Thursday, 26 April 2018
“Come on man. Feel proud instead!”
Ulf glared at Yukio. Pride wasn’t exactly the word he’d use. Flattered maybe. Noriko’s incessant attention wasn’t harmful in any way, and it didn’t exactly hurt his eyes looking at her.
He realised his way of thinking might be dated, but from what he had seen good looks still helped a lot among the young, so maybe it wasn’t dated after all.
Beneath him straw gave as he moved his legs. After two years in Japan he was used to sitting on the floor now and then, and being a teenager sure helped. Tatami mats. An altogether stupid construction, and yet so strangely relaxing. Ulf never could decide if he thought it was the epitome of idiocy or a superb blend of taste and function.
“So, what’s the occasion?” Ulf asked.
Yukio had requested that Ulf join him in the room he shared with Kyoko.
Strange. After pulling this one on me I could have sworn Noriko would be adamant about us two having dinner alone in our room.
“Thank you for that one at least.”
“Don’t thank me,” Yukio said. “Noriko insisted.”
Why would she? Ah! I’m an idiot! Ulf said nothing. From here on he could only pretend to be surprised at what came next. Birthdays were a lot more important in Sweden than in Japan. You just didn’t forget them. Hell, they were even part of your identity with your date of birth making up most of the personal number everyone living in Sweden was assigned.
Well, at least for old people. Once again he wasn’t certain about the young. Living among people who weren’t prone to public outbursts of affection didn’t help.
Ulf grinned at the thought of a third of their class suddenly rising from their seats to spontaneously celebrate some poor bastard by singing happy birthday to you. Back home a given, but here, maybe not so much.
He recalled birthdays from his first life, and reliving old memories it took a while until he noticed Yukio tugging at his shoulder.
“Man, Earth calling. This earth.”
“Sorry.” Ulf shook his head. “Noriko huh?”
She had remembered, and when he thought about it, so had she last year as well. Whatever he might think about her advances, it still warmed when someone cared.
“You’re in on this one?”
Yukio glared at him. “Giving her a hand? Sure. She’s not fooling around. Damn, she had a crush on you before you and Kuri met.”
“Well, she moved on to Nao...” Ulf regretted the words as he uttered them.
Yukio grimaced, and they shared a few moments of silence. When it dragged out Yukio poured two cups of tea and offered Ulf one.
“You know,” Yukio began after he’d tasted a sip. “did you ever speak with him afterwards?”
Ulf had, but he wanted to hear what Yukio had to say. “Same school, so kind of hard to avoid.”
“Unless you’re expelled.”
“Unless you’re expelled,” Ulf agreed.
“Well, expulsion rescinded. Some of us will return.” Yukio scratched his head. “Anyway, I had a talk with Nao-sempai.”
“Uhum,” Ulf said and waited. He drank from his cup to show Yukio that there wouldn’t be a further response.
“He never slept with anyone.” Yukio grimaced. “Well, at least not from when he first saw Noriko and until well after they broke up.”
Break up? That’s one way of putting it. Ulf felt something akin to physical pain thinking of how much Noriko had hurt. I know what happened, but what an awful way to end it. Nao’s a bloody idiot!
“He got scared,” Yukio continued.
There was a dull, clack when Yukio placed his empty cup on the table. Almost as if it accused Ulf of drawing something uncomfortable out when it wasn’t needed.
“Scared?” By now Ulf was forced to pretend what Yukio said came as news.
“They play in different leagues is what he said. Sure, he’s a big name now, but when his looks fade Noriko will still be brilliant.”
Nao hadn’t phrased it exactly that way when Ulf spoke with him. The words Yukio echoed were Ulf’s. Ulf’s way of helping the tall model to understand his own fears.
“Well, she’s bright alright,” Ulf said. Understatement of the year. She is brilliant. I think I’m so smart, but bloody hell I envy her her brains! Ulf knew he had reasons to be proud of his head. He had a superb intellect, and he was aware of it. He was easily bright enough to grasp just how far ahead of him Noriko was, even if she still needed to grow into her own capacity as an adult.
Which meant she knew something he didn’t, or otherwise she would have given up on making him her boyfriend a long time ago. If she played both body and brains, then her actions and plans made more sense. Cause damn that brain of hers was sexy as hell.
But did she really understand him that well? Her social register was a little shaky. Empathy, not brains was his real strength. Well, unless he got stubborn and shut everything down and turned inwards in a blindness so total it was staggering.
Like with Christina.
“So, Nao didn’t sleep around, you say?” Thinking of Christina was, as always, a bad thing to do.
“He didn’t, and I think he was in love with Noriko to the end.”
“Idiot!” Ulf wasn’t sure he meant Nao.
“Idiot!” Yukio agreed.
“So, Noriko and dinner, you said.” The conversation was going full circle.
“Yeah, man. Noriko and dinner.” A friendly fist hit Ulf’s shoulder. “After that Kyoko and I want this room for ourselves,” Yukio said and looked at the private outdoor bath.
Ulf followed his stare. “Nice way to spend the evening,” he agreed.
“Sure is, but this year I’ll spend it with just the two of us.” Yukio’s face split in a huge grin. “Nice tip by the way.”
Tip? Ulf’s confusion must have shown.
“Mixed bath. You taught us last year.”
“I did?” I did? “Bloody hell! I did.”
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
When Noriko entered her room she grinned as she met Urufu’s surprised stare?
“Sorry, but you’re next door.”
She shook her head. “Yukio and Kyoko,” she said.
Noriko sat down, removed her shoes and placed them by the slippers put there by the ryokan staff.
“You didn’t really expect them to waste this night together?” At least this part wasn’t part of the sham. She’d seen the chagrin in Kyoko’s face when it was clear boys and girls slept separately in the resort where they spent the bulk of the two weeks before the autumn trimester began.
Urufu looked like he was about to protest, but then he threw a glance a the wall to the next room and closed his mouth.
In difference from the resort this ryokan didn’t have a family bath, but instead rooms had its own small open air bath each. The onsen proper was gender separated as was usual. Pricey, and a gift to Yukio and Kyoko decided upon since before they even left Tokyo. Hers and Urufu’s addition made Noriko feel a little awkward. He could afford it, but it was very expensive, and she hadn’t decided how to handle that part.
“Bath and then dinner?” Noriko suggested. She made an effort not to look at their private bath.
Urufu grimaced. “Sure. I’ll head over to Yukio and make him company downstairs.”
Noriko didn’t say anything. The open relief at getting away from the situation was all too clear in Urufu’s face. It was also, she decided, rather rude to her, but in all honesty he’d had the entire situation forced in him.
She looked at Urufu’s back as he quickly changed into a yukata, stepped into his slippers and vanished out the door. He didn’t seem all too disturbed undressing in front of her, but then she had seen him in the flesh last summer. Something about being Swedish and older Noriko guessed.
A few minutes later she followed suit and left to fetch Kyoko, which didn’t take long at all since she already stood waiting in the corridor.
“Well what?” Noriko replied and avoided answering the question.
“How did he take it? Angry?”
A direct assault like this couldn’t be avoided. Noriko gave the questions a thought. Had he really been angry? “No, not angry,” she said. What had there been in his eyes? “Surprised.” That wasn’t it. Helpless! “He caved in,” Noriko said. She didn’t like the memory of equal parts disappointment and resignation in Urufu’s face.
Two things registered in Noriko’s mind. First the worry in Kyoko’s voice, and second how quickly the rest of the gang had dropped any honorifics after Noriko decided to discard them. Which means there’s one less thing that makes me more uniquely close to Urufu.
“He didn’t look happy about it, but he wasn’t really angry either.” Telling Kyoko the truth was out of the question. She was the best friend one could possibly have, and so was Yukio. If they suspected the real reason for Urufu’s reaction both of them would insist on switching rooms.
Noriko hoped Kyoko believed Urufu was a little more selfish than he really was. Awkward and unhappy was better than giving up so that Yukio and Kyoko wouldn’t lose their only night alone together.
“You sure you’re fine with this?”
Noriko nodded. Then she laughed. “Nothing will happen,” she said. “I just want him to notice me.” And to think about what could have happened, she added silently. To think lots and lots about it. Thinking about him thinking about her made her think about what she wanted him to think about. In an instant Noriko felt her face flare read.
“Nothing,” she spluttered.
That was taking the inquisitive joke a little too far. “Look, I don’t...”
“Have you brought a present?”
“Apart from me wrapped in ribbons?” Noriko blurted out.
Raised eyebrows was the only answer that question got.
“I have,” Noriko admitted when it was clear Kyoko refused to comment the outburst. “Nothing fancy.”
Kyoko descended down the stairs to the communal baths. A floor down she turned and looked Noriko directly in her eyes. “Coming from you it doesn’t have to mean much. Nothing fancy for a high schooler or nothing fancy for you?”
That was unfair. Noriko knew her parents were well off, and maybe her present was a little on the expensive side of what an average student would pick. At least for a friend.
“Nothing extravagant,” she admitted. “Less than a shift.”
Kyoko tilted her head. “A shift?” Then her eyes lit up. “A normal one or one of Urufu’s full day monstrosities?”
“A normal one.” Noriko didn’t have to lie about that. Something told her Urufu’s feelings couldn’t be bought for money. A year ago a more cynical version of herself would have asked what currency to use instead. Now she knew the answer to that question, and for that very reason she had no need to play jaded.
“Left or right?”
She looked up. They had arrived at the entrance to the baths. “Your pick,” Noriko said and followed Kyoko inside.
As onsens went this one apparently took pride in displaying signs of luxury, but that was expected given the price tag attached. For Noriko it wasn’t really anything new, but Kyoko was surprisingly unperturbed as well.
They undressed and chatting about nothing Noriko and Kyoko went into the bath.
Steam rose from the pool and she saw the doors leading to the outdoors section.
This is the normal part. Later comes the not so normal. But what counted as not normal with Urufu? He really didn’t do normal. As if he simply didn’t care. Age, maybe it came with age.
Noriko grinned and poured shampoo into her palms.
Wednesday, 11 April 2018
Urufu was a born leader. At least that was what Yukio had once believed. Now he suspected that was too simple an explanation. Grown into a leader during longs years of adulthood was more likely.
“You know, about Urufu,” Yukio started as they stood in the cramped ryokan reception.
Like most non tourists he would have preferred a western style hotel, but Urufu paid, and Urufu preferred the old fashioned futon, hard and uncomfortable as it was. Or at least he said he did.
Kyoko met Yukio’s stare and smiled. He saw how she knew what he was going to say, but out of respect she didn’t interrupt him this time, and he loved her all the more for it.
“He’s rather socially awkward for being, well...”
“Uhum,” Kyoko said.
“You know, for being Urufu.”
Kyoko’s smiled widened into a grin.
“He’s a little, how should I put it, disjointed,” Yukio tried.
Black hair swirled around her face as she tilted her head backwards and nodded. She had let it grow since winter.
She let her tongue play over her lips and gave him an encouraging smile. He took the opportunity and stole a short kiss.
“You noticed as well?” she said after they separated.
He nodded. “Partly, I think, because I’m growing up.”
“We’re getting older. A year now.”
They were. A year older together. Together. He tasted the word in his mind and decided he liked it very much. He liked most everything with Kyoko.
As he glanced past her face he saw Noriko and Urufu carrying what little luggage they had from the taxi and up the stairs. Yukio booked the rooms, but it was still Urufu’s money. Or at least Yukio pretended he booked the extra room, because both rooms were booked since yesterday.
How Urufu believed that Kyoko suddenly ‘discovered’ a typhoon was about to hit Ise early evening was beyond Yukio. In difference from manga you didn’t get caught by surprise since all typhoons were announced days in advance. Well, unless you were Urufu and blithely ignored watching weather reports in August, which bordered on idiocy if you lived in Japan.
Yukio made certain Urufu and Noriko vanished up the stairs. “Disjointed from reality,” he said and continued his earlier line of thought.
“Sometimes, only sometimes,” Kyoko said. “Sometimes he really does pay attention. Like whenever someone feels hurt or is in need.”
“Sometimes, huh. Unless he’s involved himself. Then he turns blind.”
Kyoko’s smile turned into a smirk. “Kuri-chan is my best friend, but she’s still an idiot.”
“Urufu’s mine, and he’s a moron as well,” Yukio agreed.
“I’m going to root for Noriko. It doesn’t matter that Kuri-chan is my most important friend. I’m sick and tired of watching those two hurt each other.”
Yukio didn’t say anything. Instead he nodded, by now secure Kyoko read him correctly agreeing with her from his expression.
“You think she’ll fall in love with Ryu?” Because that would pretty much solve everything by ending the entire situation.
“I think she already has. At least a little,” Kyoko said. “Ryu’s not the school prince for nothing, and I think he has the kind of personality Kuri-chan needs now.”
Yukio took Kyoko’s hand and nudged her in the direction of the stairs.
Two rooms rather than the one large one Urufu wanted. There weren’t any large rooms free. A lie and a truth. Yesterday there had been, when Yukio booked two rooms. No longer though. Not with the typhoon inbound and train services down for security reasons.
Ise was a hotspot for tourists from all over the world. Tourists, in difference from Urufu, didn’t live in Japan. Quite a few of them had been caught off guard, just like Kuri’s grandfather had told them would happen when the three of them planned the deception.
He was, just as Yukio and Kyoko, dead tired of watching Urufu tearing apart his granddaughter’s heart, with her pouring petrol on the flames to make absolutely certain whatever they once shared burned to cinders.
And yet they both failed. Even an idiot when it came to romance like Yukio could see that. Every glance Urufu shot her, every time Yukio caught her staring after Urufu’s back, every time the two of them exchanged words, or looks, or smiles. Every damn time the love they felt for each other shone through enough to blind everyone around them.
It was painful to watch. It was also obvious enough for anyone to suspect that Kuri and Ryu being an item was a scam. It was, both Yukio and Kyoko had decided, time for their best friends to move on. It didn’t matter if that love couldn’t be entirely quenched. As it was now they were ripping each other apart.
So Noriko got enlisted, and rather unsurprisingly she giddily agreed to play the victim. Anything to haul Urufu in.
“She’s the best part of the two of them,” Kyoko suddenly said halfway up the stairs.
Yukio stared at her back. Mind reader! He didn’t care. If Kyoko read his mind or just guessed. As long as she was right it was fine. “I hope she knows what she’s heading into.”
“She does. That’s what makes Noriko the best of them.”
Them. Urufu and Kuri. It was a shame that Noriko should be the best for the both of them.
“I hope Ryu makes the best of the opportunity,” Yukio said.
Because, just like Urufu had been duped to stay the night with Noriko, Ryu and Kuri were alone back at the resort, and her grandfather made just as certain he behaved like the idiot Urufu was, and got caught in Nagoya with no way to head south to the resort.
In other words transparent enough for anyone with at least a partially working brain to see through.
But then you could always trust Urufu and Kuri to lack even that much when it came to understand these things.