Saturday, 25 February 2017

Midsummer’s day, 2040, wet feet

Noriko found the only stretch of beach that felt like one. A miniscule bay, only a few metres wide with sand under her feet. She let her toes dig down, grabbed her skirt with her hands and waded into the water.

It felt cool against her feet, and salt water splashed onto her legs when a small motorboat raced by and left its wake spreading onto the shore.

Back in Japan the thought wouldn’t even have occurred to her, going into the sea at temperatures like these, but this was summer in Sweden. Another week or two, and the temperature would reach what she considered summer herself, even though it was a far cry from the murderous Tokyo heat during July and August.

Then, again, back in Japan she did things that never occurred to her before she did them. Her friendship with Kyoko and Kuri shaped her, and so did watching Yukio grow as a man. But in the end, falling in love with Urufu for the third time made her grow in ways she hadn’t thought possible.

She had to, the third time she knew about his background. Mentally he was already a man when she was merely the high schooler they both looked like.

Noriko sighed and allowed the water to lap her thighs. The hem of her skirt was long since gone wet, so she simply let it go and allowed it to float like a deflated balloon on the waves.

Most improper, as Kyoko once would have said. She seldom did these days. In truth hadn’t since the spring term of their second year.

Noriko clenched her fists and hid them in the water. With her current understanding of people it no longer surprised her why the conflict erupted into open warfare the way it did.

With a second sigh she returned onto the beach. She wrung most of the water from her soaked skirts and went in search of Urufu and Kuri. She had to ask them if they thought of it the same way.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Chapter three, 2017, conflict, segment ten

Principal Kareyoshi read the answer to his request from two weeks earlier. He sighed. The day had started so well with that vulgar foreigner offering an opportunity to suspend her on a silver plate.

To be certain he hadn’t missed anything he read it a second time.

While we respect your wish to formally withdraw Himekaizen Academy from the cooperation with our cultural exchange club, your request that we forbid our students to contact the former members of the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club is unacceptable.

The student union requested that the headship address the problem. Hence I have to advice you that I have brought this matter to our board of directors. They have given me their full support, and I have informed the exchange club here that they are to remain in contact with their Japanese counterpart as they see fit.

Given that two of the former members on your side might still be Swedish citizens, the board of directors have escalated the matter to our embassy in Tokyo as well as our foreign ministry.

Best Regards
Anneke Santos-Granstedt

That was, as far as Principal Kareyoshi was concerned, a threat. A very blatant threat. He had been threatened before, and the principal from an unknown school on the other side of the world didn't matter much. Just to be safe he had the school checked up.

That was when the gravity of his situation slowly became evident.

Founded 1869 and in the same building since 1875. That gave him a start. Your run of the mill high school didn't have a 150 year pedigree, and unsurprisingly he found out that it was a private school. One of the two traditionally high profile private high schools in Gothenburg.

He also learned that Sony's Chief of Operations Northern Europe had his daughter there. Apparently she was a third year student and a member of the Swedish side of the exchange club, and a member of what passed for a student council there.

Going up against a global dragon in high tech wasn't Kareyoshi's idea of having a good time.

A more thorough attempt to discredit the school by pointing out its poor academic merits fell flat. Translated into Japanese terms over half of their student body would have averaged above 90%, in every subject.

When he observed that a staggering two thirds of the student body averaged 95% or better in English, Kareyoshi finally understood why they defended their exchange club so defiantly.

For the time being he had to do with banning students from visiting the cafe closest to school. Students who hadn’t joined clubs should go home rather than loitering after school. He was certain he’d get both parents and the board of directors to see the wisdom in that.

Forcing students to join clubs of his choosing proved more difficult though. Himekaizen had always been too lenient in that department ever since it stopped being an all girls school over forty years ago.

Kareyoshi lit a cigarette and moved the letter to the desk drawer he’d put it in after he read it the first time. The foreign principal had sent it as registered mail. He could hardly say he hadn’t received the notification now.

He also couldn’t do what he wished for more than anything else. Expelling the half-blood who had insulted him publicly met with immediate refusal. Worst of all, it met with immediate refusal from the very people who made certain he received the principal’s chair.

That was something he couldn’t understand. He knew they wanted Japan to be in charge of her own destiny just as much as he did, but they still refused to see the danger foreign influence posed. They even put the lid on any further attempts at scaring the arrivals to obedience, which meant his hands were tied when it came to the means he knew best.

And the one who spoke on the phone less than ten minutes ago sounded scared. An arrival from before Kareyoshi built any influence pulled strings in Japan’s underbelly, dangerous strings from what Kareyoshi understood.

In the end it didn’t matter. He still held the power to make the next two years exceedingly unpleasant for the arrivals and their supporters. Especially their foreign supporters. Those didn’t have a place in Japan in the first place, and commons sense dictated they should be treated accordingly.

Just when Kareyoshi was about to make a call his phone rang. It was the principal of Irishima High.

When the short call was finished he roared in frustration.

Part of his staff arrived at the door and looked inside.

He could swear a couple of them smirked.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Chapter three, 2017, conflict, segment nine

Ulf understood the situation with Christina couldn’t stay the way it was for much longer. Even though she was with Ryu now she still needed his support, and he hers.

Together with Thomas, the freshman arrival, there were only three of them who could share the experience of being both teenagers and fully grown adults with a life left behind.

Add that Christina’s grandfather requested Ulf’s support. And she really needed it, or at least needed to do something. Almost daily she received a confession, most of them not even from students at Himekaizen, and Ulf suspected there were a number of stalkers lurking in the shadows as well.

So she needed a solution, and she created one, and Ulf could never have guessed even if he had tried.

The day after his suspension ended Ulf arrived at school and felt his chin drop. He stared through the gates flanked by sakura trees all green. The bloom was long gone.

Christina sat in a chair just inside. Behind her an infinitely embarrassed Ryu held a placate that proudly announced: “Confession queue. Rejections and no bad feelings guaranteed.”

There was a queue.

Ulf shook his head. Ina, my Ina. No wonder I loved you the way I did. Which was a lie. He still loved her, but admitting it hurt too much.

First in line was the idiot Nori. Maybe not an idiot this time. He must have known he'd be rejected with his own girlfriend watching the spectacle, but in doing so he'd help his idol to an easier second year. Ulf suddenly liked the guy a lot better.

What the...”

Morn, Yukio, welcome to Himekaizen. A school day like any other.”

The queue filled up, mostly with guys from the old fan-club. Some of them had girlfriends with them who surprised Ulf by nodding with approval.

I just love them all. A demonstration of friendship.

Beside him Kyoko slapped Yukio on his back. “Can't miss this opportunity,” she said and laughed mouth wide open.

Kyoko, that's most unladylike of you. Outright improper I'd say. Ulf grinned. Then he joined in her laughter.

She winked at Yukio, and promptly joined the queue.

Now that's gutsy! Yukio hold on tight to her. You'll never find anyone better. No, dammit, most of the guys here won't find anything close.

As if he had heard Ulf's thoughts Yukio grinned widely. “Right out of an anime, wouldn't you say?”

If I recall correctly I have yet to see this in any anime,” Ulf laughed in return.

The queue slowly dwindled. A warm wind blew over the gravel and made the paper placate shudder. Guys grinningly received their rejections. Freshmen stared in utter disbelief. And Ulf, Ulf found it impossible to stop laughing. Especially when Kyoko found leniency in the eyes of her princess to the roaring approval of the students present.

Ryu, he blushed even deeper, but he never ceased looking at Christina, and Ulf noticed a softness to his eyes that spoke volumes about how the prince of Himekaizen had fallen into the trap he dug together with Christina.

If you’re really in love with her, then I give up. You too, my love, I wish you the best. With a tinge of regret, and surprise at how easily he admitted his love, Ulf turned on his heels and made for the school building. He left the last chance to rebuild their relationship behind him.

It hurts.

He almost succumbed to the need to look over his shoulder. The show hadn’t been all play. Ulf knew that. If he had lined up with the others he wasn’t certain what the outcome would have been.

Just as he entered the school he met teachers on their way out. They belonged to the small faction who agreed with Kareyoshi’s ideals. Himekaizen wasn’t free from its share of arseholes.

Guess it’ll be Ryu’s time to skip classes. Christina’s upcoming suspension was just a formality, and Ryu was likely to get his share of Kareyoshi’s wrath as well.

Ulf wiped tears from his face after he quickly changed into his indoors shoes. Then he was on his way to the stairwell.

Almost there he felt a tug on his blazer.

Are you fine with this?”

Ulf slowed down a little, but he didn’t stop and turn to face Noriko.

Urufu, she wanted you to be there.”

Maybe,” Ulf said. He began climbing the stairs.

You know she could have chosen a day while you were still suspended.”

He did. That was why he understood Christina had given him a last chance. But he also understood arriving here had broken him, and that he needed a broken heart to dare love someone openly.

He sent Christina a silent thought of gratitude. I’ll probably always love her.

Noriko, as I said, I’m bad rebound material.”

That made her let go of his blazer. Ulf had received more than a few meaningful glances from people they met in the stairs, and it took him a while to grasp those were due to Noriko’s holding on to him.

When they reached the second floor she grabbed on to his clothes again. “I don’t care. If you feel uncomfortable I’ll leave you be at school, but you don’t get to decide how I should feel.”

Ulf grinned. She was the best of friends, even if she had strange tastes in men. “I’m not uncomfortable. Who would be with the attention from a girl as cute as you?”

She released him so fast he laughed. When he turned and looked at her she was red from her neck to her hair. Ulf winked. “Bad rebound material, didn’t I say?” He could act like a player. He had those memories from his university days, after his shyness left him. Just as long as he didn’t fall in love he could do pretty much what he wanted.

But when he did. Maria had him tongue tied for the weeks she courted him, because it had most definitely not been the other way around. Come to think of it, he hadn’t really taken the lead in any of the three longer relations he had, if half a year with Christina could even be called long.

Ulf looked at Noriko with more respect. She was braver than he had ever been. “Look,” he said. “Your feelings for me make me proud, and a little flattered, but I can’t respond to them.”

She looked down at her feet.

But I promise not to treat you like a child, and I very much want your friendship.”

I want more than your friendship,” Noriko murmured. She looked up at him and grinned. “But I’ll make do with it for the time being. Now when you know how I feel I don’t have to be shy about it.”

Much braver than me, Ulf thought. “Fine, I’ll accept that,” he said.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Chapter three, 2017, conflict, segment eight

But Urufu didn’t return to school.

Ryu found out his sister had skipped school together with Urufu and spent the day in the city. He also learned Urufu got suspended for the second time in a short time. For a normal student that was very close to expulsion, but neither Urufu nor Kuri were normal students.

You should have told me,” he said to Kyoko when he found her waiting for Yukio outside the cafeteria.

Told you what?”

Ryu looked at her, sun and shadow playing in her face as the wind made the great sails above them bulge. He could see what Yukio found so attractive, especially now when she had lost some weight, but Yukio being Yukio probably hadn’t even noticed she did.

About Urufu’s suspension.”

Kyoko looked back. “If Urufu wanted you to know he would have told you himself.”

So she knew, which means Yukio knows as well. “Whoa! Why the hostility?”

Don’t behave like an idiot! It doesn’t suit you.”

You’ve grown. Just half a year ago you’d never dare to tell me off like that. Ryu decided he wanted to test her mettle a little. “It’s not me being aggressive here. I haven’t done anything to upset you.”

The stare he got in return was filled with contempt. “Did you really lose your brains all by yourself, or did Kuri-chan help you?”

I don’t follow you?” Ryu really didn’t. What did Kuri have to with anything?

You owe Urufu an apology. Sure, he doesn’t get to decide who Kuri-chan goes out with after she broke up with him, but you still should have told him.”

Ryu thought about it. “Why?” he asked in the end. He had no obligation to report his private life to Urufu. If Kuri broke up with him she could do whatever she wanted without telling him, and that was true to an even greater extent for the one she dated.

It’s the decent thing to do. It’s only proper.”

That’s the Kyoko I know. Things should still be proper in the end. “No, I disagree.” Ryu thought about it some more. “And so does Urufu.” Because Ryu was certain Urufu did. The man grown teenager came from a culture where women stood on a much more equal basis with men than in Japan. Ryu disliked admitting it, especially when Urufu voiced it in terms of medieval values, but that he was so adamant about it meant it was important enough to be ingrown in his backbone.

Kyoko shot Ryu an angry glare, but she didn’t protest. “It’s only proper of you to do so anyway,” she said at last.

Maybe she was right. “Too late now anyway, and I’m not going to apologise to him now.” Damn it Kuri, this really is your fault. Ryu smiled and combed his hair with his hand. “You know, ask Kuri about it. I can’t make up with Urufu for her. She has to do it herself.” As an afterthought Ryu opened his mouth again. “You’re aware she still loves him?”

Kyoko nodded. Then her eyes showed a disappointed glint. “I don’t understand,” she said. Her voice got silent and she looked up at the sails.

Ryu saw tears competing with anger. He sat down on a ledge and gathered his thoughts. Should he tell Kyoko what had happened or not? It would be kind of unfair to Kuri, and he genuinely liked her, even if his feelings for Ai still were stronger.

From the glass doors he saw Yukio leave the cafeteria and walk towards them.
I’d better say something. “She had to break up with Urufu,” Ryu said.

It said something about how strong their friendship had grown during the last year when Kyoko didn’t flare up.

Please explain,” she said.

Ryu waved at Yukio and drew breath. “Her job. They’d take her job away if she didn’t.”

Kyoko nodded, sat down beside him and made place for her boyfriend.

I know that part, but...”

They tried to force a new boyfriend on her,” Ryu interrupted. He still wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do telling Kyoko about this. “We made an agreement,” he added. Explaining to Kyoko that they were in fact boyfriend and girlfriend rather than pretending would take too long time. She’d believe it was all fake, but it had to do.

Yukio took his place beside Kyoko and gave Ryu a pained smile. No, one filled with resentment.

I can’t explain to him. To Yukio I betrayed Urufu, plain and simple.

Kyoko, we should go somewhere else.”

Kyoko made to protest, but Ryu waved it away. “You want some time alone with your boyfriend, don’t you? Has to be hard being in different classes.”

Kyoko offered him a grateful look before she took Yukio’s hand and the two of them walked away.

Soon enough Ryu found himself surrounded by girls. They’d stick to him until Kuri arrived, if she did. Sometimes she ate away from school. Her fame rapidly grew into more and more of a problem.

I couldn’t live like you do, Ryu thought and gave the girl closest to him a false smile. I somehow don’t like myself very much right now. Thoughts of Ai came to him, mixed with his growing desire for Kuri. I’m an arse. What kind of pathetic man falls in love with two girls at the same time?

He wanted to ask Urufu, because Urufu probably had something wise to say, but he was also the only person Ryu couldn’t ask for help.

Sis, what the hell are you doing? Because Noriko couldn’t hold her feelings a secret. She always wore them like an overcoat. Had done so for as long as he could remember. Why Urufu?

A sudden warm gust made him look up. It carried with it the first, remote, promises of a summer to come.

Why Kuri?

There was no answer.