Saturday, 12 August 2017
After arriving at Odaiba, a man made island in the bay with a perfectly decent beach, Christina was whisked away to the neighbouring shopping mall with Ryu in her tow.
Ulf swore at himself for noticing how her boyfriend did the only thing decent and tagged along with her for her photo shoot rather than getting some good fun by the water front.
With a thin grin Ulf kept up the conversation with Jenny, Alexander and Emma. While it was a joy listening to and speaking Swedish again, he did so more out of loyalty than anything else, and it grated somewhat inside him since he guessed Noriko interrogated Rika and Jun in search for whatever tidbits she believed would help her in her campaign.
Moron! But a very fun moron. I don’t dislike you, and it’s not like I’m not charmed, but I’ll be damned before I start preying on a child. Because she was, even though she had matured a lot during the last year.
He shook the thought away and returned a half hearted laugh at what had obviously been a joke of some kind before he turned his honest attention to the conversation he was, after all, part of.
A little further ahead Jennifer kept Thomas under close guard, and where Noriko was good company who had to rely on her proving she was a good enough friend to keep around, Jennifer had the ability to blast everyone around her with that amazing charisma of hers. Thomas stood absolutely no chance, and it would hardly be fair to say he was preying on her.
And where’s the difference? Ulf pushed that thought away. There was a difference. Noriko wasn’t Jennifer.
“I don’t get it,” Ulf said to change the topic. You don’t have a problem being around each other at all?”
Alexander shrugged. “Emma knows how I feel. Has known from the start, but she’s still maybe the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Ulf turned to Emma. She shrugged as well. “If it gets too hard for me I’ll just avoid him,” she said and nodded at Alexander.
Ulf shook his head. It still didn’t make sense, and he wasn’t thinking about the ludicrous situation, but rather the interpersonal balance between them.
“He tries anything funny and I make sure hell caves in around him,” Jenny said, and all of a sudden the pieces came together. She guaranteed balance between the other two, and Rika would never get involved anyway unless she changed her mind about Alexander, in which case Emma would be hurt but the situation defused anyway.
Satisfied with getting a good enough answer for his question Ulf allowed himself to drink a lungful of sea breeze. Brutally hot or not, the sea was still the sea, and getting inside the water from time to time would handle the worst of the heat.
They followed the beach walk to dressing rooms and toilets, and club members split up to change.
Ulf threw a stare of longing at the beach restaurant closest to them, but he suspected his current body wouldn’t enjoy a cold beer the same way his old self had done. Illegal or not had little to do with taste, and if he remembered correctly he’d been twenty before he really started to like the stuff.
It probably would taste the same anyway. Swedish beer was sweeter, and he’d been smoking a packet of cigarettes per day back then, which certainly didn’t help with his sense of taste.
Dressed in surfer shorts and with all his belongings in his backpack Ulf made his way to where most of the members were already gathering.
This time a bunch of starstruck freshmen gathered courage enough to crowd him. By now his attitude combined with overblown rumours about him and Kuri elevated him to some kind of hero hood. They’d come to their senses soon enough, but at the moment he felt a little awkward.
Then he understood why more than a few of them stood staring at him. Sure, partially his current status helped. But that was it, wasn’t it?
Sunken into deep depression after Christina broke up with him he turned to the oldest of drugs. Two days of brutal training every week became, first three, then four and sometimes five.
It showed. He’d never before, in both his lives, been in better physical condition than he was right now.
So a lot of his fellow club members stared at him. Some in awe, some in envy, and some, he understood gratefully, in disdain.
With far less gratitude he observed that not all of those staring were club members, and just as he was about to dryly observe that they had no reason to, realisation struck him.
He might look Japanese, but the Swedish half in him didn’t just add six or seven centimetres to his frame; it allowed him to bulk up in ways that would have been difficult had he been Japanese only in origin. His idea of being slim despite hard training mirrored his experience from living in Sweden. Here he was visibly muscular.
By his side Emma, Alexander and Jenny arrived – Noriko still tried to monopolise Jun and Rika, but by now quite a few club members had joined her side in an attempt to listen in to what the new star student was talking about with their foreign guests.
Ulf grinned when he saw how she tried to balance being polite with her rising mire.
Then he realised that staring at her lithe body conjured a flashing fantasy of taking her to his bed, and he slammed an iron curtain around his imagination. Breaking up with Christina apparently brought the seediest parts of him to the surface, and he looked down at his own feet in self disgust.
“You know, if you’re not interested, you should just tell her so,” came Jenny’s voice from his side. Then she grabbed his stomach just out of nowhere. “Jun, why don’t you get some of these?” she shouted in English.
What the hell are you doing?
From further down the beach Jenny’s boyfriend looked back at them. He gave Ulf a stare filled with a mix of annoyance and glee. “Sorry. You get the me that is. Take it or leave it!”
It warmed. For the first time that day Ulf filled with feelings of pure joy as Jenny left him for a sprint that ended in Jun’s arms. Some people got it right. He might himself.
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
With their five guests boarding the water taxi Noriko made a decision. If she wanted to truly get closer to Urufu she had to be a little more like him without ever losing sight of herself.
So, how to change without changing, or rather, how to change while still staying true to herself.
By now she knew Urufu somehow accepted, and even condoned, a certain amount of falsehood, but he utterly despised people who didn’t dare to see themselves for who they were, which probably was the main reason for him breaking down at the very end of their first high school year – he had betrayed himself.
Noriko waited for the photographers to load their equipment before the followed them. Normally she’d prefer to sit indoors, but joining him at the aft wasn’t really something she had to force herself to do.
He made her feel safe. He made her feel giddy. He made her feel strong, but foremost of all he made her feel the full joy of youth.
That he wasn’t hers to have didn’t change any of that, and for that reason alone she’d give this opportunity her all, now when both he and Kuri agreed on taking the worst of all paths for themselves. Noriko suspected she might not get to keep him forever, but whatever time she managed to squeeze out of him was better than no time at all.
A slap in the small of her back brought her out of her daydreaming and Noriko turned to face her very own idiot bro, who for once wasn’t clinging to Kuri.
“How’s love?” she asked and continued on her way to the door leading out to the planking. An answer wasn’t really needed.
“Just fine, and you?” it came anyway.
Noriko didn’t even turn to answer. She just waved with her hand above her shoulder. Hers was just fine, thank you very much. It was just Urufu who didn’t cooperate when it came to being reeled in.
Right now she didn’t want to talk with Ryu. Rika, or even Jun, were her targets. Oh, I forgot the honorifics! And there it was. A small detail that would make her a little bit more like Urufu. Dropping honorifics when they weren’t really needed. A stupid thing that he was certain to notice even if he never showed it.
Noriko felt a smile spread as she entered the sun. While the sea certainly lowered the temperature a bit it was still oppressively hot, but all five visitors preferred being outdoors whenever the sun shone, much like Kuri and Urufu. A Swedish thing, Urufu had said.
For once Kuri wasn’t, but Noriko saw Urufu’s back where he sat and explained something to Jenny and Alexanderu in Swedish.
Turning right Noriko joined Rika and Jun. She looked after Emma and saw her seated in conversation with Tomasu and Jeniferu. The sight made Noriko smirk a little. Jeniferu definitely had better luck reeling Tomasu in than she herself had with Urufu.
“Excuse me,” Noriko said.
“Yes?” Rika said.
Jun nodded assent as well.
“I have a question about relationships,” Noriko continued.
“Ask him,” Rika answered. “I’ve never been in one.” The last sentence came out so harshly that Noriko wondered if the older girl carried some bad memories as luggage.
Jun gave Rika a long stare as well but said nothing.
“But maybe you know how things work over there,” Noriko tried. She had to tread carefully around Rika. She was all too much like herself, or rather what Noriko recalled of herself before her friendship with the people had changed her during their first high school year. Rika reminded her a little of Hitomi, but without the graceful self assurance that was a natural part of the beautiful girl.
“I guess you mean Sweden?” Jun said when Rika threw Noriko an angry glare.
Noriko waited for the sound of engines to die down a little as they slowly left the pier. Behind Rika’s and Jun’s head the scenery changed to a background of silvery sky scrapers.
She nodded. “Yes, Sweden.”
Jun glanced in the direction where Urufu sat. “Because of him?”
Noriko knew she was fidgeting, but she disliked feeling so transparent. Rather than answering she offered Jun a short nod.
Jun tilted his head in thought. “You know,” he said after a while. “People are people wherever they are. It’s not like everyone is the same just because they come from Sweden.”
Noriko understood that. She stared across the water while she ransacked her brain for a better question.
“Urufu says the sky’s clearer there,” she said, remembering something from last summer. “So there are aspects which are common for a place.” She could just as well accept that they knew she was crushing on Urufu. “He even comes from the city where you live, so if I narrow it down like that?”
“He’s from Göteborg? Then I guess he’s rather direct.”
Noriko grinned. “Yeah, yes he is. Very direct that is.”
“So tell him how you feel.”
That turned her grin into a grimace. “Already did. Several times.”
Jun gave her a thoughtful stare. “If he’s not interested then I don’t see how it could work out.”
“He doesn’t avoid me,” Noriko said. “We’ve even been out together, just the two of us.”
The stare grew angrier. “He didn’t strike me as a player. I suggest you be careful around him then.”
“No. No he isn’t a player.” Noriko thought about what to say. “It’s complicated, but I know he’d never deliberately hurt me.”
“Are you really sure about that?” The words were Rika’s, and the edge to them made Noriko certain Rika had experienced something bad and burned herself.
“Absolutely certain.” Because she was. Worst case she’d be hurt, but that would be her hurting herself because she refused to give up on Urufu.
“Boys always do as soon as they get a chance.”
“Rika! Have you ever seen me hurt Jenny?”
Noriko sighed. The conversation was veering into a strange direction, and she decided to just listen as they made their way out into the bay.