'Liseberg,' Kuri-chan had said during club cleaning day. Well, compared to the pictures she showed them this was nothing like the Liseberg both Kuri-chan and Urufu-kun knew from their previous lives.
Noriko frowned as she compared photos with the present reality. This was the kind of amusement park she was used to. It was also much larger than its Swedish counterpart, and they had spent a respectable amount of time on public transport to get here. Where Liseberg looked like a fairy-tale forested town the park they were about to enter seemed strangely clinical with tarmac and concrete instead of the ever present greenery the Swedish amusement park sported.
The maniacs responsible for Liseberg had placed that park near the city centre. Visitors walked there. If Urufu-kun could be believed.
He also claimed that an international capacity athletics stadium and a major indoor stadium were placed pretty much at leisure walking distance from the centre of the city as well. Everyone knew those kind of buildings were always erected in the outskirts, if even that close. Urufu-kun could be unreliable that way.
"So, are we going in?"
Noriko got seven nodding heads in return. Wada-san and Taniguchi-san had chosen to enjoy their company today.
They had been showered by a sudden downpour on their way here, but right now it was only overcast. Sunday, May 22. A dating day. Spring of her life.
'Kyoko-chan and Yu-kun are closer to dating than I am, and those two don't even have the brains or eyes to see what the rest of the club, everyone in 3:1 and 6:1, and probably half the prefecture has known for a while now.'
By now it wasn't even painful to watch any longer. You stopped caring for clowns when they hurt themselves for the umpteenth time.
Amusement park. Amusing for six of them at least. Noriko looked at her idiot brother.
'Make that seven. You know you're not supposed to drool that way. We'll need a leash for you.'
She paid for a day pass at the booth, as did the rest of them, and they were inside the gates. Behind her the parking space grew smaller and smaller until it was only a partial backdrop on the other side of the multiple gates feeding the park.
"I have a schedule for the rides," Ryu announced proudly.
Noriko stared at an ice-cream parlour rather than let anyone see her face. 'Of course you have.'
Getting here woke memories in her. Not from this place, because it was the first time she was here, but from a much smaller park just outside Suzuka Circuit. The smell of hot tarmac was the same.
"Bet the Ferris wheel is last on that list. Can't miss that scene just before the end of the episode." Yu-kun pinpointed exactly why her idiot brother Ryu was wrong in so many ways.
"Ferris wheel scene?" Urufu-kun asked.
"Man, not funny. You two," Yu-kun stabbed a finger at Urufu-kun and Kuri-chan each, "aren't allowed to pretend you don't know. Taniguchi-san and Wada-san are excused if they feel embarrassed."
'And only one out of two couples have the decency to blush. Kuri-chan, Urufu-kun, you must have done amusement parks as love birds in your respective earlier lives!'
Kuri-chan shrugged and grabbed hold of Urufu-kun's left arm. She pointed frantically ahead and Noriko had a visual of a puppy drooling with excitement. "Roller-coaster! Joining me?"
"Hang on, Christina, let's see what the others want first," Urufu-kun suggested.
Kuri-chan gave him a stare of dislike in return. Or rather his clothes, Noriko guessed. She couldn't fathom what had made him wear that.
The dating couple had kept up a low grade quarrel about his choice of casuals, or 'function clothing' as he called it, since they started dating. Kuri-chan was less than impressed and Noriko agreed with her. Urufu-kun's taste in clothes were abysmal at best. She couldn't even guess what he had worn to catch Kuri-chan's attention that Sunday when Noriko lost the race before it even started.
She shook the thought away and looked around. They hadn't moved far from the gates and were still standing by a small tree with benches in a circle around it.
Right now the crowd was waiting for Ryu's reaction. It was kind of comical to watch. Her brother was at a loss for whom to obey. Kuri-chan or Urufu-kun.
"If the beautiful princess says roller coaster then I'm for," he finally announced.
"The empress has decided," Kuri-chan joked. If it even was a joke.
'So, your hero worship takes a beating when she calls. I didn't expect that.' But in fact Noriko was still reeling from the recent knowledge. 'Fifty, they're ancient!'
Roller coaster it was eventually decided. And then another. Noriko slowly began enjoying herself more than she had planned. Some of it because of Kuri-chan's and Urufu-kun's good graces when they occasionally split up and allowed the Wakayama twins a breather from each other.
Urufu-kun and Kuri-chan chained thrill-rides one after another without even looking at the slower ones where they would have had a chance to spend some time chatting with each other. It was as if they didn't even know those were more or less mandatory dating rides.
'You guys really suck at romance,' Noriko had time to think between one roller coaster and an oversized swing in the shape of a Viking long-ship. The last left her stomach heaving, but she managed to keep her breakfast inside.
And in the end no-one really seemed to care about whom they rode with. Noriko sat with everyone but the latest couple in the club. And so did Kuri-chan and Urufu-kun, even if they did tend to stick together. 'You're strange, both of you.'
Noriko enjoyed a watery ride with Urufu-kun behind her when she realised that there was more to it than just her being in love with Moron-sama. She wanted to know more. Not just about what had happened, but about what it was like to see a fifteen year old world through fifty year old eyes.
Ahead of her she saw her brother with Kuri-chan. Was he only pulling pranks or did he ever nurture those thoughts? 'You should, you know. Now when you can.'
She asked, and Urufu-kun answered after ability, or at least as much as he allowed her to know.
After the ride, when they were munching something that passed for food while drying, she heard some unwelcome voices coming closer.
'Fan-club incoming. Only half of them club members.' The already marginally awkward outing turned into a circus visiting a theme park.
Her idiot brother soon found himself surrounded by girls and only looked happier for it. Kuri-chan didn't seem equally thrilled with her share of the fans, even though she played the role of princess with gusto.
Noriko took that chance to get closer to Urufu-kun. 'Just to talk,' she told herself.
"Cotton candy?" he asked when she tugged at his sleeve.
"Eh, yes, sure." He's treating me? With Kuri-chan here to watch?
"Come along and help me carry some then. I think I know what the rest of the gang wants." He waved to Kuri-chan, pointed in the direction of some stalls by a restaurant area and dragged Noriko along.
'Won't she be angry?' Noriko didn't care and followed in his wake. Behind them Kuri-chan waved back.
By the stalls he ordered a massive amount of sugary treats and soft drinks to go with them. She began to understand that he really only wanted her as a pack mule. Noriko ground her teeth and allowed herself to be stacked to capacity.
'You're enjoying this way too much.'
She felt his presence behind her as they both returned with arms and hands full of treats and drinks. It was difficult seeing ahead of her, stacked with snacks as she was. Bags hung in strings from her neck and dangled precariously over her breasts, not that there were all that much of those to begin with.
"I can't change how we both feel," he said suddenly, "but I'll treat you the same as before until you say I'm too close for comfort."
So he had noticed after all, and her worries that he was some kind of perverted player ran off her. He wanted to keep their friendship intact despite her and her brother's impromptu show at the café, and he must have seen how uncomfortable she was. 'He was married once for crying out loud! He's got kids older than me. Of course he'll notice!' She pretended to shrug as much as her bags allowed her to. 'Why do you have to look like you do? Why do you have to be so caring?' A new thought built in her and she let her shoulders slump. 'Do you see me like a daughter? I don't want that.'
She had to respond. "I can live with you loving Kuri-chan, but please see me as a friend!"
"I will, and I do."
Noriko wasn't entirely sure he was speaking the truth, but he never came off as a dishonest man. Well, apart from the deliberate geek membership show earlier.
They distributed their booty, and she glued a smile to her face. Discomfort haunted her long after they had finished eating.
On their way to the next attraction she decided she'd had enough. They were crossing a plaza and the crowd around them temporarily thinned out. She nudged her idiot brother in a way she had taught him, the hard way, meant "follow my lead". As expected his eyes turned wary enough for his fan-club to notice.
"Something wrong, Wakayama-san?"
"Your sister said something bad to you?"
"Not yet," he croaked and gave her a panicked look.
The commotion split them into two groups. The Wakayama fan-club which had slowed down after Noriko intervened, and Ageruman-san's court that just stopped dead in their tracks and turned to see what was happening behind them.
Urufu-kun got lost in the middle, and from two directions Kuri-chan and Noriko bee-lined towards him.
'Sorry, bro. Scrap that, I'm not sorry in the least.' Noriko giggled and snuggled up to a surprised Urufu-kun. Kuri-chan stared at her from a position by Urufu-kun's other arm.
He was thoroughly sandwiched and very exposed.
"Noriko-chan?" Kuri-chan asked with more than a little consternation in her voice.
'For once you don't know what's going on, Kuri-chan.' Noriko watched how her brother frantically tried to guess what she was up to.
"Noriko, what are you doing?" Urufu-kun asked as well.
His body felt warm. She didn't mind dragging this out for a little longer.
"Noriko-chan!" And that came from a boy ahead of her she didn't know. Definitely one of Kuri-chan's suitors.
'Oh well, it couldn't be helped.' Kuri-chan's fan-club had finally noticed that her boyfriend received more than his fair due of attention.
"Yes?" Noriko said in the sweetest voice she could manage.
"You shouldn't. He's Ageruman-san's boyfriend." It was the same boy.
"But I know that." Noriko flashed Kuri-chan a smile and felt two thoughtful eyes meet her own. "But I like him anyway, and I've told them both I'm not giving up. She," Noriko swept her hand in an exaggerated introduction of Kuri-chan, "is my rival."
"Fat chance," came the expected reply.
And that was when her idiot brother for once obediently stepped in. He snuggled up equally close to Kuri-chan and smiled at Noriko.
"But guys, sis has me for help."
I want you to tell me 'fat chance' again after this. You've never seen us work in tandem before.
"The Wakayamas are scary!"
Urufu-kun frowned at Ryu, but apart from that he didn't do anything more than look uncomfortable with the situation.
"Ryu-kun, that's not cool, stealing his girlfriend like that," Taniguchi-san said, and Noriko could see how he hugged Wada-san closer to him. She blushed furiously but apart from that she played the same game of oblivious ignorance as Yu-kun and Kyoko-chan.
Her idiot brother knew his cue after all. "But I like her, and they both know I don't intend to give up." And with an equally over the top gesture he invited everyone present to take a good look at Urufu-kun. "He's my rival."
Kuri-chan and Urufu-kun clung closer to each other, both with a sibling each hanging on to them.
"Ulf," Kuri-chan began, "Those twins are bad news," she finished. But she was grinning widely.
Urufu-kun just smiled weakly and tried to pry Noriko loose. She tightened her grip. It felt good being this close to him, but more importantly, she had paid him back for making her into a pack mule earlier. From now on he would know she wasn't to be trifled with. And in the eyes of the others she could see growing respect as well.
As the time for calling it a day grew closer it also became abundantly clear that more than a few had saved the Ferris wheel ride for last. With their oversized group that event looked more like a clown parade than an embarrassingly cute but still somewhat romantic ending to their outing.
The Ferris wheel was something for couples, not a locust swarm of teenagers descending on it.
Not that Noriko had any part in it. She might wish all she want, but she was honest enough with herself to understand that that ride belonged to Urufu-kun and Kuri-chan. Well, and another dozen of their friends lining up by the attraction.
"I'll pass on this one," came Urufu-kun's surprising declaration.
"Yeah, you go on. We'll sit down here and watch," Kuri-chan equally astonishingly agreed.
Yu-kun stared at them, and even Kyoko-chan had the wits to give them a quizzical look.
Wada-san and Taniguchi-san had already gone far enough in the queue to miss out on the unexpected development on the ground, and one couple was even on the ride.
"You two can't go to the park and not ride the Ferris wheel," Noriko said. Normally she'd happily see the two of them void any romantic scenes together, but this was just too absurd.
"But it has to be the most boring ride in the park," Urufu-kun complained and looked at Kuri-chan for help.
"Apart from the merry go rounds," she added.
'They're actually agreeing on this? Are they even human?'
"Don't tell me that you don't have Ferris wheels back home! No, thinking of it there's a huge one in the pictures of that Liseberg place."
"Eh, sure, but only old people and families ride it. Or gangs of drunk friends."
"What?" Noriko could see Yu-kun's reality falling apart. Even Noriko knew the basic rules; Ferris wheel meet couple, couple meet Ferris wheel. 'But you really don't know the rules any longer, do you? That was over thirty years ago.'
More and more of their friends wound up on the ride.
"You really have to."
Kuri-chan shrugged and rose to her feet. She extended a hand to Urufu-kun and they joined the queue together with the other four in the club core.
'How did I end up here? Oh well, can't be helped. We'll get Yu-kun alone with Kyoko-chan as a bonus. I guess that's worth having to spend the time with my moronic brother.'
And they did get Yu-kun and Kyoko-chan alone after the two of them much too late realised what was happening.
Then Urufu-kun tried to pull a last stunt by attempting to get the remaining four of them together into the next basket, and it was only Ryu's discreetly shaking his head to the operator that averted such an outcome.
Looking behind her Noriko could see Urufu-kun and Kuri-chan spending most of the ride merrily chatting about things they saw from their basket. 'That has to be the two most unromantic people in the world.'
On their way out of the park she noticed how Yu-kun and Kyoko-chan were obviously flustered, but Urufu-kun and Kuri-chan only returned uncomprehending stares when they received pointed questions.
'Old people. Must be because they really are old people.'
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