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Early July brought an end to the raining and a sudden increase in temperature along with an acceptance of a new daily routine.

Noriko got used to her sailor uniform, to the new route to school and to a school that was smaller and more silent than Himekaizen.

While the students at Irishima High on average got higher grades she still stood out. The main difference from Himekaizen was that no one here expected her to have much in the way of free time, well apart from the group who joined the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club. Which in its own was was hilarious as it still sported the name of the school that had expelled so many of them.

She didn’t, however, get used to not seeing Urufu and Kuri on a daily basis. The latter had hit her hard since early this spring when Kuri’s job stole more and more of her time. Now chances were Noriko saw her staring down from a billboard or a magazine ad rather than meeting her for real.

Once or twice a week Kuri showed up at the Stockholm Haven café, but when here she was tight lipped about what happened in their old school.

Urufu, well he was more outspoken, but a hardness grew in his face, one Noriko recognised from her father when he ran into problems. It wasn’t the face she wanted to see on the boy she loved, but it was a reminder that the adult world would bring more changes to her than she cared for.

Today Urufu looked like a boy though. Carefree and with his smile opening up into the mischievous grin that made Noriko’s heart jump.

Good news?” she asked him when he caught up with her on their way to the café. Walked up to her where she demonstratively stood waiting for her might have been a better description.

He just nodded.

Spill!”

Urufu rolled his eyes, and by the time he finally spoke more than a few of the club members stood waiting for his words. “Graduates incoming,” he said cryptically.

Graduates? They were at the end of their first trimester. “And explain,” Noriko added.

We’re having a few club members from our sister club in Sweden visiting. Or former members.”

Noriko ran the information through her head. Sweden finished their school year early June, so it made sense. Then what Urufu had really said finally registered with her. “They’re here? The people we Skype with?”

Urufu grinned again. White teeth shone in the sun, and to Noriko his face bathing in sweat looked better than ever before. “Some of them.”

Including my brother,” a voice said from Noriko’s right.

She turned and met Ai-chan’s eyes. “Your brother?”

Yep,” Ai-chan said and smiled. “He went chasing skirt last autumn.”

Ah, yes, I remember. “And?” Noriko said.

And he’s bringing his girlfriend,” Ai-chan offered in return. “I want to meet her. I’m curious about anyone who made my brother move to Sweden.”

Rika’s coming as well,” Urufu said, “together with her friend and his friend.”

Rika?”

The former club chairman. Same as club president here.”

Something with Urufu casually throwing around the name of a girl Noriko didn’t know didn’t sit too well with her, but that was just the way Urufu was. “That must have been expensive,” she said instead.

A gust of hot air ran over them as they turned a corner, and Noriko missed Urufu’s answer. The sound of a passing lorry drowned his voice, and she decided to wait until they had crossed the street before asking him again. Not that it really was the question she wanted to ask.

At their side of the street the car with Kuri’s bodyguards was absent, which meant no Kuri at the cafe for the evening to come. The other car, however, was present, so she’d be able to see Kyoko and Yukio at least.

A few steps later brought her to the entrance, but rather than enter she waited for most of the group to go inside ahead of her.

The old fashioned doorbell chimed several timed as they opened the door, but Urufu showed her the courtesy of staying outside. While he didn’t respond to her feelings she had made certain he was acutely aware of them. If she was to lose this battle at least she never wanted to look back at these days and regret she hadn’t tried.

She stole a glance at him in the afternoon sun. Tall as always, with his hair unkept in glaring contrast to his buttoned shirt and neck-tie. At least the summer uniform prevented him from wearing his blazer, or Noriko would have melted away from just looking at him.

Looking at him she noticed how his hair had grown slightly darker since she got to know him. Now it was almost impossible to notice that he wasn’t born and bred in Japan. There was a frizziness to it that was mildly unusual here, but if she didn’t know she’d never have guessed he had any foreign ancestry.

Notice anything strange?” he said with an open smile teasing her.

That was the bad part about him knowing. He definitely had the upper hand when it came to teasing.

Nothing special,” Noriko said and tried to force down her blushing. She wasn’t all too successful.

You never caught up on my answer back there?” Urufu suddenly said.

Noriko shook her head. She hadn’t expected him to notice.

It was probably expensive. Rika’s father made certain it was all paid for.”

Some of the hardness Noriko wanted out of Urufu was back again. This time it was his voice that held a steely edge.

Power games. He’s at his power games again. “The visit isn’t just for fun?”

It never was,” Urufu said. “For three of them, yes, but both Rika and Jun know there’s something going on.”

Jun, that was Ai-chan’s older brother. “Do they know about you?”

Urufu shook his head. “No they don’t, but they know something is going on. I’m not certain how much their parents know though.”


***

 

Kyoko wondered why Noriko and Urufu were late, and she was on the verge of asking when the doorbell chimed again and they came inside.

The ancient air conditioning unit coughed asthmatically in a futile protest when hot and humid air welled in, and most of those present agreed with apathetic nods. In a few weeks everyone should be used to summer temperatures, but right now most looked like they longed for the wetness of just a handful of days ago.

Those not overcome by apathy shared two tables with a quintet of surprise guests. A surprise to everyone but Urufu, Kyoko suspected.

She glanced at the tables where two Tokyoites, who had spent enough time in Sweden to share inside jokes with two girls and a boy who were most definitely not Japanese, made an attempt to translate questions and answers from all parties. After a while most seemed to agree English was a good enough compromise, to the dismay of the first year club members.

Urufu barked something in Swedish, and all five guests turned their faces in surprise. One of them, a girl short enough to have to tip toe even in Japan, grinned and responded with a big grin on her face after she delivered her answering words.

What was that about?” Kyoko heard Noriko say from the position beside Urufu she monopolised whenever she had the chance.

He said that Santa Claus wondered if there were any nice kids here, and Jenny told him he’d better grow a beard first,” the female of the two Japanese born guests said.

Japanese born, because her entire outfit was distinctly western, showing way more skin than was proper from someone with the looks of a classic Japanese beauty. She might look Japanese, but Kyoko knew she had spent enough years in that strange country of Urufu’s to be anything but. She was also the former student council president of that Swedish high school, or chairman of the students’ union as she preferred to call it.

Where’s your club chairman?” she said.

And you are?” Urufu answered.

Kyoko looked at the two of them, then at Noriko, who’s lips turned into a disapproving smirk, and then back at Urufu again.

Rika. I’m Rika Uchida.”

Uchida Rika? She even uses the western style for her own name. Rika-sempai I guess.

Ulf Hammargren, pleased to meet you. Christina’s working today, so I’m afraid you’ll have to do with me as club representative.”

Rika-sempai shrugged, just the way Urufu and Kuri used to. “I don’t care. Just thought it was polite to ask for her.”

And that was just about as far from polite as you could be.

Urufu grinned and grabbed a chair. As he sat down Noriko took one for herself and sat down beside him.

Kyoko noticed Rika-sempai’s amused smile. “Girlfriend?” She said.

No,” Urufu said.

Not yet,” Noriko added.

You like him that much?”

Enough not to hand him over to you.”

Oh, gutsy. I like that.” Rika-sempai grinned. “Don’t worry. I’m not interested in kids.”

He’s not...”

Noriko, she’s not competition, so just drop it!” Kyoko interrupted before Noriko had a chance to say something most of those present weren’t supposed to hear.

She felt Yukio clasp her hand, and closer to a year together with him had taught her how to read his thoughts from the way he touched her. This time she read firm approval.

Rika-sempai exchanged looks with the other Tokyo born guest, Hasegawa Jun, Ai-chan’s big brother.

See, they’re the same here as well.”

Huh?

Jun-sempai smiled and turned to the other male guest. “Alexander, maybe there’s hope for you as well,” he said in English.

I wouldn’t bet on it,” Rika-sempai said. “Besides, shouldn’t that mean there’s hope for Emma as well,” she added and grinned at a girl who had mostly stayed silent since the five of them suddenly arrived in the café less than half an hour earlier.

Chance?” Ai-chan said from a table she shared with Nana-chan.

Eh,” Jun-sempai said and grinned sheepishly. “It’s a bit of a mess. See, Alexander is in love with Rika, which everyone back home knows, and Emma’s in love with Alexander, which also everyone knows.

Oh dear!

And they’re all very good friends ever since Emma more or less forced Rika to share a, eh, what’s the word, ‘fika’ we call it, with Alexander.

Fika, I know that word. The date that’s not a date, where you drink coffee even though you don’t have to drink coffee. And just like ‘fika’, Jun-sempai’s explanation made no sense at all.

Urufu coughed loud enough to have everyone stare at him, which was probably a good thing since both Emma-sempai and Alexander-sempai had turned beet red during Jun-sempai’s little speech. “Lemme see if I got this right. The kid over there,” Urufu nodded at Emma-sempai, “is in love with him,” and shot Alexander-sempai a grin, “so she arranged a date between him and her rival?” At the last word Urufu bowed ironically to Rika-sempai.

The five guests exchanged looks between themselves, and almost as if reaching and agreement they said more or less in chorus: “Yes.”

Urufu shook his head. “You’re strange all of you. I admit utter defeat.”

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