That was close.
Fooling Christina and Noriko both was harder than he had expected. Playing the buffoon with Noriko might work, but Ulf needed to make certain Christina got the message that he’d never be her toy.
How he’d react should she make it explicit she wanted them to become an item again he didn’t know. Cave in most likely. He still loved her after all, but her way of flaunting Ryu in his face made it easier to keep a distance.
He gobbled up breakfast as quickly as possible. A trip to Ise seemed like a good way to get his thoughts elsewhere. With a slightly astonished Noriko in tow Ulf made his way outdoors where he grabbed hold of Yukio and Kyoko just as unceremoniously.
Within minutes all of them shared a taxi. He in the front seat, much to Noriko’s chagrin, and her seated in the middle in the back seat. That went a long way to tell Ulf how much Yukio and Kyoko had grown together. The ever present need for physical closeness had faded, but from the way they spoke with each other, always giving verbal room for Noriko, showed an unseen bond between minds which had grown just that much stronger.
I’m happy for you. Half a life ago I would have envied you. Ulf smirked and stared at road ahead. He still did. A little at least. Theirs was not the sensational love between adults become children again, and neither was it the tabloid version Christina shared with Ryu now. Yukio and Kyoko could enjoy what they shared without gawking people interfering with it time and time again.
With a sigh and another smirk Ulf turned his attention ahead just as the taxi took the last curve and parked at the small town train station.
Less than half an hour’s wait the four of them rode a train in silence. It wasn’t an awkward silence, nor an angry one. Yukio and Kyoko allowed themselves to become the children they really were and sat on their knees with faces glued to the windows and heads together. It was, Ulf decided, an amazingly cute picture of a young couple in love.
A discrete shutter sound told him Noriko shared his sentiment, and when he turned his head he was met by an exaggerated gesture to keep silent. Not that it was needed. Yukio and Kyoko were immersed in their own world of two. In any other company what they did would have been very rude, but Ulf genuinely enjoyed watching the two of them shining with calm happiness.
A small hand grabbed his, and he was reminded that there was one more here who wanted her part of that feeling.
“Noriko?” he said and glanced at her.
Her other hand forced him to meet her gaze straight on. “Today you’re mine, so pay me some attention will you?”
He had kind of given her that promise. Sure, mostly to keep her lovestruck nagging at bay, but still. If he didn’t honour his part of the deal he was an arse.
Giving Noriko her due he noticed that she had dressed up for the occasion, or at least dressed up as much as a wardrobe in a luggage allowed. Shorts accompanied by heels looked strange to him, but here it was just a natural combination. A part of the doll cute dress code for adolescent girls and young women. Ulf didn’t really agree with it, but Christina had made it abundantly clear that when it came to fashion his opinions were worth less than zero.
A pink top with something fluffy sewn on that served no function at all apart from being decoration completed her outfit. It was summer after all.
In contrast his own khaki shorts and shorts sleeved, likewise khaki shirt probably made him look like a foreign bum with poor taste in clothes.
A toothy smile told him Noriko knew what he was thinking.
“That bad?” he asked.
“Your clothes? Yeah, they suck,” she said and the smile turned into a wide grin of approval.
“I don’t understand.”
“This way I won’t have any competition. When Kuri picks your clothes you’re… you know, don’t you?”
“Know what?” Ulf decided to play dense. He’d never be the kind of girl magnet that Ryu was, but whenever Christina chose his clothes people turned their heads after them, and Ulf was honest enough to understand that all gawks weren’t for her. She had loved showing him off, or rather showing her acute sense of fashion off.
Noriko poked his forehead. “Attention!”
“You’re good looking enough to make me feel uneasy.”
“Says the sister of the prince of Himekaizen.”
There was that of course. “Why uneasy?”
Noriko fidgeted and looked down at her hand. The other still held his. “At first I fell for your looks. I’m a little ashamed of that.”
“My very own avenging hero with that delinquent style.”
Oh! She’s thinking of middle school. “At first?” he said to avoid the subject. He still fumed at the memories.
“Then I fell for the geeky you. I know, I have the worst taste in men.”
Well, that hadn’t lasted for too long. When he became a couple with Christina he gave that disguise up. Ulf nodded at Noriko’s words. There wasn’t much he could add.
“But it was the real you. The you who fell in love with Kuri. That’s the you who made me love you.”
The conversation had taken a turn for the worse. Ulf decided against saying anything, but in keeping his silence he had let Noriko keep the hand she had taken in hers.
He leaned back in his seat and watched flashes of summer passing by as the train rode on.
Sometime later Noriko fell asleep against his shoulder, and against his better judgement he allowed her to nestle under his arm.