“Come on man. Feel proud instead!”
Ulf glared at Yukio. Pride wasn’t exactly the word he’d use. Flattered maybe. Noriko’s incessant attention wasn’t harmful in any way, and it didn’t exactly hurt his eyes looking at her.
He realised his way of thinking might be dated, but from what he had seen good looks still helped a lot among the young, so maybe it wasn’t dated after all.
Beneath him straw gave as he moved his legs. After two years in Japan he was used to sitting on the floor now and then, and being a teenager sure helped. Tatami mats. An altogether stupid construction, and yet so strangely relaxing. Ulf never could decide if he thought it was the epitome of idiocy or a superb blend of taste and function.
“So, what’s the occasion?” Ulf asked.
Yukio had requested that Ulf join him in the room he shared with Kyoko.
Strange. After pulling this one on me I could have sworn Noriko would be adamant about us two having dinner alone in our room.
“Thank you for that one at least.”
“Don’t thank me,” Yukio said. “Noriko insisted.”
Why would she? Ah! I’m an idiot! Ulf said nothing. From here on he could only pretend to be surprised at what came next. Birthdays were a lot more important in Sweden than in Japan. You just didn’t forget them. Hell, they were even part of your identity with your date of birth making up most of the personal number everyone living in Sweden was assigned.
Well, at least for old people. Once again he wasn’t certain about the young. Living among people who weren’t prone to public outbursts of affection didn’t help.
Ulf grinned at the thought of a third of their class suddenly rising from their seats to spontaneously celebrate some poor bastard by singing happy birthday to you. Back home a given, but here, maybe not so much.
He recalled birthdays from his first life, and reliving old memories it took a while until he noticed Yukio tugging at his shoulder.
“Man, Earth calling. This earth.”
“Sorry.” Ulf shook his head. “Noriko huh?”
She had remembered, and when he thought about it, so had she last year as well. Whatever he might think about her advances, it still warmed when someone cared.
“You’re in on this one?”
Yukio glared at him. “Giving her a hand? Sure. She’s not fooling around. Damn, she had a crush on you before you and Kuri met.”
“Well, she moved on to Nao...” Ulf regretted the words as he uttered them.
Yukio grimaced, and they shared a few moments of silence. When it dragged out Yukio poured two cups of tea and offered Ulf one.
“You know,” Yukio began after he’d tasted a sip. “did you ever speak with him afterwards?”
Ulf had, but he wanted to hear what Yukio had to say. “Same school, so kind of hard to avoid.”
“Unless you’re expelled.”
“Unless you’re expelled,” Ulf agreed.
“Well, expulsion rescinded. Some of us will return.” Yukio scratched his head. “Anyway, I had a talk with Nao-sempai.”
“Uhum,” Ulf said and waited. He drank from his cup to show Yukio that there wouldn’t be a further response.
“He never slept with anyone.” Yukio grimaced. “Well, at least not from when he first saw Noriko and until well after they broke up.”
Break up? That’s one way of putting it. Ulf felt something akin to physical pain thinking of how much Noriko had hurt. I know what happened, but what an awful way to end it. Nao’s a bloody idiot!
“He got scared,” Yukio continued.
There was a dull, clack when Yukio placed his empty cup on the table. Almost as if it accused Ulf of drawing something uncomfortable out when it wasn’t needed.
“Scared?” By now Ulf was forced to pretend what Yukio said came as news.
“They play in different leagues is what he said. Sure, he’s a big name now, but when his looks fade Noriko will still be brilliant.”
Nao hadn’t phrased it exactly that way when Ulf spoke with him. The words Yukio echoed were Ulf’s. Ulf’s way of helping the tall model to understand his own fears.
“Well, she’s bright alright,” Ulf said. Understatement of the year. She is brilliant. I think I’m so smart, but bloody hell I envy her her brains! Ulf knew he had reasons to be proud of his head. He had a superb intellect, and he was aware of it. He was easily bright enough to grasp just how far ahead of him Noriko was, even if she still needed to grow into her own capacity as an adult.
Which meant she knew something he didn’t, or otherwise she would have given up on making him her boyfriend a long time ago. If she played both body and brains, then her actions and plans made more sense. Cause damn that brain of hers was sexy as hell.
But did she really understand him that well? Her social register was a little shaky. Empathy, not brains was his real strength. Well, unless he got stubborn and shut everything down and turned inwards in a blindness so total it was staggering.
Like with Christina.
“So, Nao didn’t sleep around, you say?” Thinking of Christina was, as always, a bad thing to do.
“He didn’t, and I think he was in love with Noriko to the end.”
“Idiot!” Ulf wasn’t sure he meant Nao.
“Idiot!” Yukio agreed.
“So, Noriko and dinner, you said.” The conversation was going full circle.
“Yeah, man. Noriko and dinner.” A friendly fist hit Ulf’s shoulder. “After that Kyoko and I want this room for ourselves,” Yukio said and looked at the private outdoor bath.
Ulf followed his stare. “Nice way to spend the evening,” he agreed.
“Sure is, but this year I’ll spend it with just the two of us.” Yukio’s face split in a huge grin. “Nice tip by the way.”
Tip? Ulf’s confusion must have shown.
“Mixed bath. You taught us last year.”
“I did?” I did? “Bloody hell! I did.”