Sunday, 31 January 2016

Chapter five (segment six), 2016, October, Ryu

A feeling of impending doom clung to the school when Ryu arrived the first Monday after their midterm exams.

With exams over and done with the main dish on the rumour mill menu ought to have been the student council elections.

However, what most students spoke about was a disgusting rumour about Red Rose Academy and systematic rapes with racist overtones. It was the kind of rumour that needed to be quelled immediately, and Ryu was here to douse the flames with petrol. In case the rumours blew out of all proportions Principal Nakagawa had promised to step in and add dynamite to the fire.

After changing shoes by his locker Ryu walked past the wall where the top fifty students from each year were soon to be posted together with their results and headed for the stairwell to his wing.

He rushed to his classroom and during each and every break he joined the subdued conversations he heard and said all the wrong things. Before lunch was over the entire first year floor of the right wing rumbled with barely supressed indignation.

Just prior to class he checked his mailbox for more instructions from Kuri. There were none and he decided to move on his own. One email later he had suggested he'd honour his promise to attend a goukon. If he was honest with himself he had nothing against meeting Ai-chan again, and it was with a tinge of a bad conscience he planned to use her for spreading the rumours to Irishima high.

Like most of his classmates he went through the motions of attending class. This close to the exams most were more interested in the results than any topics covered by their teachers, and it seemed the teachers understood as well. Homeroom mostly consisted of selfstudying. Planning their participation in the annual marathon race took up a fair chunk as well. After that club hours, which he used to spread the rumours even further.

The next morning irritated conversations about Red Rose ran between the shoe lockers, and later the same day, in the cafeteria.

When it was time for club hours he made his excuses to Kuri and told her what he had planned for his karaoke session with a few guys and girls from Irishima high.

Ryu left school and headed for the same karaoke bar they used to celebrate their cultural festival a few weeks earlier. Had he been given a choise he'd preferred to meet at Stockholm Haven café, but for this kind of occasion a sterile karaoke room was the norm.

Ai-chan stood waiting for him inside the doors despite Ryu being close to half an hour early.

Wakayama-san,” she greeted him.

Ryu shot her an exxagerated look of irritation. “Hasegawa-san, what a pleasant surprise,” he said and bowed formally.

Ai-chan blanched and took a step backwards. “Why so awkward?”

How would I know Hasegawa-san. I'm at a loss for words Hasegawa-san.”

Stop it!”

If you stop being so stiff I'll do so as well. OK Ai-chan?”

She blushed and stammered. “Fine, whatever!”

My name being?”

Waka… Ryu-kun.”

Good. Now, why so early?”

Ai-chan took the opportunity to study her shoes and didn't answer, which made Ryu grin a little. When it came to reading the signals in the boy meets girl game he was an expert, something that made him never having had a girlfriend doubly amusing, Ryu mused.

Waiting for someone?” Ryu teased.

I'm waiting for you,” Ai-chan responded, and her eyes filled with determination. 
“If you didn't get that I'm interested in you then you're denser than I thought.”

That bravado! I like it. But you really are rather nervous right now, aren't you? “No I got that message loud and clear during our festival,” he said and smiled. “You know, according to a friend I shouldn't be able to see that for another half a year or so.

Sounds like your friend knows her shoujo manga,” Ai-chan said and grinned widely.

Ah, seems that joke helped with her nervousity. “It's a he, but otherwise you're correct.”

Ai-chan smirked and loked up at him. “So, you tricked me into a confession. What about you?”

I'm interested,” Ryu admitted. “Would you go out with me?”

She nodded and smiled, but Ryu could see how she crabbed the counter behind her for support. Behind the counter a clerk grinned and gave him a thunbs up sign, and Ryu realised their conversation had been heard by everyone here.

Ai-chan, we have an audience,” he said with what he hoped was a subdued voice.

She loked around and flared red in an instant.


Ryu listened to her outburst, but her expression conflicted with what she had just said.

I guess I am,” he answered and took a step closer to her. “Feeling embarrased?”


I am. Feeling embarrased that is. With all the people staring at us.”


He wasn't, really. Experience from years spent surrounded by adoring girls made him more or less immune to the discomfort that had Ai-chan's face all in flames. Getting his first girlfriend was a novel experience though.

I didn't hear your reply,” he said as teasingly as he could.


Your reply to where I say: I like you. Please go out with me!”

That line kept her face adorably coloured like a tomato and she stuttered what almost sounded like a positive reply. Around them guests arriving or leaving the place stood and gasped or grinned. A few girls giggled loudly and Ryu felt what a spectacular show he ran for his small audience.

I can't hear you. Could you please repeat that?”


Sorry, was that a yes or a no?”

Idiot!” Ai-chan stared at her feet again. “Yes, please take good care of me.”

Ryu grinned and bent forward for a last tease. The topics during their stay here would be grimmer, so he wanted to extend the fun for as long as possible. “Ai-chan, why should I attend the goukon in the first place?”

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Changing font

Times plays merry hell with font-size here for me. I'm switching to Verdana hoping that helps.

Chapter five (segment five), 2016, October, Noriko

Noriko left the hospital feeling more down than she had expected. While she didn't visit Urufu every day like Yukio and Kuri she still went to see her friend often enough to notice how much better he made her feel after a visit.

Should be the other way around, she thought.

She couldn't exactly pinpoint why she felt depressed. Maybe because they were wrapped up in their midterm exams and Urufu couldn't attend them.

What's on your mind?” Nao wondered.

Noriko shook her head and grasped his hand just a little tighter. “Thank you for understanding,” she said rather than answering his question.

He smiled down at her. “Don't worry. I know you still have feelings for him, and he's a good guy at that.”

Do I? Noriko wasn't certain any longer. Urufu being hurt made her angry, but thinking of him didn't fill her stomach with butterflies the way seeing Nao did.

They made it to the bus stop and climbed the first one heading downtown. When they got off she noticed how those they met smiled at them.

Huh? What's so funny? Then it struck her they were still holding hands. The photo model with his midget girlfriend. Yeah I guess it could look funny.

She tugged Nao's hand closer to herself and felt strangely happy that she had something else than Urufu to worry about. Do we really look that comical? She guessed they did. She just a bit over a metre and a half and him at closer to a hundred and ninety.

Notice the smiles?” Noriko asked at last.

Uhum. They're hiding their jealousy,” Nao said.

'They' being the girls I guess, Noriko thought glumly.

The girls as well,” Nao said, deliberately twisting his comforting words into a self-conscious joke.

You, you, you!” She couldn't but stop and give him a light box in his stomach. Then Noriko grinned and hugged him. “Thanks for making me laugh! Thanks for making me feel loved!”

But you make it so easy,” Nao replied without a moment of hesitation.

You say all the right things, and you do all the right things as well. “You make me blush,” Noriko said and dug her face into his shirt.

Nao held her tight and combed through her hair with long, slender fingers. “You know, I'm worried as well.”

The words made her step apart from him. Doing so she saw how public their display was just outside a subway station, but she didn't care.

Worried about what? They said he'll recover fully.”

Ah, not about that,” Nao said and laughed. “He'll miss out on a full month. What about his midterms?”

Noriko choked down a reply. She couldn't tell Nao that Principal Nakagawa guaranteed Urufu's private tutoring. More precisely she couldn't tell Nao Principal Nakagawa did the tutoring in person, and of all things she could never tell Nao that Urufu probably didn't need any tutoring apart from written Japanese in the first place.

I keep secrets from my own boyfriend. Makes me a role model girlfriend I guess, Noriko thought and smirked.

When do you think he'll be discharged?” she asked, more to switch topic than anything else.

I know as little as you do. A week, maybe two if how he acts when we visit is any indication,” Nao suggested.

That's November,” Noriko said. “I feel bad for him.”

He'll make a full recovery. Let's be happy about that.”

As usual Nao focussed on the most important, but in this case he didn't have all the information needed. He didn't know that Kuri was on a vengeance rampage, and Noriko made sure he didn't have a clue about how she had agreed to help Kuri when the dirty affair blew up in the face of the Red Rose board of directors. And Kuri had promised that if would blow up nastier than anything they had ever experienced before.

Noriko sighed silently. Promises were just promises, or that's how the real world usually turned out, but with Kuri… With Kuri you barely had time for a snarky comment before she delivered on her promise and then some.

What was it you said again? Don't mistake me for the empress of Japan. Think of Caligula or Nero instead. Noriko shivered at the memory. What made you say something awful like that?

Until lately it had never occurred to Noriko that Kuri maybe was loved, or at least desired by many, but that she all too often loathed herself.

You're silent,” Nao said, stating the obvious.

Noriko turned and dragged him in the direction of a café. “Sorry.”

It's my treat,” he said.

She didn't bother protesting. He could afford it, as could she. Eating out barely made a dent in their respective wallets, and she had long since learned to be careful when going out with her friends. With Nao, however, she didn't have to.

You know,” she said when they came indoors, “it feels like we're just waiting for something to happen.” It was as close as she could afford telling him something big was coming down on them all.

6:1 to get their students back?” Nao said.

Noriko knew he was referring more to the other two victims of the car accident than to Urufu. Both were slated for discharge within a few days.

Two coffee and two vanilla ice cream,” Noriko said to the waitress and made certain she returned out of earshot. “No, I'm thinking of how uneasy 9:1 is,” Noriko said as if she had heard rumours about that class. Well, the students in 9:1 should be uneasy given that they were involved in covert warfare with their hated, old school.

9:1, you say. I don't hear anything apart from what's said in the club, and with midterms nothing much happens there.”

No other rumours?” Noriko asked.

Sorry, but they're freshmen all of them. It's not like we juniors talk a lot about you.” Nao made a grimace in an attempt to show her that he meant no offence.

We have to change that. Kuri wants the rumours to spread out of control. “Oh, I didn't know. So you only talk about Kuri?”

Nao blanched. “It's not that bad, but there are not all that many freshmen who are well known among us.

With a sweet smile that made her stomach crawl Noriko looked at her boyfriend. “I see. Well I guess it can't be helped,” she lied.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Chapter five (segment four), 2016, October, Christina

“Yes, I like my high school very much. Himekaizen is so much fun,” Christina said and giggled inanely.

The anchor gave her a pained but professional smile in return. Most likely the woman had seen more than her fair share of beautiful airheads flaring into fame just to be forgotten half a year later.

Well, you're going to remember this interview, Christina thought. You fired first and I'm responding with heavy artillery.

“Is there something special that makes you like your school that much?” the anchor asked.

Christina stared into two uninterested eyes facing her. This is where you expect yet another brain-dead answer.

“Yes, as I'm a foreigner I'm very happy my school doesn't tolerate racism the way Red Rose Academy does,” she said and made her face light up in a wide grin. Christina knew it made her look stunning, and it offered the anchor an opportunity to gloss over the uncomfortable message.

“I’m happy that you have found a school to your liking,” the anchor said and didn’t look happy at all. Her smile hardly reached her eyes.

They quickly moved on to Christina’s model career and she made an effort to balance between being an airhead and a professional model. Christina had to keep her persona as the billion dollar empress in check, because it was one thing to stride down the catwalk as haughty royalty and a totally different one scaring away a television audience who thrived on cuteness.

After the talk show Christina changed into her baggy incognito set of clothes after checking for needles and other booby traps as usual. She found nothing, and hadn’t really expected to here at a television studio, but better safe than sorry.

When she left the studio she walked to the bike stand where her body guard stood waiting patiently. But for the attack on Ulf her agency would have dropped him by now. After the assault there was no way she’d have her privacy back.

“Pleasant evening?” Christina offered.

“Yes miss,” her bodyguard answered. Nothing in his voice indicated whether he found anything pleasant or not.

Christina shrugged and mounted her bike. She plugged in the earpiece to her headset and dialled one of her newfound contacts in the computer club. After a few rumbling sounds, ‘ringtones’ didn’t really describe the feeling of ringing someone in Japan, he picked up.

“Ageruman here,” she said. They had agreed she’d announce herself even though he saw her contact information when she called. Just in case anyone stole her cell.

For once she didn’t care if the paid muscle heard her conversation or not. She was embarking on a dirty smear-campaign and any kind of rumour-mongering would further her case.

“I’ve dropped the bomb on the show,” Christina said.

“They could edit it out.”

“Yeah, and break the contract. Costly, dangerous and they’ll never see a teen model on their show again.” Christina didn’t know if the penalty would really stretch that far, but her contact at Uniclo, Alice Kerringer, had pulled some strings of her own.

“In don’t believe you,” came the response.

Computer geek and a coward. Immediately after that thought Christina felt ashamed of herself. She did this to avenge Ulf, and he started out his professional life as a computer geek himself. “At the moment I’m Uniclo’s little mascot and I told my contact there what could happen to their Korean and Chinese market if they glossed this over.”

“Why should I care about Koreans and Chinese?”

Just because we don’t accept that kind of behaviour at Himekaizen doesn’t mean there aren’t anyone who thinks that way. “Would you care to repeat that for me?” Christina said and made an effort to lace her voice with the next ice age.

“Sorry Ageruman-san. I apologise. That was uncalled for.”

Uncalled for, my arse. You’ll be ostracised until graduation if I want. “I don’t mind, but I’m certain Hamarugen-san would be unhappy if he heard you say those things,” she said instead and felt her stomach cramp at the lie. She cared very much. You didn’t build a global fashion empire if you truly believed in eugenics.

“Ah, sorry. My bad.”

Your bad indeed. Ulf had garnered his fair share of adoration in the computer club after he ran some kind of tech seminar there a few weeks ago.

“Anyway, the show goes live tomorrow at five pm. Could you start those voices of indignation from half past five?”

“Sure, and you're certain you only want those sites seeded?”

Christina nodded as she biked. “Yeah. I'll give you a new list and a new starting hour later.”

He only needed the list. Explaining demographics would take too long. Explaining how she happened to know exactly where that TV-channel made an impact was impossible, and she didn't really know. Christina gambled on the demographics being mostly the same in this world as in her old one. She'd make certain the ugly rumours about Red Rose reached other local communities like rings on the water.

Next on her agenda was setting up a live protest. One that could be traced back to 9:1 but no further. After that a few well placed libelous newspaper articles. As far as she knew the right wing loonies at Red Rose would take the bait, and Christina already had Noriko's consent to detonate the real bomb.

Sorry Ulf, but I won't let him stay peacefully in his grave. She'd use the evidence on the suicide victim, because that evidence included damning photos on two teachers and the principal of Red Rose. When I'm done with you arseholes you're going belly up. Not even right wing loony parents will place their kids there.

Christina used the time at a red light to place another phonecall and continued her smear campaign.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Chapter five (segment three), 2016, October, Yukio

“If Ulf says no then I'm not interested.”

Yukio glared at Kuri. Damn you and your stubbornness! Are you Siamese twins or something?

He growled mentally realising the day had come to a bad start. An hour from now he's deliver not one but two negative messages to Principal Nakagawa.

“Is there anything I can do to get your head screwed on right again?” Yukio said to a choir of amazed gasps from her classmates.

“Listen kiddo, you get Ulf to jump on the bandwagon I'll do as well, but I'm joining crap without my boyfriend.”

The high colour in her face had absolutely nothing to do with feelings of embarrassment, and Yukio felt no major need to explore further from whence it came. Instead he sighed and bowed formally.

“I guess I've done my part in convincing you two then,” he said and retreated from her classroom. He even managed to give her a polite smile on his way out. Muttering could wait until the long walk through the long corridor connecting the two wings in the school building.

I think this is bad. Principal Nakagawa shouldn't attempt to influence the student council elections in the first place, so why is he so desperate to get Urufu and Kuri on the council?

Turning left at his wing Yukio made for their club room where Kyoko hopefully waited for him. He slid the door open and went inside.

“Yukio, here!”

She was. Waiting for him that is.

Yukio waved back at her and sat down in the sofa next to her. With an angry shrug he zipped open his bag and fished up the bento box Kyoko had given him on their way to school. Tomorrow he'd make their lunch.

“Grumpy much?” she asked when he slammed his box onto the low table.

“Sorry Kyoko,” Yukio said. He took his chop sticks in one hand and dug for some rice. “It's just that they're so damn stubborn!”

Her face split up in a wide grin. “Tell me about it,” Kyoko said. “Noticed she's seldom here during lunch?” she added.

None of them needed to explain who 'they' or 'she' was.

“Uhum,” Yukio said and got in a hurry to swallow his mouthful. “Why's that?”

Kyoko bit of half a sausage and chewed on it before answering. “She's marking her territory. That's why?”


“There's hardly a conversation where Kuri doesn't insert boyfriend this or Urufu that.”

Yukio stared at Kyoko. He hadn't thought of that, but then he didn't spend as much time with Kuri as Kyoko did. “How come?” he asked. “Honestly, she can't really be afraid of the competition.”

“Yukio, I love how adorable you are!” Kyoko flashed him a grin that made his heart jump. “But you really don't understand love,” she continued as if their two month long relationship had made her some kind of love expert.

He bit down on a retort and mentally thanked his mother for teaching him to listen before spoke. “How so,” he offered to make Kyoko explain her thoughts.

In the background he heard and saw club members come and go, most of them sitting down in groups and pairs proving that the club had been operating long enough for smaller constellations to come into existence.

“You know, I couldn't believe you wanted to be together with me,” Kyoko began. “It was so obvious you should be interested in Kuri-chan like everyone else.”

Yukio mulled over Kyoko's words before he answered. “I was never interested in her after I saw you, but I understand what you're saying.” Hopefully that was the right thing to say.

“Now that's why I fell for you. I can see how you made an effort not to hurt me without telling me I'm an idiot.”

It had been the right thing to say. “Still, I don't see what that has to do with Kuri,” Yukio said relieved he had navigated the minefield without stepping on something dangerous. “I mean, it's Kuri we're talking about. It's one thing if people like you and me are afraid,” he said and left his real question hanging in the air.

“To begin with she's making it clear she's unavailable. There are still a lot of guys calling her out for confessions.”

“And?” Yukio said.

“And I believe she's afraid Urufu will get angry.”

Yukio could understand that part. He'd felt the same when Rie-sempai followed him around like a lovesick puppy during the cultural festival. “But there's another reason as well, isn't there?” he continued.

“Mmm,” Kyoko said and swallowed some food. She nodded at him. “Yeah. I think she's honestly afraid she'll lose him.”


“She's been pretty down since school started, and I think the last thing reminded her she could actually lose him if she's not careful.”

Yukio didn't need a reminder what 'the last thing' was. He'd pay Urufu a visit after school.

“It wasn't her fault,” Yukio said. “She can't possibly believe Urufu would think that.”

Kyoko's smile thinned to a white line. “She can, and she made some fairly bad calls before that, didn't she?”

So you can see she's not without faults, can you now? Yukio nodded back at Kyoko. “Uhum, she stood him up a few times. I can see how he'd be angry for that. But he isn't that way. Trust me!”

“I trust you. But none of us have anything to lose here. Kuri-chan does, and I think that makes her see less clearly.”

Yukio looked at Kyoko. He hadn't thought of it that way. “So she's using the time Urufu isn't here to hammer down the message that Urufu's already taken by the princess of Himekaizen?” he suggested.

“Yes,” Kyoko said, but she didn't smile, “and I believe she's making a huge mistake.”

“A huge mistake? As in Kuri could actually lose?”

Kyoko nodded. “She's famous, and not everyone likes her. Now she's making Urufu famous as well. There are a lot of people who would want to come between them just to make them break up.”

Urufu hardly needed Kuri's help to become famous. Not after the cultural festival, but Yukio understood how people targeting Urufu destroy their relationship if Kuri was the jealous kind.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Chapter five (segment two), 2016, October, Yukio

After he kissed Kyoko goodbye outside her house Yukio went in search for a convenience store before heading home.

Urufu's black eyes when he told him about the car accident still haunted Yukio.

As if he thinks it was his fault, Yukio mused. Damn it man! Stop trying to carry every burden yourself! Yukio growled and muttered a few choice curses. Don't you see that you're insulting your own friends if you don't share some of the shit with us?

Because friendship didn't care about over thirty years difference in age. Friends should help to their capacity, and they should be allowed to do so.

Yukio listened to his footsteps in the darkness as he walked between islands of light under the street lamps. From time to time a car overtook him and flooded the street ahead of him with white brightness until it passed him and waved goodbye with red rear lights.

Some ten minutes later he came up to a dimly lit parking place where a few cars waited for their owners who were inside the convenience store.

He walked in and took a right turn to get to the newspaper stand. A magazine and a bottle of water later he stood making a choice between future microwave victims. Eventually Yukio took something that made a good effort at pretending to be curry on rice.

Kyoko would yell at me for declining dinner at her place. But the truth was her parents made him feel uneasy. While it seemed Kyoko's mother more or less had accepted her daughter's new boyfriend it was all too clear her father hadn't.

Yukio whistled tunelessly, held on to his booty and made for the cashier.

A thousand yen poorer and with a plastic bag holding too much for a snack but too little for dinner he lined up his feet in the direction of his home and started walking.

'Next week' Urufu had said, but Yukio thought that was unlikely. Five broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and both lungs punctured didn't sound like something that healed in two weeks. If Urufu was let out of the hospital while it was still October he would be lucky. At least that was what Yukio believed, but he wasn't a doctor.

It didn't take all that long to reach the apartment block where he lived during the week with his mother. His father's flat was out of the question this late in the evening.

Yukio climbed the stairs hugging the wall and walked to his door. He could have knocked for his mother to open, but it felt better to use his keys so as not to disturb her unnecessarily.

“I'm home,” he called when he came indoors.

“Welcome home,” his mother answered and let him know she was in their small living room.

Yukio went to the kitchenette and put his meal in the microwave. Three minutes would be enough, and it gave him time to drop the water into the fridge and put his magazine in the room where he slept.

“Any news on your friend?” his mother asked from where she sat in a sofa watching TV.

“Nothing much. He thinks he'll be discharged next week. I think he's too optimistic.”

His mother rose from her seat.

“Have I ever said I'm sorry we put you through Red Rose academy?”

Yukio shook his head. “It's OK. You couldn't know. I'm sure it looked like a good school.”

“Mmm, it did.”

The microwave chimed and Yukio fetched his heated dinner and sat down by the kitchen table.

“Mom, midterms are coming up and after that there are parent meetings.” He looked at his mother who waited for him to finish. “Can you get time off or do you want me to ask dad?”

She got her handbag and picked up a phone. “No it's fine. Just make sure to tell me the time at least a week in advance.”

He nodded and started gulping down his meal. It was about as lacking in taste as he had feared, but it filled him up and banished the worst of his hunger.

While he ate his mother got the bottle of water and two glasses. She filled them both up and sat down across the table.

“How are things with Kyoko?”

“Fine,” Yukio said between two mouthfuls.

He finished his meal and downed his glass of water.

“Mom,” he began, “mind if I bring her over this weekend?”

His mother gave him a long glance. “For a visit, not at all, but sleeping over, very much.”

That suggestion made Yukio's face flare red. “Mom!”

“Sorry, just teasing. Please do. She seems to be a sweet girl. Hold on to her, will you?”

He had no plans doing otherwise. “As long as she wants me.” Strange, before I met you I'd say she's mine, he thought wondering how Urufu spent yet another lonely evening in the hospital. But you and Kuri taught me love is something you share. “I'll work hard to make her want me,” he added.

“Yukio, you're growing up.”

Maybe because my best friend is an adult. “Yeah, maybe I am. That's good, isn't it?”

His mother smirked suddenly, and for a moment Yukio saw something empty in her eyes. “Don't be too much in a hurry. You want to remember that you were still a child during these years.”

What was that about? I'll ask Urufu when I meet him. “OK,” Yukio said. He didn't really understand what his mother had meant, but for some reason she looked like an abandoned child when she spoke.

Yukio felt discomfort filling him, as if he had seen something in his mother he wasn't supposed to see. Rather than continue the awkward conversation he stood and prepared the dishes. After that he spent the rest of the evening doing homework.

Tomorrow he'd check with Kuri before he told Principal Nakagawa that Urufu flat out rejected any involvement with the student council.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Chapter five (segment one), 2016, October, Kyoko

One grey day in mid-October Kyoko left the funeral with lips a thin line on her face as she tried to keep her thoughts together.

In difference from most her age she wore a set of proper mourning clothes; one morbid benefit of being raised as a proper girl.

It took some time to accept the black irony. More than just time if she was to be honest with herself. The unexpected death of a friend left her strangely empty and more than a little ashamed.

One misstep during an act of celebration was all it took. One relieved laugh too many and one glance in the wrong direction.

Three of them were hit by a drunk driver. One of them died on his way to the hospital where the other two shared a room next to Urufu's, the very person they were on their way to visit when fate dealt them a dirty hand.

Kyoko knew she should feel grief, but she didn't. She never got to know Urufu's and Yukio's dead classmate that well to begin with, and from the little she had seen he was a rather shy member of Kuri-chan's fan club, one who hadn't chosen to join the club to get closer to her.

There was the matter of her shame as well. The reason her heart was full of relief rather than grief. That day Yukio had pulled her back when she almost stepped into a puddle, and in doing so he spun around just enough to avoid the swerving car. Or almost avoid it, because a rear mirror caught his blazer and tore it off him.

Kyoko still remembered her entire world filled with cloth and Yukio's surprised shout. She hadn't even seen how Yukio's classmates were mauled by the car.

They hadn't told Urufu yet. He was still unaware of the two classmates only a wall away from him, and in the end Kyoko found herself forced to cajole Yukio into telling his best friend the bad news. And that was the reason she was on her way from a funeral to a hospital with an unwilling boyfriend in her tow.

“If you don't I will,” Kyoko said to Yukio. “Tell him, that is,” she continued just in case she had understated the obvious. He wasn't going to wriggle himself out of it this time, and with her in mourning dress he didn't stand a chance.

Yukio grimaced but held on to her hand and followed her. It felt strange leading him on. Usually he was the one to decide, but it created a balance of sorts.

'Improper for a woman' her parents would have said. Thinking about her parents Kyoko admitted to herself that her mother wasn't as meek as Kyoko once had believed. Her mother would still have said those words, but Kyoko remembered how she bulldozed right over her father that evening when Yukio got hurt.

I guess she's behaving improperly in a proper way. Gods! I hate that kind of deception.

“What's on your mind?” Yukio wondered.

Kyoko tugged her coat closer around her and pretended she hadn't heard anything. As if I'm over being deceptive myself, she realised. It couldn't be helped. She had no reason betraying her parents that way when she wasn't certain they deserved it.

From the way Yukio tightened his grip on her hand she suspected he understood.

They took a bus, changed to a local train and from that to a bus again. Almost two hours later they walked the last bit to the hospital. Most of that time they spent in shared silence.

Will Kuri-chan be there?

She had spent time by Urufu's side, but not to the degree Kyoko initially had suspected. Apart from that Monday after they spent a night in the waiting room Kuri-chan hadn't missed a single day in school, and Kyoko knew her friend had taken up her modelling job as well.

It's as if Urufu would be angry with you for wasting time with him, Kyoko thought. I don't understand you two.

She herself missed most of a full week when Yukio was hospitalised, and for once her parents hadn't said a word about her skipping school.

“Yukio, you know when he'll be discharged?”

Asking that question wasn't fair. As if being best friends with Urufu automatically gave you more information.

“Sorry, no. Maybe they'll tell us today,” Yukio said.

Kyoko said nothing. She only held on to his hand when they entered through the sliding doors and walked to the elevators.

Several floors later they left the lift and came out in a corridor much like the one they spent a night by, but Urufu was moved from ICU to some kind of convalescent area. Kyoko didn't understand the hospital organisation all that well.

Before they visited Urufu Yukio had to go to the room adjacent to his. Kyoko chose to wait in the corridor while Yukio went inside and chatted with his classmates.

He came back out with a smirk on his face, walked a few steps and slid open the door to Urufu's room.

Kyoko looked inside searching for Kuri-chan, but she was nowhere to be seen. Instead Sato-sensei sat on a stool and turned when the sound of the sliding door caught her attention.

“Kuri-chan's not here?” Kyoko asked before thinking of how that question could be insensitive in itself.

Sato-sensei shook her head. “She left earlier.”

But you were here earlier after all. Good! “I see,” Kyoko said instead.

From his bed Urufu gave Yukio and Kyoko both a weak wave.

“How are you man?” Yukio asked.

Urufu tilted his head a bit and grinned. “A bit more winded than usual, but it's healing well they promise me.”

“You know when...” Yukio began asking to Kyoko's shame. He was fishing for and answer to her earlier question.

“Maybe this week,” Urufu said.

Kyoko hid her face behind Urufu's back.

“They're running the elections for the student council now. Next week is midterms,” Yukio said. “Principal Nakagawa wants you to run for president.”

“As if,” Urufu said and laughed.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, dawn

James woke from the morning chill. During what passed for night here someone had draped him in a blanket, and he passed a thankful thought to whoever that was.

An endless dawn broke over the island, but the growing daylight brought little warmth with it.

James shuddered and drew the blanket tighter around himself. Even though his bladder told him he needed to get up and find a toilet the rest of his freezing body ordered him to stay put for a little bit longer. In the end bladder won that contest, and shivering from cold he rose and shuffled indoors.

Maybe some coffee later to warm me up, he thought after obeying his bladder. He'd make it the weak Swedish style, because hot water was more important than proper coffee right now.

Besides, it's always good to have some prepared for when the next person wakes. That thought took him back to the year he got to know his hosts. You came over almost every evening that autumn. Or had it really been the entire autumn?

James shook his head in confusion. Well, it mattered little. During that autumn his Haven café became a second home for more than a few of those kids. But one of you was absent for some time. Funny that, I forgot what happened.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Chapter four (segment ten), 2016, October, Kyoko

The sound of Yukio's rhythmic snoring woke her. Kyoko's back ached from falling asleep sitting up on a chair.

When she looked around she saw how Sato-sensei finally had fallen asleep as well. Kuri-chan stood reading posters on the bulletin board nailed to the wall closest to the nurse's office.

Five am. She had slept for less than half an hour.

I'm sorry Kuri-chan. I left you alone.

Feeling sorry wouldn't make Kuri-chan any less lonely, so Kyoko got up, straightened her clothes and walked over to her friend.


Kuri-chan shook her head. “Slept well?”

Kyoko grimaced and started stretching stiff limbs. “Does it look that way?” she asked.

“No,” Kuri-chan admitted. “Those chairs are just as bad as an airport.”


“Uhum. I've had my fair share of sleeping like this during my travels.”

She's remembering her previous life. “What was it like?”

Kuri-chan shifted uncomfortably. “Lots of aching backs,” she said instead of answering the question Kyoko had really asked.

Kyoko let her fingers slide across the wall until they met the border of the bulletin board. “Have you had anything to drink?” she asked when the silence grew oppressive.

“Lots,” Kuri-chan answered, “but I could do with some hot coffee.”

Mentioning hot coffee made Kyoko realise how cold the waiting room was. She sauntered over to the vending machine and bought two cans.

While she listened to Kuri-chan opening her can Kyoko pulled Yukio's jacket tighter around him. Without even asking she added her friend's coat as extra cover. It would be morning soon anyway, and she harboured little hope that they'd be allowed to sleep like tramps in the waiting room when more visitors arrived.

An hour, at most, before they had to get any news on Urufu's condition, or else they were likely to be forced outside.

How did we end up like this? She still hadn't forgiven herself for switching her radio off when Urufu got hurt.

Maybe it was punishment. Girls her age should study rather than fool around with boys. One look at Kuri-chan made her resent that thought. Kuri-chan had never been jealous of her, had never wanted her to stay alone or thought that Yukio was bad for her. Those were the words of her parents, and even they had relented a little after Yukio came to her rescue that evening.

Kyoko glanced at Sato-sensei's sleeping form, and after some consideration she pulled the coat closer around the woman as well. She was still Urufu's guardian no matter how much she had tried to hurt him and Kuri-chan.

“She loves him in her own way,” Kuri-chan suddenly said. “Never believe anything else.”

“How can you be so kind to her after what she did?”

“Because I'm older than you are,” Kuri-chan said. “Because I understand she was never vindictive.”


“Kyoko, I'm rather certain she was forced to.” Kuri-chan smiled before she continued. “I wasn't at the beginning. I'll admit that.”

“I don't understand,” Kyoko said.

“You do understand that there are people who are aware of us arrivals?”

Kyoko did, and she nodded.

“I'm sure some of them don't like the way Ulf and I try to take control of our lives. For one we're not behaving like the teenagers we look like.”

First Kyoko couldn't understand what was so bad about two teenagers behaving a little different, but then she had to admit that Urufu and Kuri-chan hardly were normal teenagers.

“Are you worth a lot of money or something?”

“Or something,” Kuri-chan said. “Yes, I think we might be worth a lot of money for the wrong people.”

I don't understand you. But that was only true to a degree. Somehow Kyoko understood that controlling Kuri-chan and Urufu could be valuable, but she couldn't see exactly how.

Kyoko sat down and leaned back. While she rested their conversation petered out into nothingness and she watched how the cold, fluorescent light was slowly replaced by an ever increasing greyness as a new day broke.

She was about to fall asleep again when the sound of arriving footsteps stirred her fully awake. From the corner of her eye she saw Kuri-chan rise from a seat and hurry across the floor.

What's happening?

Kyoko looked up and saw a nurse accompanied by a doctor.

News about Urufu? Should I join them?

She decided against it. This was Kuri-chan's moment. She had waited the longest, and Urufu was closest to her. A glance to her right reminded Kyoko that there was another for whom Urufu was as important, and she rose.


Urufu's guardian shook off the hand Kyoko placed on her shoulder.

“Sato-sensei,” Kyoko repeated. “You should wake up.”

With a groggy groan Sato-sensei woke and met Kyoko's stare.


“Sato-sensei, there might be news about Urufu.”

Those words were enough to force the woman erect in an instant.


Kyoko pointed at where Kuri-chan stood listening.

Sato-sensei suddenly stood and blinked away any remaining sleep from her eyes. With worried determination in her face she took one step and then she rushed to Kuri-chan's side.

Kyoko remained by the seat Sato-sensei had occupied just moments earlier. It was only fair those two received the news first.

Please be safe! Please be well! Kuri-chan needs you, and you're my friend.

Even though Kyoko wanted nothing else than listening to whatever the nurse and doctor had to say she forced herself to stay. Staring and hoping. She could at least do that.

I front of her the doctor seemed to finish relaying whatever news he had, and Kyoko watched Kuri-chan and Sato-sensei sag and then embrace each other. Then Kuri-chan slumped to the floor and began wailing like a child. She hugged Sato-sensei's legs and cried and cried.

Now was the time for Kyoko to join her best friend, and with a leaden weight in her stomach she crossed the floor on wobbly feet.