Yukio took Kyoko’s hand in his and grinned. He grinned at Noriko rushing ahead across the gravel as if she had forgotten all her pain. He grinned at how much Kyoko had grown the last year. He grinned at how much their love had grown, and at this very moment he grinned with relief when he understood that he still shared feelings of friendship with the idiot who just received a bundle of pure joy in his arms.
Urufu, make her happy! She deserves it. Then Yukio laughed silently. Noriko, make him happy! He deserves it.
Beside him Kyoko squeezed his hand, and when he glanced at her he saw tears forming in her eyes.
“Kuri-chan, you idiot!”
Her voice was soft and silent, but Yukio heard the words anyway.
“Maybe Ryu’s good for her,” Yukio tried.
“I hope so. I hope so for all four of them.”
The squeeze got firmer, and Yukio tightened his grip on her hand. “At least they helped us two find each other. Has to count for something.” His voice was a little more shaky than he had expected.
That made the tears leave her eyes. “Oh Yukio! It means the whole world for me! Of course it counts.”
And he knew why her tears mixed sadness with joy. Those who had given the two of them so much happiness broke their own apart.
“Man, you hold on to her this time, or I won’t forgive you,” Yukio shouted when he saw the usual signs of awkwardness in Urufu. “You made her cry. You comfort her.” He’d be damned if he let Urufu get a chance to wriggle out of it this time. If he had no feelings for Noriko, well too bad, but Yukio didn’t believe that was the case.
Noriko’s back expressed her gratitude for Yukio’s words. How she managed that while she clung to the man she’d hunted for months Yukio didn’t know, but she did.
“Urufu, we’ll leave the two of you alone for a while,” Kyoko said. Then she pulled at Yukio’s hand. “I can’t even begin to express how angry I am with you, but I’m not Noriko, so what I think doesn’t matter.” She pulled harder, and Yukio followed her down the street in the direction of what looked like a derelict school.
Just as he was about to sigh with relief a voice from behind called to them both.
“It doesn’t work that way. We’ll tag along. I have too much to apologise for, and not only to Noriko.”
Man, what a bother! Yukio played Urufu’s word in his head again. We, at least he said ‘we’. “Sure. Noriko you can bring your boyfriend.”
Kyoko’s body went rigid beside him. Yukio could feel it through her hand. Looking at her he saw how she held her breath just like he did.
There was no response.
There was none.
Just the sound of feet following them.
This time Yukio didn’t even dare to glance at Kyoko. He stubbornly stared straight ahead of him and hoped the street would lead somewhere reasonable.
A gust of wind carried a faint scent of fresh water.
Another the sound of some lonesome cicadas.
“They’re frogs,” Urufu’s voice said from behind his back. “When I was a kid I thought they were crickets.”
With that weeks of worries ran of Yukio’s shoulders.
He’ll give it a try. He’ll give her a chance!
“Tell me more,” came Noriko’s subdued voice.
Then the footsteps caught up with them, and a little later Yukio saw Urufu and Noriko pass him and Kyoko hand in hand.
They look like a couple.
“Yukio knows just about all of it, and I’ll just bore Kyoko.” A slight hesitation. “I’ll tell you as much as you want to listen to later.” Another moments hesitation. “When we’re alone.”
Yukio finally dared to let out the long sigh that had waited inside him. By his side Kyoko did the same.
“Now what?” he said.
They were under a canopy of bamboo before Urufu answered. “We’ll get something to drink by the old school.”
After that the four of them walked in silence until they had left a rice paddy behind them and crossed another narrow street. It was Noriko who eventually broke the silence just before a can of soda slammed into the bottom of the vending machine.
“Urufu. I’m curious, but did you have any siblings?”
Huh? What kind of question is that? Yukio looked down at Urufu who was busy picking up the can.
“Yeah. Two older sisters and one younger.”
“And your mother, or father? Whoever is from here?”
“Yeah. My aunt.”
Yukio watched a wide grin spread on Urufu’s face.
Oh! Man, that’s some quick thinking!
“And he or she moved to Sweden and got married in this world as well?”
“Yeah. Mom did, but I was never born here.”
“And your father worked in construction?”
“How did you know?”
How could anyone not know?
Three of them burst out in laughter. Only Urufu stared back with a nonplussed expression in his face.
“That arrogance. You sure got it from your father,” Noriko said, and brought another round of laughter to the three of them.
“Your aunt’s house. It should never have been built in Japan. Like never ever even in your dreams.”
“That it still stands and looks like it does is testimony to your father’s skills. He must have been very good.”
Urufu fed a few more coins to the machine and Yukio watched how he picked up drinks for all of them.
“He was. He’s retired now, if he’s still alive.” Urufu stared back up in the direction of the alien house. “Archipelago construction. He always said it’d last longer than the neighbouring houses.”
“How old is it?” Noriko asked.
Urufu scratched his head. “I wasn’t born yet. Say a little over fifty years old.” He grinned sheepishly. “I always thought it looked strange inside. It’s very Japanese you know. Not the facade, but the inside. Dad said it had to be or it would start to rot.”
Yukio shook his head in wonder. Urufu’s words about change and adaption weren’t his own after all. He’d inherited them. From both sides of his family given how his Japanese side had decided to erect the visual insanity further up the hillside.
“Urufu,” Noriko said, “your sisters. They’re alive in this world as well?”
Urufu nodded. He bent his head backwards and gulped down half his soda. “That’s why this feels a little like home.” The can went to his mouth again. “My aunt thinks mom is my grandmother, or at least she pretends that’s what she believes.” He took two steps and discarded the can into the recycling bin.
“Urufu, we need to talk,” Yukio said.
“I know. Let’s get another bottle each and head back. Could as well introduce you.”