Midsummer's eve, dusk
Kyoko waited for Kuri-chan to return. With everyone gathered like memories tagged along as well, most but not all of them pleasant.
A few unpleasant enough to provoke lies, like when she lied about not knowing what had happened to Noriko during her last year in middle school. That had been a lie out of consideration, but there were other lies as well.
Midsummer's eve 2040 ran from sunny evening to blue dusk, and as the sun set on their party so did her memories. Her first year in high school had been when she came alive for real, but living hadn't been painless. But for the support of Yukio she wasn't sure she could have held on to what was important to her.
And Kuri-chan of course. Without Kuri-chan her life would have been a very different one. One were she survived rather than lived, just like her parents.
So Kyoko sat down and waited for the woman who had been her closest friend for so many years. There had been betrayals, but in the end none of them felt betrayed.
But in the beginning there had only been the strangest of friendships.
“I'm Ageruman Kuritina and I have transferred here from Sweden. I hope you will be friends with me.”
The rest of the class stared at the foreign girl with mouths open, just like Kyoko did herself.
That was about the worst Japanese she had ever heard, but the skinny girl had hair so blond it was almost white, so nobody expected her to speak proper Japanese in the first place. Apart from skinny she was tall as well.
Kyoko couldn't help but giggle. Two opposites. She was round like a ball and the foreigner looked like a flagpole. They were by a wide margin the two ugliest girls in their class, and that was enough for Kyoko to decide to try to make a friend of the new girl. They could share the misery at least.
During lunch break she approached her and was greeted with a wide, toothy grin.
“Friends? Sure, why not? Haven't had one for ages.”
That came out in an odd mix of Japanese and English, but Kyoko thought she understood most of it. Especially the part of not having a friend. With looks like theirs friends didn't come easy.
“What do you want me to call you?” Kyoko asked.
“Chri-chan,” Ageruman-san said.
“Kuri-chan?” Kyoko said, tasting the alien sounding nickname.
“Kuri-chan is fine. And you?”
“I'm Kyoko.” It wasn't more than fair to offer her first name.
“Then you'll be Ko-chan. I knew a Kyoko a long time ago, and I don't want to mix you two up.”
Maybe her last year in middle school wouldn't be so bad after all. “Friends, Kuri-chan?”
“Want to do anything after school?”
Kuri-chan lit up in a spectacular grin that for a moment hid how ugly she was. “Yeah, we'll go swimming.”
As the months passed by they went swimming several times a week. It was as if Kuri-chan knew something in advance, because she had an air of confidence belying her looks. She behaved as if she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and after a while some of that ridiculous confidence stuck to Kyoko as well.
And they kept swimming. Eventually they swam several hundred metres every time. Kuri-chan added slender muscles to her skinny body and Kyoko slowly lost weight as most of her fat was replaced by muscles of her own. She stayed a bit rounder, but when autumn grew cold neither of them could honestly say they were the ugliest girls in class.
When Kyoko eventually had to drop their swimming sessions Kuri-chan kept going. There were stupid rumours about how she spent hour after hour in the water when Kyoko no longer went to the pool with her, but their friendship survived that as well.
It lasted through midterms, finals and entrance exams. It lasted through her parents peculiar view of foreigners, accepted as well as refused valentines chocolate and confessions or the lack thereof.
When Kuri-chan grew into a stunning beauty and Kyoko was seen as the tag-along it was as if nobody remembered the ugly comedy pair from their early days, but their friendship lasted through that as well.
They played one last, naughty joke on their class. Rather than the prestigious Irishima High both of them chose the more obscure Himekaizen Academy. Kuri-chan with a letter of recommendation Kyoko was clueless how she could possibly have received, and she herself by means of accepting her place in the less expensive of the two schools. The more proper to her station as he parents would have had it, even though Kyoko never doubted that they would have paid for her attending Irishima High had she chosen to.
There never was a choice. Kuri-chan went to Himekaizen, and as Kyoko had learned to do the last year, she followed.
Book two, chapter six
Book three, chapter one