After an awkward silence they arrived at her home, and Christina spent the ride in the lift reading up on her next shoot. Talking could wait until they were inside her flat.

She opened the door and invited her guest inside.

It’s huge!” were the first words here from a voice belonging to someone other than Christina’s or her staff.

Christina looked at Jennifer. Maybe it was. Ever since moving in she hadn’t really given it much of a thought. Her small and rundown flat held more good memories than this one, and years of living in luxury must have made her numb to excesses.

I thought you were used to it, diplomat daughter and all,” Christina said in an attempt to get a conversation going.

Jennifer hung her jacket on a hanger and walked further inside. She was, Christina mused, in for a surprise. The living room might look huge, but it also opened up to another seven rooms, most of which were empty since there was absolutely no way Christina could have made any meaningful use of them.

Maybe I’d have spent money on furniture if they let me bring friends home. Maybe, but the time for maybes had gone, and living in a world of fashion you either got over mistakes immediately or your were out of a career.

The dining room, apart from her own sleeping room and the living room they had entered, the only one furnished had a dinner for two waiting for them on a grand table for a full dozen. This would be her second time eating here. Ever since that first night crying over a lonely snack in her new home she spent what few meals she had here in the kitchen.

The food was, Christina noted mutely, superb, and she waited for the famished freshman to fill her needs before trying to open up a conversation again.

In the end it was Jennifer who eventually broke the silence. She placed fork and knife on her plate in a way that told Christina volumes of a well to do middle class upbringing and pretended to wipe her mouth with a napkin.

I’m afraid,” she said.

Body guards, Christina thought. So she’s just putting on a show after all. In ways Christina felt relieved. The girl was human in the end. “I’m listening,” because this would mostly be listening from her part.

I’m afraid of turning Thomas away, but I can’t stand him touching me.”

Christina nodded, but she couldn’t prevent a grimace from spreading on her face. “Did he do anything?” But that wasn’t the question, was it? More than a few models around her during her first life had been forced to bed men in power, and a couple, Christina suspected, were outright assaulted.

No, no he’s gentle.”

He would be. Withdrawn to the point that Christina almost didn’t see him as a man, but with something in his eyes that told her he fought with himself every day to behave like a model gentleman.

It’s because of that?”

Jennifer smirked and looked down at her empty plate.

Apart from a genuine interest in fashion there was a reason Christina abandoned modelling and built her empire. She desperately sought the power to prevent that from happening in her own world, but in the end she hurt others instead.

Should I call a couple of other friends here?” Christina said. She hadn’t experienced what Jennifer had. There was little she could do to help.

Jennifer’s face suddenly turned into an ugly grimace of fear and loathing. “No! I couldn’t stand you looking at me that way.”

I can’t do anything! I don’t understand. I… oh! “I could leave you with them. Or just one of them.”

Why? I came to you.”

She needs professional help. I could hurt her, but Noriko, maybe if it was her. Christina combed her hair with her fingers while she thought of a decent way to force her suggestion. In the end only the truth came to her mind. She’d apologise to Noriko later. “You know Ryu?”

Jennifer nodded, and her panicked eyes slowly returned to normal.

He told me. Noriko, his sister. She’d understand you better, and I trust her.”

Jennifer’s eyes opened wide.

And so I’ll hurt a friend, and I’ll hurt you as well Ulf. Gritting her teeth Christina decided that if she was to be a disgusting woman something good could as well come from it.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment three


While studying alone together with Noriko would have been a pleasure Ulf still declined her suggestion. Christina’s earlier stunt drew the attention of both media and police, and police arresting people from the media drew even more attention from the media.

Journalists from the US and western Europe were very different from their potty-trained Japanese counterparts. Freedom of press was a calling and not something best forgotten lest you discomfort people in power. It also meant western journalists never let go of their grip unless you clubbed them from behind.

So Ulf made himself scarce and dragged Noriko to the Haven rather than going home. Yukio and Kyoko would arrive there as well, and their armed body guards should be able to keep prying eyes from getting, well, too prying.

As it turned out he was correct. Ulf barely managed to pull his girlfriend inside before both body guards intercepted a couple of men with cameras growing like twigs from a poorly pruned bonsai. With a sigh of relief he opened the door to the inner room, nodded to James’ silent question and stepped inside.

I wanted you for myself,” Noriko sulked behind him.

Ulf smirked. “At your place? With Ryu climbing all over my back because he dislikes us being a couple?”

When Noriko declined to answer Ulf turned and faced her. She was sulking.

We can’t go home to me. There’s just no space for you staying the night there, and I’m not sending you home alone on a taxi. Not after what happened.”

There was enough space, but Ulf wasn’t about to go there, and he very much doubted Amaya would approve.

The inner room was all but empty. It was, after all, in the middle of the day, and but for the suspensions all students were supposed to attend class now. All but empty however wasn’t empty. A few Irishima High students as well as their vice principal sat there.

Guess it doesn’t count as skipping if your teacher is with you. It didn’t really matter that Satoru Noguchi probably wasn’t a teacher at all.

Cramming?” Ulf asked.

He only received a few grunts and nods as answers.

Why are you here?” Satoru said.

Ulf smiled at the older man. “At this time of the day?”

Satoru nodded and gave him a broken smile in return.

Ulf explained.

Is he daft?” was the concluding response, and Ulf could only agree.

Behind them the door opened and James arrived with Ulf’s order. The tray he carried contained a little for Noriko as well, and Ulf shot him what he hoped was a grateful smile.

Noriko, up for some serious cramming?”

She smiled at him. “Define serious!”

Ulf grinned. “James, when do you close shop?” Let’s see if that’s serious enough for you, Noriko.

Eleven pm,” came the answer.

Ramen for dinner?” Noriko asked, and Ulf had his answer. Then she emptied her bag on the table.

Taxi home after all I guess. He’d escort her home and continue to his own flat after he made sure she was safely inside. I hate this. Why? Ulf searched his thoughts. Because I’m afraid. He’d been threatened before, but it was different when people around him were in danger. He wished that made him some kind of knight in shining armour, but what he really hated was not being in control.

Urufu?” Noriko had taken a chair, and now she sat staring at him.

Sorry, sure, ramen is fine,” Ulf belatedly said and grabbed a chair for himself. “Math first?” Not that he really needed to study math at high school level, but it allowed himself to solve problems while going through what was really important at the same time.

With a shake of her head Noriko declined, and Ulf caught himself staring at her hair fanning out like a skirt around her face.

Japanese?” he suggested instead.

This time he received a nod in return.

They crammed Japanese style. No thinking, just memorising whatever they believed would pop up on the exam, and within a couple of hours Ulf was dead tired from sheer boredom. He rolled his head to loosen up sore muscles and slid his hand across the table.

Hungry?” he asked and took Noriko’s hand in his. Her fingers were smaller than Christina’s, just like everything with her was smaller than Christina. Ulf knew he shouldn’t compare, but he was a lot less physical with Noriko than he had been with Christina, so those thoughts still came unbidden to his mind.

Noriko looked up from her notebook and met his eyes. “Uhum,” she said. “Appetiser first?”

Huh?”

She pulled his hand to herself and leaned over the table. Ulf stared at her in surprise when her eyes were suddenly very close, and then he felt her softness on his lips.

Tastes great,” she said when she let him go. “Ramen?”

Satoru’s cough reminded Ulf there weren’t alone in the room, and when he let his eyes wander behind Noriko he saw the trio of Irishima High students smirk.

Ramen it is.” Am I running a fever? Ah, no, I’m blushing. “Should we go?”

Rather than answering him Noriko simply rose and went for the door.

Ulf shrugged and followed her, but it was impossible for him to stop a wide grin from spreading on his face. Thank you for being here. He swallowed his grin and joined her outside the café.

The ramen shop was close by but still far enough off for him to take her hand and enjoy a short moment of feeling her close to him. It feels good with your hand in mine, Ulf thought and intertwined his fingers with hers.
Noriko squeezed back.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment two


I want you to end your relationship with Hamarugen. He's a bad influence on you.”

Noriko stared at Kareyoshi. “Bad influence?”

Yes. Your scores have fallen the last trimester.”

My scores have fallen? You bastard! How much are you getting paid by the PTA? “My scores average above 90. I fail to see how that would be a problem.” She gave him a defiant look. But in the end I'll have to fold. The moment they bring my parents into this I'll have to fold.

He had tiny eyes. Lying eyes. She hadn't seen that until now.

While your scores aren't a problem per se, you still have dropped from the top three to around top ten. That reflects badly on this school, especially as those with higher grades haven't improved compared to earlier.”

The bastard knows how hard Urufu's studying, but he'll still sacrifice him for those rapists. It's all because he's a foreigner without connections. Noriko felt tears welling up, but forced them down. I won't let him get to me!

“We're having a meeting next week where we'll decide if he'll be suspended or expelled.”

He didn't have to tell me. That's just hurtful! One week. That would be just after the exams. After the exams? Oh, U-kun, U-kun! You sly… You planned it all along. Blushing, yet smiling, Noriko faced the principal. “So, you'll put him through the midterms first and kick him out of school after that?” You idiot, you're in for it this time! Noriko recalled Urufu's sardonic smile earlier that month.

'I don't need to focus on learning more kanji any longer. By now I can read the tests,' he had said. 'And as I told you, they're designed for parrots.' He had shown her that wolfish grin, and then he started skipping classes.

I wouldn't put it that way, but someone with his reputation and his grades isn't exactly what this school needs.” Principal Kareyoshi's words brought Noriko back to the current reality.

U-kun, I'll slap you silly around the entire school next time I see you. Then I'll hug you, and then I'll kiss you silly. For everyone to see! “May I assume that if his grades were to increase drastically, then that would influence your decision?” And then she recalled the booklets in Urufu's room. Ah, the info on Tokyo University wasn't just for me at after all.

That would require near perfect scores, and,” Kareyoshi eyed her body over before he continued: “even if you were actually to help him study instead of… Well, it's too late now anyway.”

Noriko suppressed a shiver as he continued to undress her with his eyes. Instead she focused on the implications of what she had just realized. Near perfect scores. Urufu wasn't skipping classes because he lacked the ability to follow them. He was skipping classes because they were an impediment. 'It's all a matter of information density,' he had said. 'Your education system is all about memory and no understanding. Given a month or so I could probably memorize everything for the second trimester, but I wouldn't understand a lot of it, because I would lack context.' Given a month or so… Skipping classes so you can study… U-kun, you little… I love you!

Yes, I guess you're right, Principal. There's nothing I could do to help him now,” Noriko agreed and gave him a smile full of lies. “Is that all? Class is starting soon.”

But if he brings my parents into this I still have to fold.

Oh you don’t have to worry about class,” Kareyoshi suddenly said.
Noriko looked up from the floor she had been studying the last seconds. “How come?”

You’re suspended for one week.”

I’m what? Why?”

You’re suspended for being involved in an indecent relationship.”

I’m involved in an….” I wish! She felt herself blushing from the neck up, and with thoughts of making Kareyoshi’s accusation come true she stumbled out of the office.

Urufu, why didn’t you tell me? Because when she got angry with him he wasn’t U-kun any longer. Well if we’re both suspended until midterms then I’ll be damned if we can’t study together.

Noriko knew how he processed data when he wanted to. She also knew no one else understood to exactly what extent he did. So studying together with Urufu for a week would basically be the same as going to school for well over a month, which was a bonus. Studying with Urufu for a week, well, just thinking of it made Noriko’s stomach go all warm and fuzzy.

Warm and fuzzy enough that he had almost been reinstated as U-kun in her mind when she left through the main entrance and saw the circus by the gates. And the idiot stood in the middle of it and waved to her. He immediately reverted from potential U-kun to moron-sama, but the warm feelings didn’t disappear despite angry thoughts running through her head.

Noriko made up her mind, decided that she’d have him as close to her as possible the coming week, and with newfound determination she listened to the crunching sound of gravel under her feet as she made her way to the gates and the sakura trees behind them.

She saw Yukio and Kyoko there, Ryu was there as well, but Kuri wasn’t. Ryu stood surrounded by journalists answering questions on behalf of his famous girlfriend.

While idols usually kept their relationships a secret Kuri refused, but Noriko guessed Kuri played up her foreignness as much as possible to get away with just as much as possible.

Idiot, you could have held on to Urufu, but I’m happy you didn’t. Because she was. Noriko admitted that. One way or another both Kuri and Urufu had to hurt for her to experience this. I’ll apologise one day, but not now. It was a staggering thought. That she, Wakayama Noriko, stood ready to watch someone else get hurt if that was the price for her own happiness.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Chapter four, 2017, petty revenge, segment one


Gods! There’s spillover everywhere. Yukio groaned silently, but at least he stayed out of the rumour mongering by the shoe lockers.

Is it true Sugimoto-san transferred last week?”

It’s true. Her parents are divorced and when her mom died she had to move to her relatives.”

Was it suicide?”

Dunno. Maybe.”

It was. Yukio knew that. He also knew Sugimoto-san’s mother had absolutely nothing to do with the rapes apart from believing the girls were at fault for getting assaulted. While disgusting it was hardly a reason for dying. Damn Urufu. I should have listened to you.

He dropped his shoes into his locker, and halfway to his classroom he’d listened to three other versions of the rumours. Rumours, because the Sugimotos weren’t the only family to have lost a member. Sasaki-san, a freshman, lost his older brother to an armed robbery that looked a lot like revenge meted out by friends of the Korean victim.

While Urufu was adamant Sasaki-san’s father was indeed directly involved the dead kid was only guilty of voicing his hatred of anything foreign to whomever was within earshot.

And in the background Kuri continued her own campaign of defamation with the open backing of Jeniferu’s father, and he in turn had the silent backing of two nations.

The stairs took Yukio to his corridor and classroom, and just as it had been since the assaults there was a silence clinging to it that had absolutely nothing to do with obedient students. Stench of fear, did you call it that?

He walked to his desk between classmates refusing to meet his eyes and sat down. Yukio barely had time to dig out his books when his name was called out over the PA system.

Visit the headship’s office? What is the pig up to this time?

Raking down his books into his still open bag Yukio stood and left the classroom the same way he had entered. After climbing the stairs to the third floor he had a moment of fleeting memories from his freshman year when he stared down the familiar corridor. Then he walked into the one connecting both wings.

He was almost at the door to the headship’s office when he heard voices from the inside. Or rather Kareyoshi’s voice.

Your stunt with bringing in journalists again made those in charge change their mind. I’ll have you expelled for tarnishing the name of the school.”

That’s rich coming from someone who disgraces an entire nation just by being born,” came Urufu’s voice.

There was a moment of silence before Kareyoshi spoke again. “Laugh all you want. Within a month you’re gone from here. Atrocious exam results will suffice as a reason.”

You know, you’re not really supposed to tell people exactly how you’re going to hurt them if they can react to it, Yukio thought. But then Kareyoshi hadn’t exactly displayed any evidence of a higher mental capacity. Still, for what it was worth maybe waiting in the corridor was the smarter choice, so Yukio remained where he stood and eavesdropped.

So you’ll use my exam results as an excuse? You know I’m answering questions written in Japanese?”

That’s hardly my problem. If you’re not able to learn a civilised language then you aren’t fit for receiving an education here.”

You still insist on calling the canned simplifications we’re fed here an education?”

I don’t see how you’re qualified to comment on the best education system in the world.”

You really...” for once Urufu’s voice silenced mid sentence. “No, it doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t understand anyway.”

I believe that’s all. By the way, you’re suspended for a week?”

I’m what? For what reason?”

For interfering with the investigation concerning your later expulsion,” Kareyoshi said.

Eh, you just told me about that.”

Which is exactly why I’m preventing you from sabotaging it. Well, that’s all. You may leave.”

Yukio quickly hid behind the door as it opened, but it turned out unneeded as Urufu simply turned in the direction of the sciences wing without looking. After waiting for the backside of his friend disappear behind the corner Yukio finally knocked on the now closed door.

Enter!”

Yukio did as told. Inside the room he came to attention as it was the expected behaviour. “I was called here.”

Matsumoto Yukio.”

Yes,” Yukio answered.

Good. You’re suspended for a week for associating with bad people.”

I’m what?”

That will be all. Dismissed!”

Yukio didn’t even bother with shaking his head. He just bowed, turned and left the office. Kareyoshi hadn’t said when the suspension went active, but Yukio assumed immediately, so he’d just go to his classroom, fetch his clothes and leave school.

On his way there he heard Kyoko, Noriko and Ryu being called over the PA as well, so he decided to wait for them just outside school grounds. Just outside the building he heard the PA calling for Jeniferu, Tomasu and Kuri as well.

Are the girls getting suspended for wearing panties with the wrong colour, or what will the idiot come up with this time?

While Yukio waited by the gates he saw them leaving the building and walk in his direction one by one. The first to arrive was Urufu who must have finished some errand before leaving school, and after him Kyoko and Ryu arrived in rapid succession.

Now that’s funny. I thought Noriko would be with her brother. Maybe she had been somewhere further away from Kareyoshi’s office when they called her over the PA, because Kuri came walking across the gravel before Yukio saw any signs of Noriko.

If she doesn’t show soon I’m going back in after her,” Urufu growled by his side.

Yukio smirked. He’d join his friend if need be, but right now he was more interested in the journalists flocking around them. No way Kuri would miss out on another opportunity to throw dirt at Kareyoshi and the PTA.

Then Yukio saw Jeniferu walking across the school yard supported by Tomasu, and but for Yukio having seen Kuri playing he stunts too many times he’d be really concerned. As it was he understood they were putting on a show, and just as he started wondering what for they arrived at the gates and Jeniferu dropped the bomb.

I can’t stand it Thomas.”

He wouldn’t dare.”

But he’s our principal and he told me he’d find other men to finish the job on me properly.”

And with those words Kuri had both freshmen seated in her car without giving the journalists a single word of her own. She didn’t need to. Outright accusing the principal for personally ordering the rapes was damaging on an entirely different level, but Yukio was certain Kuri lay behind the ugly show one way or another.

He watched the car drive away and turned his attention to the still absent Noriko.

Friday, 26 October 2018

June 24, 2040, second apology


Mornings were cold in Sweden. Summer or not didn’t matter at all.

Noriko smiled and stretched her feet. They reached all the way into the sea, and she wiggled her toes underwater.

Behind her Kyoko and Kuri had run a silent conversation, and now Noriko could hear footsteps coming closer.

So many memories surfacing again. Guess she wants to share another one with me. They were friends. Strained friends, but friends still. If this strange vacation could mend what had been broken Noriko would welcome it.

The footsteps reached her, and Noriko watched Kuri take a seat on the rock beside her. Long legs touched the surface and went under.

Noriko, I owe you an apology.”

You owe me more than one. “Sorry?” Noriko said and pretended she had no idea what was going on.

To be honest this is just one of several,” Kuri said and agreed with what Noriko had just thought. “I’m sorry I slept with Ulf that time. Or rather I’m sorry I hurt you doing so.”

So it was about the end of their second summer.

I wasn’t ashamed at that time, and I apologise for that as well. Especially since you decided to help me later.”

Noriko shook her head. Her memories of what what had happened might a be a little shaky now, but she was certain the anger and pain faded long before those two girls were assaulted.

More importantly, without Kuri she’d never have won Urufu over.

It’s fine,” Noriko said. “I don’t think there’s all that much to apologise for, but I’m grateful you did anyway.”

And yet Kuri really hadn’t understood at all. A girl in love sleeping with the boy she wanted wasn’t a reason for an apology, but Kuri had dragged Urufu into an ugly game with human lives. Noriko didn’t know if she could forgive Kuri for that even if an apology came, because Noriko didn’t know if she could forgive herself.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Chapter three, 2017, shards, segment ten


Noriko swore silently and left the station. Being in love with Urufu made her brains all mushy, and it definitely didn’t make him grow any brains.

Ever since the disgusting parody of a cultural festival Urufu had been racking up an imposing record of absence from school.

They might not be in the same class, but when one of the stars in school asked for her famous boyfriend she got her answers. Maybe more so now when they were both part of the science track. Most of the students were supposed to continue on to university which meant good grades were a better currency now compared to her freshman year.

He played hooky more than half of his lessons, which means she saw far less of him than she craved. And now he had to vanish with Yukio and Kyoko one of the few days when she actually managed to see him at school.

One angry phone call later Noriko was on her way to Asakusa. Even though Urufu had planned ditching her for the afternoon, after that call there was no way he even dared think about it any longer. Which still didn’t make Noriko any less angry.

Walking towards the pier she became less and less certain whether she was angry with Urufu or if she really was angry with herself. When she saw the ferry she was certain the last was true, and when she finally boarded it she almost felt sorry for him.

Noriko quickly made her way through the ferry. This time of the year the open area at the aft was all but empty, but sure enough she found her friends freezing their butts off there. Opening the door Noriko understood why Urufu had chosen that place despite cold gusts of wind tearing at their clothes. The engine sound guaranteed that whatever they spoke about wouldn’t be overheard by mistake.

Almost guaranteed.

Forget it!” came Kyoko’s angry voice just as the door closed behind Noriko.

Urufu answered something Noriko couldn’t hear. Then he said something more.

I refuse!”

Whatever the lopsided conversation was about Noriko understood that Kyoko would have none of it.

Noriko sat down beside her boyfriend and gave Kyoko a glare. Whatever Urufu had said he hadn’t raised his voice at her.

Sorry, didn’t see you coming,” Kyoko said, which had to be a blatant lie.

At his seat across them Yukio grimaced, but Noriko accepted that he didn’t say anything. Besides Noriko knew that he didn’t always side with Kyoko just because they were a couple. So maybe Urufu had suggested something outrageous after all.

I apologise,” Noriko said. “I didn’t mean to butt in, but I got angry when you stole Urufu.”

This time it was Kyoko who grimaced. “Actually he stole us. All of us,” she added and nodded towards one of the body guards. The other probably drove that car to either Hinode or Hama Rikyu depending on how far they planned go by water.

Well, I’ve asked at least. I had to,” Urufu suddenly said.

Noriko looked at him, and from the corner of her eye she saw that both Yukio and Kyoko did the same.

Why? Why if you knew I’d refuse and get angry?”

I had to,” Urufu said. “What Christina’s doing now is wrong, and I’d be an awful friend if I didn’t try everything to make her stop.”

Kuri is doing what? Noriko had been busy dodging attending a cram school after her results dropped. After her spending most of her waking hours being with, trying to be with or thinking of Urufu. Or, like now, doing all three of them. The side effect was that she knew less and less about what happened with the rest of them.

Kareyoshi had them assaulted, and he had Kuri-chan attacked as well last year. You expect me to stop her?”

What’s going on?

People who weren’t involved are getting hurt. I don’t like it, and I don’t like what it’ll make her become.” Urufu shot Noriko a guilty look. “Kyoko, I used to be in love with that girl. I still care for her and watching her become some kind of vengeance demon hurts.”

Noriko knew Urufu still had feelings for Kuri, but his saying ‘used to be in love’ only made her stomach fill with a warm and fussy feeling. Urufu was picky with words. ‘Used to’ was something in the past.

They deserve getting hurt,” Yukio said and joined the conversation for the first time. “I’m sorry man, but I’m starting to think more and more like you used to do. Guilty by association is still guilty. They’re going down.”

Through her clothes Noriko felt Urufu shiver. “Fine, they’re going down. I hope you can live with it later.”

Why did you change?” Yukio said.

Noriko felt Urufu shrug. “This is the real me. If anything I’m surprised how easy it is for me to use violence.”

Something in Urufu’s words rang false to Noriko. She clung to him and mulled them over. “Physical violence, you mean?” she said, still thinking about his exact words.

She had to hold on to him when he flinched. “What did you say?”

Physical violence. Isn’t that what surprises you.” She let her reasoning run another full circle in her mind. “I wonder if you’re really as non violent as you think.”

He turned and stared at her. “What do you mean?” There was something haunted about his eyes.

In your previous life you had power. Isn’t the application of power violence in one way or another?”

Across them Yukio’s thoughtful expression turned into a smile. “Man, she’s saying you’re just less civilised these days.”

Urufu looked like he had seen a ghost. “My teenage body. That doctor last summer said we were truly teenagers rather than adults in teenaged bodies.”

You’re too honest to be really honest, you know.” Kyoko’s voice. “Kuri-chan is devious enough to be more honest with herself. Urufu, she’s going after adults who deliberately would hurt children, or at least look the other way.”

And there it was. Adults hurting children. Kuri was right in going after them. With that thought Noriko decided to side with Kyoko despite loving Urufu so much it sometimes hurt. Her brains going mushy wasn’t an excuse to become truly stupid.