Wednesday, 23 May 2018

June 24, 2040, oceans of darkness


Christina shuddered when she heard footsteps further up the hill. She didn’t want anyone to see her crying. Especially not Ryu or Ulf.

She led a good life now, blessed with the childbirth she never experienced in her first life, and with far more love than she deserved.

While she had been an adult reborn, and not naive enough to believe you could experience love without hurting anyone, she most definitely had crossed a line of common decency.

And eventually I hurt them both, and Noriko a well. Come to think about it. She probably hurt Yukio and Ko-chan as well. Ko-chan. The one person she never grew used to call by her first name. Her best friend. And now she’s going away forever.

Because that was everything this trip was about. Coming together for some of them, but a parting for all of them. In a couple of days Ko-chan and Yukio would leave this world just like she herself had left hers a quarter of a century earlier.

I never apologised, or did I? She couldn’t remember what had happened after. Most of the last week of summer that year only held oceans of darkness in her memories.

Doesn’t matter. There was no way an apology could have gotten through anyway.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment ten


During the life he left behind Ulf took his first real girlfriend to his bed after some hesitation, or rather she took him to his bed. He’d been far too awkward to understand the repeated invites she gave him, so in the end, during a late evening alone with each other, she took to the offensive in a way even he wasn’t able to misunderstand.

Now was different.

While he and Christina had shared their bodies on a few occasions it was still a matter of adults in teenager bodies, or at least as much adults as their bodies allowed.

Noriko, however, was very much still a child. At least in his eyes. Ulf was thoroughly grateful she hadn’t tried anything in that direction. Spending the moments before they entered the pool together was bad enough, but she defused it by walking away before she took off her clothes.

It wasn’t like he wasn’t interested at all. She was cute, and he didn’t really have any body type preferences. Had he been the age he looked he probably would have tried something bad. Or good, depending on how you looked at it.

As it was he wasn’t ready for either love or making love, and Noriko deserved the full attention of the man who shared that sensation for the first time with her.

So in the end he was grateful for the pool as well. It was very much the same as a sauna during his university days back home. After a while the conversation drew most of his attention, and he felt his misgivings fade away as he enjoyed how she handled different topics in a way that lay far beyond her years.

Ulf enjoyed talking with Noriko. Problem being he had enjoyed talking with Christina as well since she quickly dispelled any notions he held of her being all looks. He’d been guilty of some severe preconceptions about beauty and brains.

Still, Noriko was different. She gave him a run for his money. Her mind moved so quickly he needed all of his experience to catch up, and only by playing a dirty game of steering conversations where experience mattered more than pure brains did he manage to keep up.

They talked and laughed, and talked some more. After a while he forgot neither of them wore any clothes, and from the way she Noriko acted, so did she.

A little too much time in the pool it turned out.

Dizzy from heat and fatigue Ulf left the water, grabbed his towel and got rid of the worst of the water. Then he draped himself with a yukata, not even bothering with the obi, and checked that Noriko didn’t fall asleep in the pool or anything equally stupid and dangerous.

He needn’t have worried. She stood, towel in her hair, with water dripping down her body in the light of their room and almost only a pitch black night as background.

Whatever lit the terrace was more for setting the mood than anything else, and Ulf was rudely reminded that this was, after all, not the same as sharing a sauna back home with friends.

Small breasts, narrow hips and yet a body that had decided to grow into adulthood, and all framed by her thin arms and a white towel furiously dancing around in her hair.

Ulf looked down in embarrassment but his body had already reacted, and he pulled the yukata tighter around himself and quickly took a few steps in the direction if the water boiler.

Damn. I’m getting turned on. Shit! I’m a creep after all.

Could you pour one for me as well?”

Ulf refused to turn around and meet her face. From her voice he could hear that she was oblivious to how his mood had changed. “Sure, green or black?” he said with a voice you could curdle milk with.

Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

Black, sure I’ll get you one,” Ulf said and pretended he had misunderstood what Noriko said.

Urufu?”

There was no way he could show her his expression now. Instead he fidgeted with two cups, teabags and spoons.

Urufu, did something happen?”

Nothing,” he murmured.

Quick steps behind him almost had him turn around anyway. Then two small hand tilted his head backwards where he sat on the tatami mats. He looked up and met Noriko’s worried eyes.

It was at that time he realised she could see a lot more than just his face, and when she suddenly let go of his head and leapt backwards he knew she had.

I’m sorry.”

I didn’t...”

Shame got the better of him, and he knew he was being unfair even before the words left his mouth. “You did. Wasn’t this exactly what you planned from the start?”

To his surprise her indrawn breath wasn’t followed by a scathing reply. Her words lay hanging in the air for a few seconds before they were voiced.

I didn’t expect… no… yes I did, or rather hoped.” Then some more silence. “I don’t think I knew what to do if everything went as I planned.”

And there it was. In several aspects she was most definitely still a child.

Urufu, thank you,” came the unexpected continuation of her thoughts. “You proved I can affect you.”

Bloody hell, any cute girl probably could,” Ulf admitted.

Urufu, thank you, or at least your body for noticing me as a woman.”

What could he say to that?

Urufu. I’ll give you the space you want. At least until next term starts.”

Huh?”

She sat down behind him, and once again those two small hands found their way to him. This time as a hug. “You want to come to some kind of conclusion with Kuri. I won’t pester you.”

Ulf let out a sigh of relief.

On one condition.”

That night Noriko proved to him how shameless she could be when she wanted, and it took all his willpower not to act on the sensation of her body next to his. Every time she moved where she lay half atop him she must have felt exactly what his body wanted to do rather than sleep.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment nine


There are those who say you shouldn’t take a bath after dinner. Those had obviously never been to an onsen.

Now, the private bath wasn’t really part of the onsen. Heated tap water and nothing else, but it was still outdoors, with a gorgeous view if you chose to stand up.

With a gorgeous view if you chose to lie in the water as well. Urufu just didn’t get how sculpted his body had become, and enjoying it with her eyes wasn’t just a matter of being in love with him. There was something as pure aesthetics as well.

He had grumbled and pouted and protested, but in the end he wasn’t someone who’d miss out on a lazy evening in the water. Not even if it meant spending it stark naked alone with her.

You started it,” Noriko said staring at his back.

No response. Even the stringy muscles low on his back looked grumpy.

Last year you did,” she persisted. One way or another she’d have a conversation with him going. But last year there were four of us in the beginning and all six later. There was a difference in sharing a bath alone with him.

Still no answer, but the way his shoulders stiffened told her he had heard.

You said it was only natural.”

Yukio told me already.”

Finally an answer! Noriko stretched and sank deeper into the water. She did a little embarrassed after all, and Urufu was bound to turn around any moment now.

He did.

Oh.” How could I forget he’s a boy when I fell in love with him? There were parts of him she wasn’t used to see at all. She sank to her nose in the water. Then she blushed .Much belatedly she realised the surface didn’t do anything to hide her body from him where he was standing looking down on her.

Just natural, was it?” He smirked. “I apologise.” Then he sat down at the opposite end of the small pool. “Promise, I can only see your face from here, or half of it,” he added and grinned.

That grin reminded her of her second crush on him, before she even realised he was the same boy who saved her from the Red Rose rapist would be.

You didn’t grin at all the first time though. He had had little reason to. Stranded in an alien world where he didn’t understand the language of those around him. No wonder he turned rebel. Why he pretended being an introverted geek when admitted to Himekaizen he still hadn’t told them. Yukio probably knew, and maybe Kuri, but Noriko wasn’t certain about the last.

How much do you train?” she asked. He already knew she was in love with him. He could just as well know she thoroughly enjoyed the sight of him.

Train?”

How dense can he be? Or maybe he wasn’t. He looked like a teenager, but he wasn’t. Not really. Sometimes her parents shared jokes with each other that she didn’t understand, and it wasn’t just because they spoke of things she didn’t understand.

She gave Urufu another look. He looked like any other teenager now when he had submerged, but she remembered the stares he got that day on the beach in the Tokyo bay. Well, she realised and blushed again, any other good looking teenager.

You know, sports,” she said to buy herself some time.

He spent over half a year as Kuri’s boyfriend. Given her experience as a model, or rather as a super model in during her previous life, there was no chance Urufu didn’t know exactly in what way he was attractive to the eye. Kuri wasn’t exactly the type to stay silent in matters of looks.

Urufu shrugged, and ringlets of water spread over the surface. When they reached Noriko she became aware she shared a very small pool with Urufu naked.

Don’t think about it! Don’t think about it! To haul him in she had to play older than she actually way. She needed to somehow close the gap that made him look at her as if she was a child.

For a moment, before she stripped and took to the bath, she played with the idea of flaunting her body to him, but then memories of Kuri came to her mind, and she quickly gave up that idea. There was no competing with that body.

Unfair! But life was unfair. She had to work with what was hers to work with.

Why ask a question if you’re not interested in the answer?”

Huh” Noriko shook her head. She had been so immersed in her own world she didn’t register that Urufu answered. “I’m sorry. Please, say again.”

It’s a matter of how you define training,” he said.

The way he usually weighed his words before uttering them was dear to her. She preferred this man to the outspoken clown he became whenever he wanted the club members to act in a given way. The latter might be the one who won admiring glances from the girls, but this was the Urufu she wanted for herself.

And I’m a liar. I fell in love with a rebel who looked like something my mother really ought to warn me to stay away from. Somehow Noriko suspected her mother wouldn’t. There was something about her mother and father that hinted at a wilder youth that they wanted to admit.

Explain.”

Urufu shrugged again, and once more ringlets of water spread towards her. This time she didn’t care.

Formal training. Maybe six hours per week.”

Formal training?”

He grinned and her heart jumped. “I train at a karate and an aikido dojo. Nothing much. Maybe twice a week each.”

The words registered, but they didn’t say much. Foreigners might believe everyone in Japan was crazy about budo, but that was very, very far from the truth.

Is that much?” she asked.

Dunno. A bit more than usual back home. A little bit.”

Enough to explain that body of yours?” Noriko said amazed at her own daring.

Good catch!” And another one of those grins than almost made her heart stop reached her from across the surface. “No.”

Noriko waited for Urufu to continue. Sometimes he needed the silence, but it didn’t mean he was finished.

I bike around a lot, and walk,” he continued. So say another eight hours a week. “Maybe ten. Let’s call it fifteen hours a week all in all.”

Is that a lot?”

For a school kid? Yeah, it’s a lot. Still only half the time an athlete would spend.” Urufu’s grin thinned to a smile. “I like being active, but I’m not good at sports, so I don’t have any aspirations in that direction.”

Good! She wanted him for herself after all. Now all that remained was having him for herself for the evening in a way that would get them closer to each other without forcing his hand.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment eight


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.

Dinner.”

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.

Yeah, Noriko.”

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.”

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.

Huh?”

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?”

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.

Noriko?”

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.

Noriko?”

Nothing,” she spluttered.

Noriko?”

Nothing!”

Something.”

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.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment six


Urufu was a born leader. At least that was what Yukio had once believed. Now he suspected that was too simple an explanation. Grown into a leader during longs years of adulthood was more likely.

You know, about Urufu,” Yukio started as they stood in the cramped ryokan reception.

Like most non tourists he would have preferred a western style hotel, but Urufu paid, and Urufu preferred the old fashioned futon, hard and uncomfortable as it was. Or at least he said he did.

Kyoko met Yukio’s stare and smiled. He saw how she knew what he was going to say, but out of respect she didn’t interrupt him this time, and he loved her all the more for it.

He’s rather socially awkward for being, well...”

Uhum,” Kyoko said.

You know, for being Urufu.”

Kyoko’s smiled widened into a grin.

He’s a little, how should I put it, disjointed,” Yukio tried.

Black hair swirled around her face as she tilted her head backwards and nodded. She had let it grow since winter.

She let her tongue play over her lips and gave him an encouraging smile. He took the opportunity and stole a short kiss.

You noticed as well?” she said after they separated.

He nodded. “Partly, I think, because I’m growing up.”

We’re getting older. A year now.”

They were. A year older together. Together. He tasted the word in his mind and decided he liked it very much. He liked most everything with Kyoko.

As he glanced past her face he saw Noriko and Urufu carrying what little luggage they had from the taxi and up the stairs. Yukio booked the rooms, but it was still Urufu’s money. Or at least Yukio pretended he booked the extra room, because both rooms were booked since yesterday.

How Urufu believed that Kyoko suddenly ‘discovered’ a typhoon was about to hit Ise early evening was beyond Yukio. In difference from manga you didn’t get caught by surprise since all typhoons were announced days in advance. Well, unless you were Urufu and blithely ignored watching weather reports in August, which bordered on idiocy if you lived in Japan.

Yukio made certain Urufu and Noriko vanished up the stairs. “Disjointed from reality,” he said and continued his earlier line of thought.

Sometimes, only sometimes,” Kyoko said. “Sometimes he really does pay attention. Like whenever someone feels hurt or is in need.”

Sometimes, huh. Unless he’s involved himself. Then he turns blind.”

Kyoko’s smile turned into a smirk. “Kuri-chan is my best friend, but she’s still an idiot.”

Urufu’s mine, and he’s a moron as well,” Yukio agreed.

I’m going to root for Noriko. It doesn’t matter that Kuri-chan is my most important friend. I’m sick and tired of watching those two hurt each other.”

Yukio didn’t say anything. Instead he nodded, by now secure Kyoko read him correctly agreeing with her from his expression.

You think she’ll fall in love with Ryu?” Because that would pretty much solve everything by ending the entire situation.

I think she already has. At least a little,” Kyoko said. “Ryu’s not the school prince for nothing, and I think he has the kind of personality Kuri-chan needs now.”

Yukio took Kyoko’s hand and nudged her in the direction of the stairs.

Two rooms rather than the one large one Urufu wanted. There weren’t any large rooms free. A lie and a truth. Yesterday there had been, when Yukio booked two rooms. No longer though. Not with the typhoon inbound and train services down for security reasons.

Ise was a hotspot for tourists from all over the world. Tourists, in difference from Urufu, didn’t live in Japan. Quite a few of them had been caught off guard, just like Kuri’s grandfather had told them would happen when the three of them planned the deception.

He was, just as Yukio and Kyoko, dead tired of watching Urufu tearing apart his granddaughter’s heart, with her pouring petrol on the flames to make absolutely certain whatever they once shared burned to cinders.

And yet they both failed. Even an idiot when it came to romance like Yukio could see that. Every glance Urufu shot her, every time Yukio caught her staring after Urufu’s back, every time the two of them exchanged words, or looks, or smiles. Every damn time the love they felt for each other shone through enough to blind everyone around them.

It was painful to watch. It was also obvious enough for anyone to suspect that Kuri and Ryu being an item was a scam. It was, both Yukio and Kyoko had decided, time for their best friends to move on. It didn’t matter if that love couldn’t be entirely quenched. As it was now they were ripping each other apart.

So Noriko got enlisted, and rather unsurprisingly she giddily agreed to play the victim. Anything to haul Urufu in.

She’s the best part of the two of them,” Kyoko suddenly said halfway up the stairs.

Yukio stared at her back. Mind reader! He didn’t care. If Kyoko read his mind or just guessed. As long as she was right it was fine. “I hope she knows what she’s heading into.”

She does. That’s what makes Noriko the best of them.”

Them. Urufu and Kuri. It was a shame that Noriko should be the best for the both of them.

I hope Ryu makes the best of the opportunity,” Yukio said.

Because, just like Urufu had been duped to stay the night with Noriko, Ryu and Kuri were alone back at the resort, and her grandfather made just as certain he behaved like the idiot Urufu was, and got caught in Nagoya with no way to head south to the resort.

In other words transparent enough for anyone with at least a partially working brain to see through.

But then you could always trust Urufu and Kuri to lack even that much when it came to understand these things.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment five


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!”

Yes?”

You’re good looking enough to make me feel uneasy.”

Says who?”

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 looks?”

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.