Wednesday, 18 April 2018
Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment seven
When Noriko entered her room she grinned as she met Urufu’s surprised stare?
“Sorry, but you’re next door.”
She shook her head. “Yukio and Kyoko,” she said.
Noriko sat down, removed her shoes and placed them by the slippers put there by the ryokan staff.
“You didn’t really expect them to waste this night together?” At least this part wasn’t part of the sham. She’d seen the chagrin in Kyoko’s face when it was clear boys and girls slept separately in the resort where they spent the bulk of the two weeks before the autumn trimester began.
Urufu looked like he was about to protest, but then he threw a glance a the wall to the next room and closed his mouth.
In difference from the resort this ryokan didn’t have a family bath, but instead rooms had its own small open air bath each. The onsen proper was gender separated as was usual. Pricey, and a gift to Yukio and Kyoko decided upon since before they even left Tokyo. Hers and Urufu’s addition made Noriko feel a little awkward. He could afford it, but it was very expensive, and she hadn’t decided how to handle that part.
“Bath and then dinner?” Noriko suggested. She made an effort not to look at their private bath.
Urufu grimaced. “Sure. I’ll head over to Yukio and make him company downstairs.”
Noriko didn’t say anything. The open relief at getting away from the situation was all too clear in Urufu’s face. It was also, she decided, rather rude to her, but in all honesty he’d had the entire situation forced in him.
She looked at Urufu’s back as he quickly changed into a yukata, stepped into his slippers and vanished out the door. He didn’t seem all too disturbed undressing in front of her, but then she had seen him in the flesh last summer. Something about being Swedish and older Noriko guessed.
A few minutes later she followed suit and left to fetch Kyoko, which didn’t take long at all since she already stood waiting in the corridor.
“Well what?” Noriko replied and avoided answering the question.
“How did he take it? Angry?”
A direct assault like this couldn’t be avoided. Noriko gave the questions a thought. Had he really been angry? “No, not angry,” she said. What had there been in his eyes? “Surprised.” That wasn’t it. Helpless! “He caved in,” Noriko said. She didn’t like the memory of equal parts disappointment and resignation in Urufu’s face.
Two things registered in Noriko’s mind. First the worry in Kyoko’s voice, and second how quickly the rest of the gang had dropped any honorifics after Noriko decided to discard them. Which means there’s one less thing that makes me more uniquely close to Urufu.
“He didn’t look happy about it, but he wasn’t really angry either.” Telling Kyoko the truth was out of the question. She was the best friend one could possibly have, and so was Yukio. If they suspected the real reason for Urufu’s reaction both of them would insist on switching rooms.
Noriko hoped Kyoko believed Urufu was a little more selfish than he really was. Awkward and unhappy was better than giving up so that Yukio and Kyoko wouldn’t lose their only night alone together.
“You sure you’re fine with this?”
Noriko nodded. Then she laughed. “Nothing will happen,” she said. “I just want him to notice me.” And to think about what could have happened, she added silently. To think lots and lots about it. Thinking about him thinking about her made her think about what she wanted him to think about. In an instant Noriko felt her face flare read.
“Nothing,” she spluttered.
That was taking the inquisitive joke a little too far. “Look, I don’t...”
“Have you brought a present?”
“Apart from me wrapped in ribbons?” Noriko blurted out.
Raised eyebrows was the only answer that question got.
“I have,” Noriko admitted when it was clear Kyoko refused to comment the outburst. “Nothing fancy.”
Kyoko descended down the stairs to the communal baths. A floor down she turned and looked Noriko directly in her eyes. “Coming from you it doesn’t have to mean much. Nothing fancy for a high schooler or nothing fancy for you?”
That was unfair. Noriko knew her parents were well off, and maybe her present was a little on the expensive side of what an average student would pick. At least for a friend.
“Nothing extravagant,” she admitted. “Less than a shift.”
Kyoko tilted her head. “A shift?” Then her eyes lit up. “A normal one or one of Urufu’s full day monstrosities?”
“A normal one.” Noriko didn’t have to lie about that. Something told her Urufu’s feelings couldn’t be bought for money. A year ago a more cynical version of herself would have asked what currency to use instead. Now she knew the answer to that question, and for that very reason she had no need to play jaded.
“Left or right?”
She looked up. They had arrived at the entrance to the baths. “Your pick,” Noriko said and followed Kyoko inside.
As onsens went this one apparently took pride in displaying signs of luxury, but that was expected given the price tag attached. For Noriko it wasn’t really anything new, but Kyoko was surprisingly unperturbed as well.
They undressed and chatting about nothing Noriko and Kyoko went into the bath.
Steam rose from the pool and she saw the doors leading to the outdoors section.
This is the normal part. Later comes the not so normal. But what counted as not normal with Urufu? He really didn’t do normal. As if he simply didn’t care. Age, maybe it came with age.
Noriko grinned and poured shampoo into her palms.