The contest lay behind them, and a school band had taken the scene and were playing for an audience so large it counted as a major club concert. Which was all fine and dandy, and Noriko should probably clap her hands like an overexcited elementary school kid and feel all warm and fuzzy. If it wasn't for Urufu going AWOL.
Noriko threw a worried look at her phone. Urufu didn't answer calls over the radio and this was the third call he failed to pick up.
'We're on stage in a few minutes. What are you doing?'
"Nothing?" Kuri asked? Behind the stage it was almost possible to talk, at least if shouting counted as talking.
Noriko shook her head.
"Damn! He knew I was up to something."
Up to something? "What did you plan?" Noriko asked her friend.
"Pissing on a tree," Kuri answered. "Ulf being the tree."
Noriko shook her head again. The connotation was lost on her.
"You know, like a dog marking territory?" Kuri tried again.
"You planned to pee on Urufu?"
That stopped Kuri in her tracks. She slapped her hands to her face, but she soon removed them and shot Noriko a very twisted and very knowing grin. "No, I don't think he's into that."
A sudden visual flashed through Noriko's mind, and this time it was her turn to fly both hands to her face. "I didn't… I mean…," she stammered.
While it was clear Kuri hadn't heard a word of what Noriko mumbled she still saw teasing understanding glimmer in Kuri's eyes. When Kuri threw her head back and guffawed, Noriko knew Kuri had seen exactly what flashed though her mind moments earlier.
"You have a surprisingly dirty mind," Kuri shouted when she was done laughing. "But no," she continued and turned serious all of a sudden, "I planned to show the world we belong together."
Kuri made her last preparations for the show, and Noriko listened to the school-band guitarist reaching the crescendo that marked the end of their participation.
They couldn't have prepared all that well, because the sound was out of tune, a little like the sound of wailing sirens mixing into the music.
With a thunderous rumble from drums and electric guitars the show finished, and all band members bowed to their cheering audience.
The gym hall fell eerily silent despite the music sound technicians poured out of the speakers while everyone prepared the fashion show.
'Urufu, where are you?' If he didn't arrive within a couple of minutes Kuri needed to change the schedule. Nao couldn't stand in for Urufu. He was too tall for that. 'Anyone else?'
"I'll bloody kill him," Kuri muttered from the hangers closest to them both. "Nao-kun, come here!"
'Nao-kun. She's calling her senior Nao-kun.' Noriko grinned at Nao who came rushing obediently. 'Guess that's Kuri for you.'
"Nao-kun, can you run a double with these?" Kuri asked and fingered two sets of clothes.
Nao looked at them and nodded. "Why?"
"Ulf's not here. I'm tall enough to show off his costumes as a fun gimmick."
'You're not serious!'
"I'd love to see that, if Noriko allows," Nao said. He flashed her a smile that for once had Noriko's heart skip a beat.
'I think you're reaching your goal, Nao.' She looked at him and revelled in the warmth that spread though her body. 'I'm really falling in love with you.'
"Yukio, Kyoko, prepare for stage. Let's get this show running!"
Kuri's words reached her through a daze. 'A few seconds more.' Noriko let her eyes linger on Nao. 'Yes, I definitely am.'
"We have to tell them!"
Principal Nakagawa looked at the frantic student council president. "No!"
"Don't you have any feelings?"
"No. That's why I'm the principal and you're still just a student."
She turned and walked for the doors. "You're right. We don't have to tell them, but I have to."
"I won't allow that," Nakagawa said. He followed her with his eyes, expecting her to stop and face him again.
With a wave she left his office. Her parting words lingered like a promise: "Whatever. Suspend me, expel me, do whatever, but I'm telling them. Learn to be human!"
'Good for you,' he thought. 'You're finally growing a backbone.'
She wouldn't reach them in time to create chaos, and he wouldn't punish her for her insubordination. Hers was the morally correct choice and his the only working one. He needed the ambulances to leave through the service gates before the fashion show ended to avoid panic.
"How bad?" he asked the council treasurer, who had remained in the office.
The gangly third year frowned before he answered. "All eight Red Rose students hospitalised. Hamarugen-san and Ueno-san as well."
"Yes. He's the captain of the karate team. The rest of the team suffered superficial injuries at most, but we're sending them to the hospital just in case."
Nakagawa scowled and rose from his chair. Looking out the windows he watched the absurd crowd on the school grounds below. Eight thousand or more according to the last report. Both gates were closed for new entrants, and irritation grew by the minute. 'She said another four thousand expected. We can't let them in.'
In a way the assault was a blessing. With police present on site people in the queue were unlikely to force the issue when denied entrance.
He waved the treasurer to his side. "Look at that," he said and nodded at the gates. "Murakami-san, make sure Ageruman-san finishes her show in good order!"
The treasurer looked at the moving mass of people on both sides of the school gates. Nakagawa could see uncertainty and fear competing for space in the teenager's eyes.
'What I did earlier was indecent, but this is inhuman.' Nakagawa shook his head and dismissed Murakami. Forcing the arrivals to handle a situation like this was bad enough, but they were fifty years old mentally. Now that burden fell on the student council.
He'd help from the shadows of course. When Ageruman-san rose from the abyss, and came after them like a vengeance demon, he'd make certain the brunt of her attack was directed at him. With her rising fame she had the power to permanently terminate the future for both council president as well as its treasurer.
'Well, all bets are off now. You went after one of the arrivals despite our agreement.' Rage rose in him, a seething, smouldering rage. 'I'll give her free reins for revenge, and if Hamarugen-san survives I'll channel my hate through him. You'll find out westerners have a very different definition of hell than us Japanese.'
At the moment there was very little he could do for the arrivals. Nakagawa looked at the phone on his desk. There was one thing. Despite working miracle after miracle the exchange club finally found themselves at wit's end to solve an impossible logistical problem.
He tapped a contact and placed the call. Abusing his power didn't even come close to describe the order he gave. For what it was worth the festival wouldn't run out of supplies.
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