So he’s not really suspended at all? Noriko had heard her parents talk with Urufu on the phone a few times when they thought she didn’t listen. Both Urufu as well as her parents believed she and Ryu didn’t know that they knew about the arrivals. More importantly, they thought Kuri’s grandfather from that other world was a secret.
Noriko didn’t understand why that was important for them, but together with her brother she kept the illusion alive.
Right now another illusion was foremost on her mind, the one about their club. The club that by all rights should have been permanently shut down as soon as Principal Kareyoshi targeted it.
For once she didn’t sit in the inner room at Stockholm Haven café. An outdoors café close to the entrance to Ueno park presented a view of gravel and a line of tree walling off the park from the surrounding city. The gravel ended in a rather ugly fountain with its associated rectangular pond. Come summer and the park would be packed with people seeking refuge from the worst of the city heat.
Across the table former Principal Nakagawa sipped a cup of coffee and waited for her to take in what he had just said.
Noriko looked at the older man she really didn’t know all that well. He was the kind of person her father surrounded himself with, or rather the kind of person her mother made certain her father surrounded himself with. Her parents had a peculiar partnership that way, and Noriko never understood who really pulled the strings between the two of them.
When she was done mulling over the bomb Nakagawa sensei had dropped Noriko put down her soda and drew breath.
“You lost control over the school but bought the PTA instead?”
Nakagawa sensei nodded. “We bribed them, yes.” Wrinkled hands shook a little when he lifted the cup to his mouth again.
Noriko leaned back in her chair. A draft of wind offered some cool in the pre summer heat. Soon the rainy season would start, and after that Tokyo would become an oven, wind or no wind never mattered.
She took another mouthful of soda. How the old man could drink hot coffee now was beyond her.
“But doesn’t the board of directors have the last say anyway?”
With a thin smile of approval Nakagawa sensei nodded. “A Wakayama through and through. Yes, you’re correct.”
“I don’t think dad would do business with you,” Noriko said. “If push comes to shove you’re not in control.”
Nakagawa sensei shrugged like a westerner. “Having the PTA in our hands bought us some time.”
Noriko copied his shrug. “It’s running out.”
“Irishima High is our ace in the hole, or rather their affiliated university is.”
Noriko knew a little about it. Not really an escalator, but students from Irishima High could enter the university on good grades, and bypass the entrance exams that way.
“I don’t understand.” Underhanded business wasn’t really Noriko’s forte. “Would you please explain?”
“This club of yours is vital. We’re protecting everything exceptional an arrival comes up with. We have reasons to do so.”
That made sense. A secret organisation letting a few arrivals play havoc with Japanese norms was crazy in itself, but the costs associated had to be huge. One way or another there had to be a pay-off.
“So you want to prevent Kareyoshi from shutting it down?” Noriko didn’t even pretend to show her new principal any respect.
She got a grin in return. Her lack of honorifics hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“There will be repercussions, but the club stays one way or another. I can guarantee that.”
“How?” What Nakagawa sensei said piqued Noriko’s interest. This was the adult world, and one she needed to learn quickly if she was ever to make Urufu hers.
“Club members with good results will void the entrance exams. I’m not entirely clear how we’ll handle it, but one way or another.”
Noriko sucked in some air. Automatic entry into a decent university was a great carrot for most students, or rather for their parents.
“Isn’t that basically declaring war on the Himekaizen headship?”
Nakagawa sensei sipped some more coffee. When he put his cup down on the table a smile ran over his face. “Not really. Not the headship. Kareyoshi only. If the pig wants a revolt we’re giving him one.”
Something didn’t ring right. “Kareyoshi could force his staff to give all members horrid grades.”
Noriko waited for Nakagawa sensei to continue. She had plenty of time before the Sunday date she had coerced Urufu into.
Almost forgot I have to see Kuri first. Why did she insist on meeting me before my date?
“With the exception of mister Hammargren and miss Agerman I believe we can have the Irishima High headship rubber-stamp any grades set by the club,” Nakagawa sensei said and brought Noriko out of her thoughts.
Then what he had said finally registered and it was enough to force a gasp from her. “Grading ourselves?”
“Almost, but no. Both the principal and the vice principal of Irishima High know about the arrivals. They’ll trust any grading done by the boy you’re so painfully obviously in love with.”
Am I really that transparent? Noriko felt her cheeks heat up even before she finished that thought. As if I’m walking around with a sign saying teenager in love.
“But then he really isn’t a boy in the first place,” Nakagawa sensei continued relentlessly.
Noriko forced her own embarrassment away. “That’s putting a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.”
“That’s making him do what he’d do anyway. He started the revolt in the first place. He should see it through.”
That was, Noriko realised, grossly unfair. Urufu hadn’t started a revolt. He lost his entire life just to be dropped into an unfamiliar world, and that was hardly his fault.
“Harsh, don’t you agree?”
Noriko glared at her former principal.
“He wouldn’t have it any other way. Not here at least. Isn’t that the part of him you fell for?”
On the verge of protesting Noriko recalled a raging spirit with spiky, orange hair. A demon of fury who had come to her rescue that day in middle school. He didn’t know me. He didn’t even know this Japan, and yet he took on all four of them. Yes, that was the man she had fallen for, a man who acted on injustice. A man with his own sense of absolute integrity. So strong it sometimes made him stupid, and just so much more lovable. Kuri, you idiot! You let him go. Why?
A Noriko all dressed up on a Sunday didn’t pass Ryu by. She never dressed up unless required for a formal occasion, but what she wore now, the way her hair was done, and the almost invisible make-up turned his cute sister into the kind of almost woman who had men turn their heads in the streets.
Who the hell dolled you up?
Ryu swore and turned on his heels. He’d be damned if he allowed Noriko to play that kind of game with Urufu, or rather let Urufu have his way with his sister.
If he hurried he’d make it down the stairs and catch up with Noriko. There was still some time before Kuri was to arrive for their date. Their late date. She had an errand to take care of first she had said over the phone.
He took the stairs four steps at a time, almost like at school, and a few guests stared at him from their seats on the bottom floor when he exited the stairs. Ryu almost made it to the doors when his way suddenly was blocked by a woman in a very expensive dress.
“I’m sorry, but...”
Ryu looked up and stared into Kuri’s eyes. “Ah, look, I just...”
“It’s sis, and she looks like...”
“She looks beautiful.”
“Kuri, the way she looks she’s going to catch all kinds of wrong attention. I have to stop her.”
Kuri grabbed his arm and turned him around when he tried to pas her. “Look kiddo, I put a lot of effort into making her that beautiful. You’re not going to interfere with her life that way.” It wasn’t an order, but rather a statement.
“Yes, me. She doesn’t know it, but there are women who’d pay hundreds of thousands of yen for the make over I gave her, and we’re not even talking clothes here.”
“You, but why?”
Kuri let go of his arm. Her grip had been surprisingly strong. Instead she took his hand and led him back up the stairs.
Ryu noticed the glances the two of them attracted. By now it was mostly a matter of fact how otherworldly beauty and teenage dream prince demanded the attention of just everyone whenever they were in the same room, and Ryu knew it was Kuri who made him shine, not the other way around.
She smelled faintly of herself, just more strongly so, and Ryu guessed she had ordered some kind of miracle perfume mix suited for her personally, a mixture perfected over a lifetime in the fashion world.
Not until they were both seated at the table he had abandoned just moments earlier did he understand how masterfully Kuri had prevented him from running after his sister. Even defusing a scene in the building before it had a chance to be noticed by anyone.
“Why?” he asked.
Kuri slid slender fingers over his hand. “Noriko is one of my two best friends. She stood by my side when I was a broken wreck and asked for nothing in return.”
“Why?” he repeated.
“I still love Urufu, you know what. I believe they’re good for each other, and if I can help two of the people who are the most important for me, then I’ll do so. They’ve given me so much, and I’ll owe them for years to come.”
“Why?” Ryu said for a third time.
“Because you have me, and for that reason alone you’ve lost any right to stand in the way of your sister, if you ever had that right to begin with.”
That was both a promise and a threat, and it was enough for him to stop asking a fourth time.
“I don’t like it,” he murmured instead.
Kuri’s finger took a firmer grip of his hand. “You don’t have to like it. You also don’t have any right to make your sister less than she can be. It’s her life, and hers alone.”
Those were words from a different world than his, but also the words of his parents. Both of them Japanese through and through, and still they abhorred exactly the part of society Kuri had just aimed at. Her life. Her choice. Her responsibility. Stay the fuck away!
Ryu turned his hands and grabbed Kuri’s in his. Fingers played with fingers while he recalled the angry looks of worry his mother sent him when he merely acted of common sense.
“That’s no son of mine,” she once drunkenly said to his father when neither of them thought he heard. “We revolted against this piss poor excuse for a feudal prison, and now he wants to rebuild it!”
Ryu never knew his mother used words like that. He knew his father didn’t.
“Walking down memory lane and getting a new one ripped by your mom?” Kuri suddenly asked. “She’s my kind of girl. I like her. I wish I’d met her when I was thirty. I’d show them both the world.”
Your world. You weren’t in this one when you were thirty. Ryu suddenly realised how both his parents had revolted, and how Kuri once must have done. Funny, that makes me the old fashioned one here.
Then it struck him. Why his sister was hell-bent on making Urufu her own. He’s all that I never was. Ryu met Kuri’s eyes and hoped she never noticed how scared he was. Gods, he broke his own life because he refused to break yours!
“What it is Ryu?”
Ryu listened to the voice of a woman he’d come to love beyond reason. He thoroughly disliked how fast he’d fallen for her again. Rather than answering her he just squeezed harder. Crap, you’ve got me cornered good.
“So you finally realised.” Kuri let go of his hands with one of hers. It stretched across the table, and to his shock she caressed his cheeks. “Good. That’s a man I could grow to love for real.”
She never said we’d pretend being a couple. His heart jumped at her words.
“Ryu, the day you tie your sister up, that day I’ll start hating you, because that’s the day you betray me. Don’t make me stop learning to love the man you can become instead.”
So, it was out in the open. With those words Kuri made it clear she’d support Noriko’s revolts, both of them. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realised his parent’s would give all their support to Noriko as well, no matter how afraid she was they wouldn’t. Her life, her choice, her responsibility, and damned be anyone who tried to steal her right to become an adult of her own.