Shoujoai ni Bouken: Adventures of Yuriko

The Story So Far: Yuriko finds that she has friends in high (and low) places. She's taking a deep breath, as a possible scandal settles into the mud from which it was slung.

Volume 3, Issue 20

"A Red Sunset"

Yuriko sat back with a sigh of relief. That was the last phone call she'd have to make for a while. She checked her watch - 40 minutes before she had to attend the meeting of the Board. She pushed herself out of the chair in Ruriko-sensei's office, thanking the coach silently for letting her use the space while practice was being held.

Yuriko glanced down at the piece of paper on which she had jotted a few notes. She checked off the last name on the list and smiled, crumpling the paper and tossing it into the trashcan. Mariko had been following the news throughout the day by way of her contact at Yuriko's agency, but she had been happy to hear that the outlook was positive.

Yuriko turned off the light and closed the door to the office. Outside the gym, the school was mostly empty - she felt like a ghost gliding silently through the darkened halls. The occasional voice would drift echoingly down to her ears, unintelligible and phantom-like. Yuriko shivered happily. She loved ghost stories - especially ghosts that haunted schools.

She approached her locker and saw a dark figure standing in the poorly lit corner. Yuriko pulled her hand from her pants pocket and took her cell phone out of her jacket. She had no real fighting skills, but a well-placed emergency call could do wonders. She approached the lockers carefully, but relaxed when the figure looked up, smiling unsurely at her.

"To-kun!" Yuriko said, surprised. "How long have you been waiting here?"

"Ah, uhm, Yuri-chan..." the boy was hesitant, as usual. His face looked worried and for a moment Yuriko thought it might be about Uto. But then Togai got his thoughts under control. "I heard about what happened and I wanted to know if you're okay."

Yuriko nodded. "I'm fine, thanks," she smiled. "That was really sweet of you." A thought struck her. "You mean - you're waiting to escort me home?" She laughed as the young man blushed. "That was very thoughtful - but I'm not leaving yet."

"Oh. Well, I can wait..." Togai offered, but Yuriko shook her head.

"No, I don't think that would be wise. I'll be here for a while yet," she patted his arm. At his look of disappointment she snapped her fingers. "Oh, wait! There *is* something you can do for me - if you don't mind." She rooted around in her book bag, then her pockets, looking for something. She crouched, trying to find the elusive object and spoke without looking up. "I haven't seen you hanging around with Ni-ru and the others recently..."

Togai made a noise in his throat and a little kicking motion. After a long pause he said, "They kicked me out of the gang." He didn't sound all that remorseful.

Yuriko glanced up. "Ah. I see. How's your brother doing?"

Togai's face split into a broad grin. "He's fine - so far. He came by today, but you probably knew that. He left a message for you - he says you owe him a date."

Yuriko laughed derisively. "A date? He's got to be kidding!" She found what she was looking for, stuck it into an envelope and addressed it.

"Well, after all, he is your boyfriend," Togai said with a grin.

"He's what?"

"Well, that's what he told the reporters when he "escorted" them all off the school grounds."

Yuriko blinked. "Oh no. He didn't."

Togai's grin widened. "Yup."

Yuriko slapped her forehead in disbelief. "I cannot believe him..." She shook herself, wondering what the papers would be writing about her tomorrow. With one hand on her head, as if in pain, she handed over the envelope to Togai. "Forget that for a minute. This is a letter I need delivered to Yamada-san - remember him at the studio? He's the electrician you met on the tour."

"Sure, he was the one who showed me how to work the lighting."

"Right. Do you think you can deliver this letter to him?"

"Will they let me in at the gate?" Togai looked down at his ratty uniform and worn shoes.

"I'll call and make sure they do." Yuriko closed her bag and turned to look at the boy. "To-kun - how did you like the studio tour?"

Togai nodded with enthusiasm. "It was pretty cool."

"You think you'd ever want to get into the business?" Yuriko leaned casually against the lockers.

"Sure!" Togai shrugged. "But what's the chance..."

"Better than you think," Yuriko said cryptically. "Can you go now? He'll be there until about 10, but if you get there early, he might have a few minutes to talk to you..."

"Okay." Togai took the letter, and the business card Yuriko handed him. She had jotted a note on the back with Yamada's name.

"Thanks. I really appreciate it," Yuriko said and bowed. Togai bowed awkwardly and set off a lope. Yuriko watched him walk away and hoped fervently that he was smarter than he seemed. Ni-ru and Heiji saying he was smart was one thing, but...

Togai chose that moment to turn around and face her again. Lifting the letter, he called, "Hey, Yuri-, erm, Yuriko-san! Thanks for the recommendation. I really appreciate it," he smiled gratefully at her. Without waiting for an answer, he turned away and ran down the hall. She watched him until he disappeared, feeling very satisfied with her insatiable need to meddle.

Still smiling, she opened her locker. Inside was today's bento box, looking as pristine as if it had been placed there mere moments before. Her stomach growled loudly and she pulled the package down. There was a small card tucked into the knot at the top. Yuriko picked it up and read, "You've had a long day - make sure you eat." The letters were printed neatly, too neatly, the way children write - or when an adult is trying to disguise their handwriting. She saluted her fairy godmother and crouched in front of her locker, eating every last bite of the only real meal she had had all day long.


Yuriko bounced out of her seat, made the minimum number of bows and thanks and was out the door in record time - *just* not being incredibly rude. She practically ran down the hall, her every muscle twitching with a desire to get out of this place. She felt claustrophobic and wanted some of that fresh city air. At the door to the school, she paused, getting her bearing, trying to calm herself down. She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see Kaori moving swiftly in the same direction.

"You too?" Yuriko said sympathetically. "All that talk was choking me."

Kaori turned that disconcertingly even gaze on Yuriko. "It had to be done." She seemed resigned, rather than displeased, but Yuriko felt unaccountably uncomfortable. She wondered when she had begun to give a damn about this girl's opinion.

"Well, I'll see you." Yuriko broke away from Kaori's penetrating gaze, and pushed her way through the doors. She took five long steps and cleared the corner of the building when a figure in a long black coat approached her, moving quickly. She was so startled, she didn't resist when the figure grabbed her elbow and escorted her rapidly towards a waiting car.

The car was small and unremarkable. Unmarked, Yuriko thought. She had the unreal feeling that she had stepped into yet another play within a play within a play. As the figure propelled her towards the car, she wished the screenwriter would get *on* with it.

Yuriko looked across the street, noticed the lack of press, and said, almost without realizing it, "Nice job, Uto."

The figure in black squeezed her arm hard and grunted. "No problem."

Yuriko jumped and stopped moving, but the figure dragged her the last few steps. They were at the car and at last Yuriko's arm was released.

"No time to talk - they're not far. Get in the car-Yuri-chan. We'll talk later."

Yuriko let Uto half lead, half shove her into the car. She could see two people inside the vehicle, but couldn't make them out. He shut the door behind her with an implacable "thunk." The car began to move away from the school, and Yuriko managed just to lift her hand in thanks before he was out of sight. She turned to thank her companions and was greeted by two familiar faces.

"Relax, Yuri," Mariko said with a giggle. "We're kidnapping you tonight."