Wednesday, 24 February 2016
“Think they'll be surprised?”
Yukio groaned silently. Surprised wasn't exactly the word that came to mind. “Man, you have a way with words,” he said instead of answering the question.
Ryu grinned impishly and poured himself another cup of coffee, or whatever substituted for coffee here. Swedes drank their traditional coffee from large mugs poorly suited for the black gold, and as a result it was weak and strangely sour.
Swallowing another mouthful of the swill Yukio decided he had enough. Tea, he'd have tea instead. For some reason there was an abundance of flavoured tea that surprised him.
Land of coffee, and you drink horse piss, but I'd be hard pressed to find as many variants of tea back home. He grinned. Strange people. You're strange all of you.
“They shouldn't be,” Yukio said. “We've given them enough hints to guess what's about to happen.”
With a nod Ryu leaned back in his chair. “Some people are rather dense. Remember the fallout with Red Rose?”
He was right. Some people were really, really dense. It still surprised Yukio how far their adversaries had allowed things to go south before they reacted. Looking back he was grateful for that incompetence. At the time he'd looked up on Urufu and Kuri like some kind of divine beings, but in reality they'd been badly outgunned from the start.
“Yeah, I remember. No way I'd help them with something like that today.”
“Them? If I recall Kuri did most of the damage.” Yukio saw Ryu look around to make sure Urufu didn't overhear them. “Urufu was livid when he found out.”
With a sigh Yukio admitted Ryu was right. Still, in the end Urufu helped his girlfriend inflict as much damage as possible unto what had transformed from a bad memory to an enemy.
“I'm happy it's all behind us,” Yukio said and rose to make some tea.
Monday, 22 February 2016
They left Urufu by the station with an evening date as a poor excuse not to take a train themselves. In a way it was a truth as well. The Wakayamas would be sixteen in less than a week, and Yukio wanted to buy each of them a present.
“I doubt we can match Nao-sempai or that Irishima high girl I've seen around Ryu lately,” Yukio said for the third time.
“Ai-chan,” Kyoko reminded him, also for the third time.
“Think they're dating?”
“Uhum. I think so.”
“Strange,” Yukio said, “Ryu rejected everyone confessing to him for half a year, and now he's hooking up with a girl from another school.”
“You don't get to decide who you like,” Kyoko said and tugged Yukio's arm closer. She pulled her scarf tighter around her neck.
I'll get you a new one, Yukio thought. He'd visited her a few times and unless she kept a supply of scarves hidden in her closet he was certain the flimsy thing she wore was the warmest she had.
“Changing topic here. Did you finish those invoices?”
Kyoko nodded. “Ryu's father mailed them a few days ago.” She grinned at him. “Urufu's going to have a heart attack later.”
He probably wouldn't, but he'd definitely asked how come his company made another three hundred and fifty thousand yen during his hospital stay. Not that there would be much left for him after all expenses were paid.
It was all Ryu's brainchild, with the blessing of his father attached to it. Keep customer contacts alive no matter what he had said, and so they did for a nominal fee compared to what Urufu usually charged.
“Think he'll be angry?” Yukio said as they rounded a corner and entered a shopping district.
Kyoko held on to his arm and smirked. “Maybe, maybe not. We're just a bunch of teenagers. I think we were in over our heads when we tried to copy those summer activities.”
Repackaged and standardised, Ryu's father had said. Yukio nodded and pulled Kyoko inside a shop.
“You sure about this?” she asked and changed the topic.
Yukio looked at the smartphone skin Kyoko held up. It was an atrocity in mint green, which was to say just the kind of over the top accessories Noriko used to satirise any kind of teenage girl cuteness weakness.
“Well, she got her new phone recently. I haven't seen her using anything for it yet,” Yukio said. “It's just the right kind of horrible as well.”
“Don't you think it's cute,” Kyoko said and pouted.
Yukio stared at the thing that couldn't decide between the colour of radioactive puke and a gross misunderstanding of modern art. “No, cute has nothing to do with it,” he decided.
They left the shop a couple of thousand yen poorer and a gift-wrapped awfulness in a small paper bag richer, if richer really was the right term for it.
“What did you have in mind for Ryu,” Kyoko asked when they had failed to find anything suitable half an hour later.
Yukio shook his head in despair. Ryu was a hard one to understand.
“Something to drink while we think about it?” he suggested. His feet hurt a bit, and even though Kyoko's boots looked nice on her Yukio doubted they were any good for long walks. While Urufu had disgusting taste in clothes he did have a keen eye for what was comfortable, and some of it had rubbed off on Yukio by now.
Kyoko gifted him with a grateful smile, and Yukio led her to a café that didn't look too expensive. They weren't like the other four who never had to think about money.
And that's unfair of me. Kuri had a hard time earlier. Still, since summer the other four spent money in a way that was foreign to him.
A waitress arrived and took their orders, and Yukio decided to push his thoughts aside. They had a tinge of envy to them, and given what Urufu and Kuri had endured the last six months envy was the last that came to his mind.
Yukio shot Kyoko a glance when she looked out the window. You're beautiful, he thought. And there's no one trying to break us apart. He grabbed her hands on the table and looked at her when she turned her face to him.
“I love you,” he said.
Kyoko cradled his fingers in hers and smiled. “I love you too.”
Making sure the other guests didn't look in their direction he leaned over the table and kissed her.
When he leaned back to watch her reaction he saw a small TV mounted to a wall. The sound was off, but he could read that a police investigation concerning systematic harassment was taking off. It didn't say Red Rose anywhere, but Yukio suspected that Kuri's smear campaign slowly bore fruit in a more serious way.
“Kyoko, behind you.”
She turned and watched the newsfeed together with him.
“Afraid?” she asked when it was finished.
“A little,” he admitted.
“Do you think she'll pull it off?”
Yukio leaned his head to his shoulder and grimaced. “I hope so, or it's going to be very bad for her.”
He could see a slight shiver running though Kyoko's body.
“I'm afraid it'll be bad for her even if she pulls it off,” she said.
There wasn't any good reply to that. Yukio shared her sentiment and fears, but for whatever it was worth their attack on Red Rose had gained a momentum where they could no longer abort it.
“It was her decision,” he said. “I don't think she could have avoided it even if she wanted. There was so much hate and rage in her after they attacked Urufu.”
Kyoko closed her hand over his. “I know. What do you think of it?”
What do I think of it? “I don't know. I guess our days of waiting have come to an end. That's what I think.”
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
It was a strangely subdued Urufu who returned to a hero's welcome and Kyoko mostly felt relieved that he didn't take much part in the circus around him. Part of it because she didn't think it suited him, but mostly because it saved Yukio from being dragged into any new madness.
What surprised her most was how calmly Kuri-chan acted when Urufu came back to school, but Kyoko knew her friend had visited him almost every day during his stay at the hospital.
“You look pale, man,” Yukio observed.
Kyoko could only agree. It was as if Urufu had shrunk a little.
“Wanna reapply for geek squad?” Yukio said and slapped Urufu on his back.
What's with boys and backslapping? She loved her Yukio, but sometimes he behaved like an elementary schoolkid.
“Very funny,” Urufu said. “Look, I'm a bit winded and won't recover fully until December they say.”
Kyoko pulled Yukio closer to her. She didn't like to see his anger.
Urufu pulled open his shoe locker and changed.
Kyoko had to walk to another row of lockers and leave Yukio with his friend. After she had changed from indoor shoes to light boots she ran to the entrance to make sure the two boys didn't leave without her.
She got there in time to see Yukio waiting for them both. Back at his locker she saw Urufu wave away an offer to carry his bag.
Is he an invalid, or what? “How bad is he?” she asked Yukio.
“Don't know, but I think he just needs to be active again.”
After some strenuous effort Urufu finally got into his loafers, shouldered his bag and joined them.
“Man, shouldn't you get that awful backpack of yours instead?” Yukio suggested. “Looks like crap, but the way you look right now it would be easier on you.”
Urufu grimaced but made no retort.
They went outside, and Kyoko had to hug her coat closer to her when the wind tugged at it and ran an ice-cold tendril down her blouse. With a shudder she opened her bag and grabbed a threadbare scarf which she wrapped around her shoulders. It barely helped keep the wind out.
From the corner of her eye she saw Urufu wink at Yukio who smiled weakly and nodded back at his friend.
“If you're thinking a scarf for Christmas present then just don't. They're expensive and I have more than I need at home,” Kyoko said to Yukio.
He just stared at the rag she had wound around her neck.
“Look, it's a gift from my mom when I was a small kid. I like it, OK?”
Urufu shrugged open armed in that western way of his. Some of his bodily expressions required you to get to know him before you understood, but this was one she had seen often enough to know by now.
“Girls!” he exclaimed.
Yukio coughed and laughed silently, but otherwise he wisely kept his mouth shut.
Listening to gravel crunching under her feet Kyoko wondered if there was any point in pretending to be aggravated by the two boys, but in the end she decided to just enjoy the presence of them both. It had been too long since Yukio looked whole like this. Somehow he had seemed like half a man during the weeks Urufu spent at hospital.
Gravel made way for tarmac and they left their school behind them. Their destination was the Stockholm Haven café and a cup or two before Urufu continued on his way to the station. It would be weeks before he got off at the wrong station and rode his bike to the mall.
Lucky, you got lucky. It scares me how close it was. But that wasn't a topic Kyoko wanted to open just yet. She didn't know how much it had scared the others, and especially not if those thoughts still lingered among her friends. Even Kuri-chan kept her silence these days, and she was the only who had allowed herself to break down with fear that awful day. In a way she had been the only honest one.
We betrayed you. I wanted to be strong for you, but in the end we betrayed you. With a sigh Kyoko admitted to herself that she wasn't even certain who 'you' was. Kuri-chan or Urufu, because in a way each of them had been betrayed individually. It was strange how your efforts to help someone could become a betrayal.
A discreet rumble in her pocket suggested that Kuri-chan's rumourmongering had reached another few targets, and when Kyoko looked at her phone she could confirm it. She typed in a reply that could easily be misunderstood and helped throw a little bit more dirt on Red Rose.
By her side Yukio's fingers played over his display, and Kyoko knew he was doing the same. Urufu threw a questioning glance at them both, but Kyoko decided to smirk and not say anything.
Sooner or later he'd learn what had happened, unless he already did, but it wasn't anything she felt in a hurry to make explicit. Especially as Kuri-chan had stopped being active online and instead used her poor Japanese as an excuse to make suggestive statements during the plethora of interviews she gave as part of her modelling job.
At first Kyoko had been shocked by the sheer degree of linguistic understanding Kuri-chan displayed for each and every clumsy statement, but after a while she just wrote it down to just another aspect of the Billion Dollar Empress. It was as if that persona knew anything and everything whenever needed.
“You're silent,” Urufu said.
“Just thinking of something Kuri-chan said,” Kyoko replied. It wasn't fair stating truths like this when they really were lies, but Kyoko's loyalties lay with Kuri-chan first. As long as she wanted Urufu out of the loop Kyoko would feed him half-truths and even outright lies.
She wondered how Yukio managed that part. It was his best friend after all.
Wednesday, 10 February 2016
That was a bad memory. The memory of Ulf's body shaking with tears and loss still occupied her mind whenever she wondered if she had the ability to solve a problem. And that was a bad problem in itself. Never before had she allowed herself to become dependent on anyone else this way.
She wondered. He never said he loved her, but he always acted with love. Still she needed those words. Ulf, are you so afraid of losing me that you don't dare having me?
Something was breaking apart inside of her. The love she felt consumed her. It burned from the inside, and if he didn't speak soon, if he didn't provide that fuel, the fire would take her love and twist it into something she didn't want so see.
I can't compete with your memories.
That knowledge was what finally made Christina make up her mind. As soon as Ulf was discharged from the hospital she'd make certain he spent the night with her, and not just sleeping together with her like they had done before. She wasn't sure it would be enough, but sharing her body with him should bind them closer together, and after watching him grieve in the hopsital she was desperate to make him hers alone.
She shook her head and forced herself back to reality. Make-up exams weren't exactly the most fun way to spend her time, but flunking four out of five exams gave her little choise.
Math, I always hated math. She bent over her paper and attacked the next question as if it had been an especially disgusting bug.
Half an hour later she was done and left for the toilets. With a bit of luck she had managed a passing grade. Next lesson was English, and even if her spelling and grammar was poor she had enough professional experience from using the language to avoid doing the same mistake twice in a short span of time. That make-up exam ought to be a breeze.
When the day was over Christina left school with just one exam she needed to retake for the second time. With problems of a normal degree of importane she'd go home and study, but right now smearing Red Rose left and right took precedence.
She arrived at Stockholm Haven café and immediately went inside the inner room. Inside she sat down by the large table, fired up her laptop and placed her smarphone beside it on the table. James having installed wifi and a decent internet-connection helped a lot.
Let's see how much damage we've done this far, she thought and started browsing through the latest communities she had seeded with partially truthful accusations.
Superb! Anxious mothers joining a weekly digital gathering for preschool parents embellished the seeds she had sown. Now it'll start spreading by word of mouth. Another week and I'll accept Nakagawa's promised help to pour fuel on the rumours among their husbands.
“Water of coffee?” James' voice said from the door.
“Coffee,” Christina replied. “Make it strong!”
“Any news on your boyfriend?”
“Day after tomorrow. I'll be there when he's discharged.”
“Does he know what you're doing?” James asked and made no move whatsoever to make her coffee.
Christina looked up from her laptop and stared at him across the table. “Doing?”
“Yes, all of you kids, including those who really are kids.”
The café had to be all but empty with not a single guest sitting close to the counter, or James would never have dared voice that aloud. Still it made Christina uncomfortable hearing it spoken in a clearly audible voice by anyone else than her closest friends.
“Was it that easy to trace?” Christina said. She didn't like the implications it carried.
“That photographer of yours come here from time to time.”
“Says he was a bigshot at a major newspaper back in the days. He recognised an organised smear campaign.”
He would, wouldn't he. Well, he's a pro so it's not that bad.
“You know that people with money and status to lose also know professionals in the media?” James continued relentlessly.
Pushing her laptop aside Christina gave James the attention he so obviously wanted. “What are you trying to say?”
He stepped inside and closed the door. “I'm saying that whatever you're doing is going to backfire bigtime.”
“That we're screwed?”
“No, but that it'll cost you. Even if you win this war you'll pay. Are you ready to got through with it anyway?”
What a strange question. It was far too late to back out now.
“Any suggestions?” Christina said.
James grimaced and looked down. “Not really. You two are out of my league anyway, but I wanted to warn you.”
Christina nodded at him. “I'm grateful for the warning,” she said. “Strong, did I say I wanted my coffee strong?”
“You did,” James answered and left the room.
With a flick of her wrist Christina brought her laptop back into vision. Maybe she should be a little bit more careful and not steamroll the communities with her rumours? Her experience came from marketing fashion, and discreet didn't really come to her mind when she planned her campaigns.
Can I hide it by being glaringly obvious? I've done that before. But before she continued that line if thinking she shook her head. Guerilla marketing had never been her strong side, and now that was exactly what she was involved in. Maybe I should have told Ulf before I started.
She grimaced much like James had done just short moments earlier. Maybe I should have thought before I started. But then thinking in excess wasn't her style neither. She acted and conquered. Possibly not the smartest course of action when applying anything with the word 'guerilla' in it.
With a smirk Christina pushed her laptop aside and picked up her phone. Maybe 'guerilla' wasn't the only way to go. There were other, more public channels to abuse.
Thursday, 4 February 2016
Yukio slid open the door to Urufu's room, or rather the room he shared with another two patients.
One look inside told him one of those patients had been discharged. The bed was neatly made and still untouched for the day. Urufu sat in his bed by the window and looked out. He barely turned to wave Yukio welcome before he returned to his stare outside.
The third bed was currently unoccupied, it's owner away for rehab or something.
Next week they promised, Yukio thought. You look like a bird in a cage here.
“Urufu, I have the midterm results,” Yukio said and zipped open his bag.
“What's the fallout?” Urufu wondered, but he still didn't look inside the room.
Yukio took the long way, grabbed a chair and positioned himself by the window. He quickly produced Urufu's five exams.
“You won't end up on the wall, that's or certain.”
“Top fifty? No, no I guess not.”
Yukio smirked. It wasn't like he was anywhere close to placing among the top fifty himself. There were close to 350 freshmen, so if he made it into the top hundred and fifty he'd be happy. As it was he scored number 160 overall.
Urufu leafed through the papers. “Fuck! Oh well, could have been worse.”
“How bad?” Yukio asked.
“Three make-up exams. Should have been two, but our beloved basket case keeps screwing me over.”
“English again?” Yukio asked already knowing the answer.
“Yeah, the retard doesn't know the language in the first place, and it shows in his grading.”
Yukio avoided meeting Urufu's eyes and stared at a tray with the leftovers from a nondescript hospital meal. Stop being so damn cocky! You're deliberately misinterpreting his tests and receive poor grades. But truth be told Yukio did suspect that Urufu's English was superior by far compared to their teacher's.
“You look down,” Yukio said to change the subject.
“Don't worry. Just feeling restless. How did the rest of the gang do?”
“Kyoko scored number 130. She's pretty unhappy about it.”
Urufu grimaced before saying anything. “Soz, but if she ever makes it into the top third that's her cap I'm afraid.”
“Like you've been a teacher!” Yukio said and barely managed to keep his voice down.
“I have, and you know it. Learning assessment was part of my job. Top third in this school if she makes an effort. Push her to make it into double digits.”
Yukio didn't respond. Urufu could be a condescending arsehole, but he was very seldom wrong.
“The others?” Urufu wanted to know.
“Don't know about Kuri, but you can ask her yourself. I think she bombed pretty badly.”
With a sigh Urufu slowly started to laugh. “Yeah, I could see that coming. OK I'll ask her when she comes here next time. The twins?”
“Ryu just made into the list. Number 48.”
“Make a guess.”
“Hmm, she's been worried lately. Should cost her. She made fifth place and is sulking about it?”
Yukio stared at his friend. “Are you some kind of mind reader?”
There was a short laugh but no answer. If Yukio was honest with himself he wasn't all that surprised Noriko had dropped two positions given all that had happened during October.
He looked out the window, over the small park greeting visitors to the hospital and across a jagged landscape of low-rise buildings in their dirty, yellowish grey. Behind him Urufu stayed strangely silent and Yukio turned and looked at his friend.
For the first time he noticed that Urufu's eyes were tinged with red.
Have you been crying? “What's wrong?”
This time it was Urufu who didn't meet his eyes. Instead he looked through the windows at a grey autumn sky. There was something empty in that stare, a desolation Yukio knew from earlier.
“Man, are you back home again?”
Urufu drew a deep breath. “Yes, but it's only a memory now. I don't think I'll ever be able to go back.”
Did you give up? When was the impossibility of anything a reason for you to give up? “What do you mean?”
“You know,” Urufu began with a voice that was barely more than a whisper, “we've met a couple of arrivals, but I've never even heard a story about anyone going back.”
“I've been thinking a lot. There should at least be some kind of unconfirmed rumour. Some kind of wishful magic thinking, but there's nothing.”
Yukio wiped his mouth with his hand. He didn't share Urufu's information network, and to be honest he didn't put all that much thought into Urufu's old world. For him Urufu was his best friend, an adult caught in his teenager body but no matter what Yukio truly saw Tokyo as Urufu's home.
“What's wrong,” Yukio asked again.
“I miss them.”
“Sure, you've said that lots of times before.”
“You don't understand. I can't even visit her grave. My little girl, she's gone for good and I can't even honour her memory!”
In the self-deprecating way that was Urufu's he sniffled and cried like a girl. For some reason it never looked like a weakness to Yukio, not once even including that first time a year ago when Urufu cried his heart out longing for his lost wife. This time, however, it looked like a deeper crisis.
“Urufu, man, what's wrong.”
“She's gone, they're all gone!”
From the door the sound of a sudden gasp got Yukio's attention and he looked up from Urufu's face. In the door opening he saw how Kuri slapped her hands to her face with a stricken look before she turned and ran away.