Friday, 30 March 2018
That was close.
Fooling Christina and Noriko both was harder than he had expected. Playing the buffoon with Noriko might work, but Ulf needed to make certain Christina got the message that he’d never be her toy.
How he’d react should she make it explicit she wanted them to become an item again he didn’t know. Cave in most likely. He still loved her after all, but her way of flaunting Ryu in his face made it easier to keep a distance.
He gobbled up breakfast as quickly as possible. A trip to Ise seemed like a good way to get his thoughts elsewhere. With a slightly astonished Noriko in tow Ulf made his way outdoors where he grabbed hold of Yukio and Kyoko just as unceremoniously.
Within minutes all of them shared a taxi. He in the front seat, much to Noriko’s chagrin, and her seated in the middle in the back seat. That went a long way to tell Ulf how much Yukio and Kyoko had grown together. The ever present need for physical closeness had faded, but from the way they spoke with each other, always giving verbal room for Noriko, showed an unseen bond between minds which had grown just that much stronger.
I’m happy for you. Half a life ago I would have envied you. Ulf smirked and stared at road ahead. He still did. A little at least. Theirs was not the sensational love between adults become children again, and neither was it the tabloid version Christina shared with Ryu now. Yukio and Kyoko could enjoy what they shared without gawking people interfering with it time and time again.
With a sigh and another smirk Ulf turned his attention ahead just as the taxi took the last curve and parked at the small town train station.
Less than half an hour’s wait the four of them rode a train in silence. It wasn’t an awkward silence, nor an angry one. Yukio and Kyoko allowed themselves to become the children they really were and sat on their knees with faces glued to the windows and heads together. It was, Ulf decided, an amazingly cute picture of a young couple in love.
A discrete shutter sound told him Noriko shared his sentiment, and when he turned his head he was met by an exaggerated gesture to keep silent. Not that it was needed. Yukio and Kyoko were immersed in their own world of two. In any other company what they did would have been very rude, but Ulf genuinely enjoyed watching the two of them shining with calm happiness.
A small hand grabbed his, and he was reminded that there was one more here who wanted her part of that feeling.
“Noriko?” he said and glanced at her.
Her other hand forced him to meet her gaze straight on. “Today you’re mine, so pay me some attention will you?”
He had kind of given her that promise. Sure, mostly to keep her lovestruck nagging at bay, but still. If he didn’t honour his part of the deal he was an arse.
Giving Noriko her due he noticed that she had dressed up for the occasion, or at least dressed up as much as a wardrobe in a luggage allowed. Shorts accompanied by heels looked strange to him, but here it was just a natural combination. A part of the doll cute dress code for adolescent girls and young women. Ulf didn’t really agree with it, but Christina had made it abundantly clear that when it came to fashion his opinions were worth less than zero.
A pink top with something fluffy sewn on that served no function at all apart from being decoration completed her outfit. It was summer after all.
In contrast his own khaki shorts and shorts sleeved, likewise khaki shirt probably made him look like a foreign bum with poor taste in clothes.
A toothy smile told him Noriko knew what he was thinking.
“That bad?” he asked.
“Your clothes? Yeah, they suck,” she said and the smile turned into a wide grin of approval.
“I don’t understand.”
“This way I won’t have any competition. When Kuri picks your clothes you’re… you know, don’t you?”
“Know what?” Ulf decided to play dense. He’d never be the kind of girl magnet that Ryu was, but whenever Christina chose his clothes people turned their heads after them, and Ulf was honest enough to understand that all gawks weren’t for her. She had loved showing him off, or rather showing her acute sense of fashion off.
Noriko poked his forehead. “Attention!”
“You’re good looking enough to make me feel uneasy.”
“Says the sister of the prince of Himekaizen.”
There was that of course. “Why uneasy?”
Noriko fidgeted and looked down at her hand. The other still held his. “At first I fell for your looks. I’m a little ashamed of that.”
“My very own avenging hero with that delinquent style.”
Oh! She’s thinking of middle school. “At first?” he said to avoid the subject. He still fumed at the memories.
“Then I fell for the geeky you. I know, I have the worst taste in men.”
Well, that hadn’t lasted for too long. When he became a couple with Christina he gave that disguise up. Ulf nodded at Noriko’s words. There wasn’t much he could add.
“But it was the real you. The you who fell in love with Kuri. That’s the you who made me love you.”
The conversation had taken a turn for the worse. Ulf decided against saying anything, but in keeping his silence he had let Noriko keep the hand she had taken in hers.
He leaned back in his seat and watched flashes of summer passing by as the train rode on.
Sometime later Noriko fell asleep against his shoulder, and against his better judgement he allowed her to nestle under his arm.
Monday, 5 March 2018
Noriko grimaced and stuffed another piece of clothing into her day pack.
A few days earlier she watched Urufu and Kuri show where their hearts truly belonged despite breaking up half a year earlier. The following morning Urufu dragged the entire club into a repetition of last year’s camping session, murderous climb up the hill side included, and Kuri even managed to get a break from her photo sessions to attend.
Noriko didn’t know what do do with her memories. Kuri spent most of the camp together with Ryu just like a good girlfriend should, and Urufu made good use of the senior club members to make the camp go much smoother than last year, which also meant he spent almost no time at all alone with Kuri.
After camp two days being worked to the bones took over her life. It involved getting a bunch of middle managers and senior systems developers on track working together as a team. As far as Noriko could see status and ranking were more important to adults than actually getting the job done. She had spent most of the first day using Kyoko’s deliberate clumsiness and Hitomi’s beauty to coerce their customers to at least start talking with each other.
Urufu grinned like a moron throughout it all.
They got through in the end and now it was time for Noriko’s reward, one she had duped Urufu into promising her.
As far as her idiot brother knew the four of them, Urufu, Yukio, Kyoko and herself were headed for Ise shrine for a day trip. The first part was true. Yukio and Kyoko, however, had already booked a room with the help of their parents to get a precious night alone and away from the rest of them.
Noriko knew how far she could push Urufu, and booking one for them as well was by a wide margin too far.
So they’d travel to Ise, and they’d even enter the compound as a group, but after that Kyoko had promised to make Yukio and herself scarce as quickly as possible. So Noriko would at least have a full day with Urufu all to herself.
I don’t know how many more chances I’ll get, she thought and fastened the clasps before she slung the pack across her shoulder.
She made her way down the stairs, the same stairs as last year, and in the reception she met Kuri on her way out.
Kuri gave her a wry smile. “With Ko-chan?”
There was little point in lying. “Yukio and Urufu as well,” Noriko said.
“Give Yukio and Ko-chan my best.”
You could at least pretend you didn’t take up mind reading as a hobby. “Sure. Any message for Urufu?” she asked.
“I don’t think that’ll be needed. I hope the two of you have a pleasant day.”
“Four of us,” Noriko tried.
“That the four of you have a pleasant morning. My bad,” Kuri said and didn’t look apologetic at all. Her stressing the ‘morning’ part wasn’t lost on Noriko.
“Ryu’s joining you in the water?” Noriko asked instead and made a point of not specifying exactly which water she meant.
Kuri shot her an angelic smile back. “I wish. He’s got the looks, but he’s a tad short for this kind of work.”
Noriko almost, but just almost, suggested she meant after work. “I’m certain he’ll find an opportunity,” she said instead. “He always does.” The last part was grossly unfair of her. Her brother had never taken advantage of a girl as far as she knew, but she was more than a little irritated with the way he got in the way of her life these days.
“I’ll make sure he does,” Kuri said. “Ah, that’s Ulf behind you. Please do have a pleasant day together.”
Noriko watched Kuri turn with her smile turned into a smidgeon of a smirk. They both knew, but Kuri had lost every right she ever had to prevent Noriko from hauling her catch in.
You and Ryu make a good pair. I’ll settle for the better man instead. That was if she could reel him in in the first place, but Noriko trusted her stubbornness. In the end Urufu was just a man, and Noriko knew her looks well enough not to be ashamed of them. Cute rather than beautiful, but combined with exactly the kind of brain Urufu enjoyed battling with. But for the difference in age she’d have won this battle a long time ago.
It didn’t matter. What she wanted she got. Maybe not for free, and maybe not easily, but she had yet to fail even once. She felt a moment of relief knowing she pushed her own wants very, very seldom like this. Few and far between. Those were the rules she set up for herself lest she’d become someone she didn’t like very much.
“Morning Ina. Working?”
Kuri had almost made it to the door when Urufu’s voice forced her to turn around. “Yes. Swimsuits.”
Something in her voice told Noriko she’d just suggested Urufu stay behind and watch.
“Show me the shots tomorrow,” he said.
Kuri’s face clouded over. Then she waved at them with the back of her hand as she walked outdoors.
“So, where’s the other two?” Urufu said.
That was close. “Breakfast. Follow me you oaf!” Noriko said. Silently she smiled just because of his oafishness. How he had failed to read Kuri’s suggestion was beyond her, but he had. There was nothing subtle about the man Noriko had fallen in love with.