Tuesday, 23 May 2017
Oh, it’s been a while.
Ulf rose from his chair and bowed to the trio taking seats two tables away.
“Who are they,” Jennifer asked and looked at the Wakayama parents and Christina’s grandfather.
Ulf received a nod in return, and a curious look at the foreigner across his table. He sighed silently with relief when Jennifer politely waved in just the perfectly awkward way a foreign teenager should do when confronted with adults in a country not their own.
“Noriko’s and Ryu’s parents, plus a friend of theirs,” Ulf added rather than telling the entire truth. Jennifer was asking too many questions as it was, and she didn’t need to know there was effectively a community of arrivals in Tokyo. Not that Mitsuo lived in Tokyo, but he visited both Christina and the Wakayamas often enough to be part of that circle.
“Do you want to leave?”
Ulf glanced at Jennifer and shook his head. “They won’t mind. I’m doing business with the Wakayamas anyway, so they’re kind of used to my antics.”
Ulf made a point of twisting up his wrist watch to show Jennifer how old fashioned he was. Funny that, he thought, there are schools here where you’re not allowed to wear one, but when I grew up all kids were encouraged to do just that. More than a difference in culture, Ulf understood. A difference in generations as well. I didn’t even know what a mobile phone was back then.
“Expensive?” Jennifer suddenly asked.
Ulf nodded. Wrong question, girl. Is it good, or do you like it, would have been better. “I feel uncomfortable without one,” he said.
They shared the first half of their dinner in relative silence only broken by chit chat pertaining to the food and the boat trip earlier. While very much a young girl Jennifer still showed she knew good manners if she wanted to.
Ulf glanced at her over his food from time to time. Not once had she used that devastating charisma of hers since they entered the restaurant. Maybe she really wanted to talk after all.
As they were finishing their main course, and Ulf mentally prepared to order desserts, he decided it was time to get down to business.
“Thomas, you said.”
Jennifer swallowed a bite together with some sparkling water. “Yeah, Thomas.”
“Do you like him, or do you want to pump him for knowledge about us arrivals?” Ulf knew he sounded callous, but this was Jennifer.
She hesitated for a moment, gave first him and then the table with the Wakayama parents a long look, and then she shrugged. “Both,” she admitted.
Ulf followed her stare over white tableware and met Mitsuo’s searching eyes. “You didn’t lie, so I’ll listen to you.”
“I’m intrigued, and have been from the start.” She grimaced and took another sip of water. “As you say he’s kind of boring, but he seems like a good guy, and I’ve never been much for the exciting ones.”
Ulf gave her a long stare. That was a surprise, but then he guessed someone like her could have the exciting at a moments notice. Maybe she’d been burned before she moved to Japan. “Continue,” he said and put down his for on the plate where it made company with his knife. Soon he’d order dessert, but he wanted to hear what Jennifer had to say first.
“I kind of made friends with Thomas in the club. He’s broken, you know.”
Broken, what’s with us arrivals and being broken? Ah, the other Jennifer. How could I have forgotten?
Jennifer looked at him, and as Ulf was caught in his own thought she must have taken that as a sign to go on. “They were living together, you know. He says it still hurts.”
Like Maria. It hurt for a long time. Still does from time to time. And my kids. Ulf nodded. He understood exactly what Jennifer was talking about.
“I don’t know if he’s ready to move on, but I can’t help myself. I’m falling for him,” she said.
Ulf searched her eyes for the lie, but he found nothing. Could it really be that simple?
“I’m living here on a scholarship. Alone. My parents trust me. Honestly I don’t understand why, but they do.”
Probably because you deserve that trust no matter how you behave. Parents notice the big lies, even if they sometimes try not to. “And you feel lonely?”
Jennifer nodded. “I wanted this date with you for two reasons. You seem like a good guy as well, but I don’t feel anything at all for you. I needed to know. I’m sorry if I led you on.”
In ways she was definitely more grown up than her years. So she wanted to know what kind of infatuation she felt. If it was real, or if it was just a reaction to feeling lonely.
“Don’t worry. I’m not hooking up with anyone anytime soon.”
“Still in love with Christina?”
Ulf smirked but nodded. He was. Seeing her didn’t hurt as much as before, but he was definitely not over her, if he ever would be. “Part of me always will be,” he admitted both to her and himself.
“Part of? So you’re moving on?” Jennifer tilted her head. She was very cute, but Ulf only saw curiosity in her eyes.
“In a way. We broke up. One day I’ll find someone else.” He searched his thoughts for a better explanation. “I don’t think I’m the kind of person who could live his life alone.” Whoever he met down the line he needed to be very honest with her. Worst case he’d hook up with second best. Best case he’d always compare her with Christina.
“I feel sorry for her,” Jennifer said and proved she had just read his thoughts.
I’m an arse. “I’ll help you on one condition.”
Despite the caveat Jennifer’s face lit up in a happy smile. Ulf understood she didn’t mean it this time, but her smile together with a surprised shout of joy had just about everyone within three tables turn their heads and stare at her in admiration.
Please, don’t do that! “Fine,” Ulf said and grinned. He might not be interested in the girl, but she was still his company, and being at the very centre of admiration like this was a huge ego boost despite how much he tried to deny it. “Thomas gets to know. I’ll help you, but I’ll play with an open hand.”
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
When Ulf received a call from Ryu an exceptionally disgusting day in June he wasn’t entirely certain Jennifer wanting to talk to him merited cycling around in the downpour. At the other hand, cycling around in the downpour was appealing in itself. As long as he dropped the water barrier altogether he’d never notice that he got sweaty. As long as the pannier was waterproof he only needed a restroom to change into dry clothes, or, as it was the manipulating little devil Jennifer he was supposed to meet, he could come dripping wet and pretend it was what he usually did.
For a moment Ulf played with the thought of calling Christina for advice, but even though thinking of hearing her voice didn’t hurt as much as earlier, he still dropped that idea. Christina was bound to come up with something just as devilish as Jennifer, but based on 35 years’ worth of added experience from womanhood.
Right now he rode his bike sans water barrier but with his waterproof pannier secured behind him. Inside lay two changes of underwear and a creaseproof business suit he bought with cycling to customers in mind. But for the rain he could ride wearing it from home to a customer and still look like he just left from a taxi when he arrived.
Ulf hastened through a wet Tokyo. Rather than the Stockholm Haven Café Jennifer chose the river boat from Asakusa. In his previous life, not too many years earlier, he took the Water Bus from Asakusa to Odaiba because the kids wanted to jump into the sea in the scorching heat.
Jennifer, however, wanted to go directly to Hinode. He’d force her to go back to Ueno with him so that he could get on the subway to Asakusa and pick up his bike again.
Well, first he had to ride the twenty kilometres to Asakusa, which meant an hour astride his bike if he didn’t want to be stopped by the police. Jennifer could wait for him there for ten or twenty minutes depending on how well she matched her trains.
In the end he arrived by the river boats in fifty minutes. He was drenched but filled with the kind of gorgeous exhaustion from pushing his body just a little he had grown addicted to.
As Ulf locked his bike to a stand Jennifer arrived as well, and he waved at her.
She waved back.
“So why the sudden date?” he asked in English when she came closer. There was no point in speaking Japanese with a girl from the US anyway.
She twisted her face into a grin and blasted away with the brutal charisma of hers. A few tourists turned and stared at him with open envy in their eyes. Saying that he didn’t feel anything would be lying, but Ulf forced a grip on his emotions and gave her what he hoped was a cool stare.
“I’m not available.”
“You’re eye candy while we have a romantic chat on the boat. Don’t you agree rivers are best seen from the water?”
I know you’re the sixteen you look, but you bloody hell don’t behave like it. “With Christina, last summer, it would have been a gift from heaven,” Ulf said. If Jennifer didn’t know he was still in love with Christina, then she was blind to a degree that didn’t match her manipulating skills at all.
Jennifer just took his hand and led him to the ticket vendor.
“I’d love to compete with her, but right now I can’t afford that rivalry.” Then Jennifer tilted her face upwards and shot him an absolutely adorable smile. “I could make that cute little second year act on her feelings instead.”
That cute little second year could only be Noriko. “She already did, thank you very much.”
The smile turned into playful admonishing. “And you rejected her? How mean!”
Damn, this girl is really, really, really good at this game. Don’t get tricked! “Yeah, I can’t return her feelings, and she’s much too important for me just to have as a bedfellow. You could do though.”
It was an awful thing to say to a high schooler, but Jennifer had acted like an arse since they met.
“Sorry,” she said unperturbed. “Still a virgin, and I’m not giving it to you.” She gave him one of the tickets the machine spewed out in exchange for a few large coins. “Time to hop onboard.”
It wasn’t really. Departure wasn’t for another ten minutes, but Ulf was happy the awkward conversation had ended, and so he bought her an ice cream and a soda in return for the trip.
While they ate and drank under a shelter he noticed how Jennifer looked like the kid she really was for the first time since she arrived.
In another life, thirty years ago, I’d be in love with you. He sighed with relief she couldn’t make this version of him into her plaything.
They spent the first half of the boat trip in silence, and Ulf got himself the time he needed to start enjoying the ride. Tokyo was too much buildings and too little nature for this taste, and riding down a river gave him a well needed shot of what he missed from living in Gothenburg.
“I apologise,” Jennifer suddenly said when they reached open water.
Ulf turned and met her eyes. Finally! Now we can talk. “So you wanted to talk about something.”
Jennifer combed her hair with her fingers and her lips turned into a thin line. “I’ve fallen for Thomas. Could you help me?”
Her choice in men surprised him a little, but given how she behaved well above her age maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that she aimed at boys more mature than they looked. In that case Thomas made perfect sense.
“You’re both from Sweden. I don’t really understand how he works, and I don’t want to make a stupid mistake.”
So it was really a romantic talk after all. “I can’t promise anything. Let me just enjoy this ride. Then I want to get my bike.”
“I’ll treat you to dinner. Let’s have that talk together with some food.”
For once Jennifer didn’t do something stupid, like trying to seduce him. She just nodded, and Ulf saw a glimmer of gratitude in her eyes.
Wednesday, 10 May 2017
“I don’t know,” Ryu lied.
With an umbrella he shared with Kuri slung over his bag they were the only ones in the Stockholm Haven café clad in the Himekaizen summer uniform. Most of the faces were still familiar though, but they all sported Irishima High uniforms.
Must be bad for business, Ryu thought but when he looked around he got the answer why only most of the faces were familiar.
The expulsions followed by mass transfers to Irishima High pulled new students to the café. The club had already made up for almost half of its losses, but for natural reasons they were all Irishima High students. For all practical purposes the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club had become an Irishima High club. There were only eight Himekaizen Academy students, and one of them shouldn’t even be here.
“Watch out, your girlfriend could get jealous,” the odd one out said.
Ryu glared at Jeniferu-chan. Mere minutes earlier she walked into the inner room, stripped to panties and bra and got into a set of casual clothes. All in plain view of the members inside.
You’re shameless, you know that? he thought, but then he recalled Kuri doing pretty much the same thing at different occasions. Maybe it’s a foreigner thing. He put the lid on that thought as fast as he could. Now wasn’t the time to divide reality into foreign or not – Kareyoshi never ceased doing just that.
“You’re the only members still at Himekaizen,” Nori-kun said.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Ryu said and lied once more. None of the arrivals had been expelled, and that included Jeniferu-chan who got mistaken for one. Ryu had made that mistake himself just after the start of the school year.
“Noriko-chan thought you’d transfer last week.”
“So did I,” Ryu said. This time he spoke the truth. Maybe he had miscalculated just how tightly the four of them, he, his sister, Yukio and Kyoko, were connected to the arrivals. Or with Kuri and Urufu at least. While he saw Tomasu-kun and Jeniferu-chan almost daily they still weren’t his friends.
“Ryu,” Jeniferu-chan said, “could you get Ulf to help me hook up with Thomas?”
What kind of roundabout favour was that? “Ask him yourself,” Ryu said.
Despite her being the second most famous girl at Himekaizen, something with Jeniferu-chan made him grit his teeth. In difference from Kuri everything Jeniferu-chan did came from selfish wants as far as Ryu could see.
“But you know him better.”
“I intend to keep it that way,” Ryu said. For once it didn’t bother him that he was deliberately rude to a girl.
Jeniferu-chan didn’t answer. Instead she grabbed his arm and led him out into the café proper. Her grip was so tight he might have hurt her had he tried to get loose.
They didn’t stay in the café, but instead she forced him under the jingling bell and out on the street.
Late afternoon traffic gave them the backdrop she probably wanted to make certain she wasn’t overheard. Streets wet from rain only increased the noise, and a steady drizzle reminded Ryu they were firmly into the rainy month.
Well outside Jeniferu-chan pushed him under the awning, which helped keeping the worst of the rain away, but it also made them look like a quarrelling couple.
Ryu stepped around a puddle that had gathered where he stood. James really needed to change the fabric above them, or even better, buy an altogether new one.
“Look, I don’t like that attitude of yours. I’m interested in Thomas, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to burn my chances because I didn’t do my research first.” Jeniferu-chan stared at him and forced Ryu to meet her eyes. “You’re with Christina, Prince Charming, so you got what you wanted. Pretend you care for your friend all you want, but you stole his girlfriend when you got tired of your own.”
Slapping girls really wasn’t an option, but Ryu really felt like breaking his promise to himself from many years ago. “I didn’t...”
“Shut up! Coward! She’s over you now, but I saw how much she was in love with you before.”
“She dumped me.”
“So man up! You knew Ai didn’t want to break up, but you still turned up with your arms around Ulf’s girl when school started.”
The part of his arms around Kuri wasn’t true, but everything else was. “What about it?” When did you find out so much? But the question was moot. Ai’s friends must have told everyone who wanted to listen, and with him involved there were a lot of those. With both him and Kuri involved they didn’t even have to embellish the truth to make a good story.
“Ulf isn’t your business any longer. You betrayed him good. Besides I’m not after him anyway. He’s just too damn boring. I just want his help to get closer to Thomas.
Ryu wondered what made the silent former professor of classic Japanese less boring than Urufu, especially as the latter had been the centre of attention so many times. Ah, but she’s a freshman. She doesn’t know.
Because Urufu spent his time being suspended whenever he should have taken the lead and humiliate the dickhead who was their principal.
“Look,” Ryu said and lifted his foot to avoid the puddle Jeniferu-chan almost forced him to stand in. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but if I help you get in touch with Urufu, promise you won’t do anything funny to my friends!”
She gave him a calculating look, and then, very suddenly, she hugged him.
“Sure, she said, deal.”
“Wait, why...” Ryu never finished the question, because across the street he saw the photographers stalking Kuri, and in lack of anything more exiting some of them had taken shots of him and Jeniferu-chan embracing.
“Just to make sure you keep your part,” she said.
Ryu swore inwardly. Damn, you’re a crafty one. With a broken smile he admitted defeat and fished out his phone from a trouser pocket.
Sunday, 7 May 2017
“How bad is it?”
Had she been as vulgar as Jeniferu-chan Noriko guessed she’d have spat on the floor, or something equally graphic to answer that question.
She wished she was.
Noriko stared across the table. A few weeks earlier the inner room would have been filled with Himekaizen students and a smattering of club members from Irishima High.
She wished Urufu was here, but he was busy working, and this time he’d brought her brother, Yukio and Kyoko with him.
She bit her lower lip and turned to face Hitomi-chan. “You should know.”
Hitomi-chan smiled but shook her head. “Sorry, but I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks.”
The room looked larger now when it wasn’t crowded with students, but it was far from empty.
A few weeks earlier there would only have been a smattering of Irishima High club members. Now they were in majority.
“What is it like?” Noriko asked to change the subject.
Hitomi-chan combed that fantastic hair of her with both hands. “Smaller,” she said.
You’re way too obvious, Noriko thought. But for Kuri Hitomi-chan could have been the girl most admired in their grade, and now she could again. Even Noriko had to admit she looked absolutely gorgeous in the old-fashioned sailor uniform of Irishima High.
“Half a dozen,” Noriko said and answered the first question. “You included,” she added.
By Hitomi-chan’s side Jirou-sempai and Sango-chan sat, fingers locked and sharing a quizzical glance at Noriko.
Well, you don’t look all that different from before, Noriko observed. Old fashioned or not, they weren’t morons at Irishima High, and the boys didn’t have to wear their gakuran during summer.
Jirou-sempai wore more or less the same white shirt and black trousers he would have hadn’t he been expelled for refusing to leave the club.
In Sango-chan’s case it was a little different. There was no way the sailor uniform could be mistaken for a Himekaizen summer uniform.
“And in total?” Hitomi-chan wanted to know.
Noriko closed her mouth. She knew her lips were a thin line of irritation, but she didn’t care. “A dozen just stopped coming, and there’s another seven waiting for their expulsion notice.”
“I hope we’ll be in the same class again.”
With a shrug, just like Urufu did, Noriko smiled. “Still waiting, but yes, it would be good to know someone over there.”
“Urufu-kun as well.”
“I doubt he’ll transfer,” Noriko said. She felt a little ashamed, especially as she had come to think better of Hitomi-chan since the start of their second year. Still, telling the beauty exactly why none of the arrivals would be expelled was out of the question, because that meant telling her about the arrivals in the first place.
“Look, you of anyone should stop talking trash about him. Sure, he’s not among the top 50, but he’s not an idiot.”
Noriko stared at Hitomi-chan. You’re defending Urufu from me. What the hell? The absurdity became too much for her, and soon Noriko broke down in hysterical laughter. Her stomach hurt, but she couldn’t help herself. Months of pent up frustration and fear welled up in her, and she laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Think she needs help?”
Which brought out another round of guffaws.
Hitomi-chan came around the table and helped Noriko, who had fallen to the floor in hysterical laughter, and helped her to her feet. “It’s not that fun, you know. You could go to Waseda, or maybe even Toudai.”
Noriko sobered up and nodded. She wanted to hear what Hitomi-chan had to say.
“But Urufu can’t, and I believe he’s fit to teach there,” Hitomi-chan continued. “I saw what happened to him, and he never stopped giving us his all here. We owe him more than laughter.”
Noriko’s feelings for Hitomi-chan rose from mere goodwill to true respect. “You know I love him don’t you?” Noriko said without thinking.
This time it was Hitomi-chan’s turn to laugh. “I wondered for a moment. Your saying he wouldn’t transfer pissed me off.”
Noriko stared at the almost perfect face. While she was pretty certain Hitomi-chan had never been infatuated with Urufu, Noriko also suspected the girl must have given him more than just a cursory thought. Not taking any chances here. Urufu had fallen for Kuri, and there were no guarantees he wouldn’t fall for beauty once more. “I’d never go behind his back. When he behaves like a moron I tell him to his face. He won’t transfer because he doesn’t have to.” That had to do as an explanation. Hitomi-chan could read in as much as she wanted of underhanded connections or even outright bribes.
From her face Noriko could see Hitomi-chan accepted that answer. “And you?”
That was the question Noriko originally had prepared for, and the one she had only partially answered earlier. “I don’t know. Soon I guess. We should be expelled this week at latest, and after that we’ll all transfer to Irishima High.”
“My father is in politics,” Hitomi-chan suddenly said. “He said he can’t understand what Kareyoshi’s doing.”
Noriko noted the lack of an honorific. When it came to the bastard not a single club member offered him the respect an honorific would mean. She understood it made them exactly as unjapanese as the pig said, and she didn’t care one iota.
“He has his own agenda,” Noriko said, and she heard how weak that sounded.
“Half a dozen of the school’s top fifty, and not a single one of those expelled in the bottom half.”
“Top thirty,” Noriko mumbled.
“I checked. We’re all in the top thirty, if we’re in the top fifty at all.” The club had the highest concentration of top students by a very wide margin. It didn’t start that way, but Urufu’s teaching methods finally made the impact he promised all along. Their last finals as freshmen came as a surprise, and the midterms results for all practical purposes killed off Kareyoshi’s dreams of scaring them all into submission.
“I’m sure our principal will be ecstatic,” Hitomi-chan said.
Noriko listened to her voice dripping with sardonic venom. It doesn’t go well together with your looks.
“Yeah, Irishima High is kind to care for us dropouts,” Noriko said, and she sounded just the same.
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
“Which means that as of now that illegal club is finally dissolved.”
Some of them grumbled, but only the PTA chairman said anything.
“I doubt you can do this.”
“As a matter of fact I can. I’m the principal of Himekaizen Academy, and I have the full support of the board of directors.”
“I don’t understand,” another PTA member said. This time a woman in her fifties.
“That means,” Principal Kareyoshi said, “that any student who visits that café will be suspended, and repeat offenders expelled from the school.”
Most of the parents present grumbled, and the teachers made their best to look like they didn’t hear a thing.
“Is it true,” a woman in her late forties said, “that the members of the club have increased their scores by ten percent compared to the rest of the school?”
Fucking bitch! Principal Kareyoshi put on his best smile. “We’re handling the cheating. They’re Koreans, and we all know what they are like,” he finished.
This time he got a few murmurs in agreement.
Finally! People needed nudging to understand that foreign influences, just like the foreigners themselves, were unclean. It took some time, but when he made people understand it was worth all the effort.
“Is it true,” the same woman persisted, “that the club members, who are not subject to investigation for cheating, have also increased their scores by the same ten percent?”
And some people just never learned. “They’re using unjapanese methods. That’s akin to cheating,” Principal Kareyoshi said and sighed. “When we find out...”
He got no further, because a man, face red from agitation and clad as you would expect from a civil servant, almost rose in his chair. “Are you trying to say that the learning skills my daughter has acquired is cheating?”
“Just as bad,” Principal Kareyoshi answered. “I’m sorry the previous principal allowed her to get bad company.”
“In that club they’re learning to question what their teachers tell them. They’re forgetting how to respect their betters.” Kareyoshi gave his next words a moment of thought. “If your daughter remains in that club she won’t become a proper wife.”
“Proper wife?” the troublesome woman said. “What century are you from?”
“Yes, a wife who raises a family,” Kareyoshi noticed how his voice had risen and took a breath to calm down, “who raises good Japanese children and supports her husband.”
The woman stared at him. “Damn, here I thought you were merely stranded in the Showa era, but now I see that you’re firmly entrenched in the former half of it.”
The rude comment even brought a few giggles over the table, but most of the PTA members gave the woman an annoyed glance.
“I have my ideals, yes. They may seem a little old fashioned, but a clean Japan is a strong Japan.”
She only snorted. “Last time we thought that way we bombed Pearl Harbour, and look what that got us.”
“Enough!” the chairman barked.
Mentioning the war was definitely going to far, and Principal Kareyoshi noticed how the woman gave the chairman a sullen stare, but at least she looked properly subdued. Silently Kareyoshi wondered how a person like her could possibly have gained a seat here.
“So,” Kareyoshi began when he saw an opportunity to use the blessed silence that had settled over the table. “I’ve informed you of the actions we have taken, and the consequences for breaching the terms we set up. Would you mind informing the other parents?”
The chairman nodded. Then Kareyoshi noticed a dangerous spark in his eyes. “However, Principal Kareyoshi, if you take this too far there will be repercussions.”
You dare threaten me! “You were saying?”
“I’m just saying that within that group of students there are half a dozen with grades indicating they might enter a top university, and you have decide to target those rather than the ones who are barely able to graduate from here.”
That was grossly unfair. He would never do such a thing, but the good students needed protection from foreign dirt, or they would become forever tainted as adults. How could their parents of all people not understand the seriousness of the situation?
“It’s for their own good,” Kareyoshi said. He didn’t need a confrontation with the chairman. “I only want the best of futures for them.”
“Are we just going to accept this?” the woman asked.
The chairman turned in his chair and met her eyes. “Yes, we are. As Principal Kareyoshi said, he’s in charge of the school.”
A smile slowly spread over Kareyoshi’s lips, but it stopped immediately when the chairman continued.
“Until such a date when that is no longer the case the students and staff are to abide by his decisions.”
Until such a date?
“Fine,” the woman said.
Kareyoshi needed to take control of the situation. “If that is all,” he said and made as if to close the meeting.
“If I may,” a man who had been silent throughout the entire meeting said.
“Yes?” Kareyoshi and the chairman answered simultaneously.
The man only smiled slightly and distributed several copies of a document he had in a case. “Just to mitigate any worries.”
Kareyoshi just threw the paper a glance until the obnoxious woman cackled with glee. That forced him to give it a proper read.
How dare they!
It was signed by the principal and vice principal of Irishima High.
“Fantastic!” the woman said. She patted the worried father from earlier on his shoulders. “If your daughter is expelled for remaining in the club she’s welcome to attend a high school with a better reputation than Himekaizen Academy.”
Which was exactly what the paper said. Provided they passed an entrance exam it said, but Kareyoshi saw through the vindictive lie. Every student he evicted from school with that club as an argument would pass that exam.
On the threshold of raging he calmed down again. Well, then it’s no longer my problem. I can at least keep this school clean.
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
“No, this isn’t tradition. Well, for me it is, but it’s not something everyone here does.”
Ulf had to shout the words, because the kids had turned up the volume, and at least one of them was an expert in knowing exactly how far you could push the old sound system.
Who the hell? It’s at least fifteen years out of date.
Just as he was about to turn to Yukio to see if he had heard the answer another voice broke through the bedlam.
“Satellites by that rock and one by the tree! Secondary sub by the tree as well!”
“For you? From when you were young the first time?” Yukio’s voice cut through the music just as well as Amaya’s had done.
Ulf nodded. Midsummer had been a full weekend party during his years at Chalmers. The main party was the Saturday one. Everyone just got too drunk during Midsummer’s Eve.
That’s what, almost sixty years ago. I doubt it’s still like that now. Damn, I’m getting ancient.
Living two lives did strange things to your sense of time. Forty here, when by all rights he should be close to eighty.
Then the speakers blasted away something from before his first time at high school.
Damn! That’s old. Wonder if I had even become a teenager when that one hit the lists. Ulf grinned at Yukio who stood shaking his head.
“What’s this crap?”
“Old crap,” Ulf said, “old even for me.” But secretly he loved the music. There were memories mixed in with it.
Further down the mountainside Amaya and the oldest of her kids finished preparing the evening’s bedlam. Somewhere close James was bound to be busy preparing the food. Not the kind of semi formal dinner of yesterday, in as much as the drunken madness that was a Midsummer’s Eve’s party could be called formal, but probably something more scattered, with tables spread out all over the garden.
It’s good to see you all together again. Not like their first year during high school. They got estranged during that awful first second year trimester. Noriko, we owe you big time, and I’m not even certain the others know how hard you worked for the rest of us.
Thursday, 20 April 2017
A Noriko all dressed up on a Sunday didn’t pass Ryu by. She never dressed up unless required for a formal occasion, but what she wore now, the way her hair was done, and the almost invisible make-up turned his cute sister into the kind of almost woman who had men turn their heads in the streets.
Who the hell dolled you up?
Ryu swore and turned on his heels. He’d be damned if he allowed Noriko to play that kind of game with Urufu, or rather let Urufu have his way with his sister.
If he hurried he’d make it down the stairs and catch up with Noriko. There was still some time before Kuri was to arrive for their date. Their late date. She had an errand to take care of first she had said over the phone.
He took the stairs four steps at a time, almost like at school, and a few guests stared at him from their seats on the bottom floor when he exited the stairs. Ryu almost made it to the doors when his way suddenly was blocked by a woman in a very expensive dress.
“I’m sorry, but...”
Ryu looked up and stared into Kuri’s eyes. “Ah, look, I just...”
“It’s sis, and she looks like...”
“She looks beautiful.”
“Kuri, the way she looks she’s going to catch all kinds of wrong attention. I have to stop her.”
Kuri grabbed his arm and turned him around when he tried to pas her. “Look kiddo, I put a lot of effort into making her that beautiful. You’re not going to interfere with her life that way.” It wasn’t an order, but rather a statement.
“Yes, me. She doesn’t know it, but there are women who’d pay hundreds of thousands of yen for the make over I gave her, and we’re not even talking clothes here.”
“You, but why?”
Kuri let go of his arm. Her grip had been surprisingly strong. Instead she took his hand and led him back up the stairs.
Ryu noticed the glances the two of them attracted. By now it was mostly a matter of fact how otherworldly beauty and teenage dream prince demanded the attention of just everyone whenever they were in the same room, and Ryu knew it was Kuri who made him shine, not the other way around.
She smelled faintly of herself, just more strongly so, and Ryu guessed she had ordered some kind of miracle perfume mix suited for her personally, a mixture perfected over a lifetime in the fashion world.
Not until they were both seated at the table he had abandoned just moments earlier did he understand how masterfully Kuri had prevented him from running after his sister. Even defusing a scene in the building before it had a chance to be noticed by anyone.
“Why?” he asked.
Kuri slid slender fingers over his hand. “Noriko is one of my two best friends. She stood by my side when I was a broken wreck and asked for nothing in return.”
“Why?” he repeated.
“I still love Urufu, you know what. I believe they’re good for each other, and if I can help two of the people who are the most important for me, then I’ll do so. They’ve given me so much, and I’ll owe them for years to come.”
“Why?” Ryu said for a third time.
“Because you have me, and for that reason alone you’ve lost any right to stand in the way of your sister, if you ever had that right to begin with.”
That was both a promise and a threat, and it was enough for him to stop asking a fourth time.
“I don’t like it,” he murmured instead.
Kuri’s finger took a firmer grip of his hand. “You don’t have to like it. You also don’t have any right to make your sister less than she can be. It’s her life, and hers alone.”
Those were words from a different world than his, but also the words of his parents. Both of them Japanese through and through, and still they abhorred exactly the part of society Kuri had just aimed at. Her life. Her choice. Her responsibility. Stay the fuck away!
Ryu turned his hands and grabbed Kuri’s in his. Fingers played with fingers while he recalled the angry looks of worry his mother sent him when he merely acted of common sense.
“That’s no son of mine,” she once drunkenly said to his father when neither of them thought he heard. “We revolted against this piss poor excuse for a feudal prison, and now he wants to rebuild it!”
Ryu never knew his mother used words like that. He knew his father didn’t.
“Walking down memory lane and getting a new one ripped by your mom?” Kuri suddenly asked. “She’s my kind of girl. I like her. I wish I’d met her when I was thirty. I’d show them both the world.”
Your world. You weren’t in this one when you were thirty. Ryu suddenly realised how both his parents had revolted, and how Kuri once must have done. Funny, that makes me the old fashioned one here.
Then it struck him. Why his sister was hell-bent on making Urufu her own. He’s all that I never was. Ryu met Kuri’s eyes and hoped she never noticed how scared he was. Gods, he broke his own life because he refused to break yours!
“What it is Ryu?”
Ryu listened to the voice of a woman he’d come to love beyond reason. He thoroughly disliked how fast he’d fallen for her again. Rather than answering her he just squeezed harder. Crap, you’ve got me cornered good.
“So you finally realised.” Kuri let go of his hands with one of hers. It stretched across the table, and to his shock she caressed his cheeks. “Good. That’s a man I could grow to love for real.”
She never said we’d pretend being a couple. His heart jumped at her words.
“Ryu, the day you tie your sister up, that day I’ll start hating you, because that’s the day you betray me. Don’t make me stop learning to love the man you can become instead.”
So, it was out in the open. With those words Kuri made it clear she’d support Noriko’s revolts, both of them. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realised his parent’s would give all their support to Noriko as well, no matter how afraid she was they wouldn’t. Her life, her choice, her responsibility, and damned be anyone who tried to steal her right to become an adult of her own.