Monday, 4 May 2015
Chapter three (segment seven), twenty four years earlier, May, Christina
I guess I was the one suggesting this, even if I had to teach him just about everything about a proper formal first date. Christina groaned inwardly. So embarrassing! She sighed again. Well, I owe him big-time.
And that was it. She owed him, but it wasn't as if he really stirred any emotions in her. So, one date. She'd give him one day to shine with her beside him, but he also needed to see that he was outclassed, outmatched and out gunned.
He's just a boy, and a geek to boot, even if he knows how to be a knight in shining armour. That thought did stir emotions in her. In that locker room he had been anything but a geek. More of a frightening avenger.
But in the days since he had reverted back to the shy, clumsy boy. But not during club hours. And she had an opportunity to share memories from Sweden, in Swedish as well, and hearing that language built a hard lump in her throat.
But we did good work with that club of yours. Ten more members, and I wouldn't be surprised if we get a few more. The student council president looked like fainting when she saw the list.
Still it wasn't enough.
I didn't spend ten years on the catwalk to pair up with a little kid.
So, why was she here, standing below that stupid statue and listening to gasps of adoration half an hour early? She should have waltzed in quarter of an hour late instead of standing here with a steadily growing crowd of admirers watching her.
I did the full super model stunt to give him the shock of his life. But now with some of the braver in her audience closing in on her… Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. She started recollecting exactly why she had been surrounded by body guards in her previous life. I don't like this
“You want a real man.” And the feeling of unease grew to fear. After that locker room, always fear.
Around her the circle of admirers shrunk as people felt the mood change.
“She could use more than one real man. I heard foreign girls like it kinky.”
Soon they would grab her.
“Christina, you look astonishing!”
Swedish? That's Ulf!
She looked frantically around her, but none of the teenagers standing in their casual clothes matched his looks.
But I'm sure I heard him! Where?
“I'm stunned! You're, you're more beautiful than I thought possible.”
Where? Where? Wh… No way!
He would never be a super model, as she had once been, but 'handsome' didn't even come close to describing the young man who broke in between the two most insistent of her 'admirers'.
“Excuse me, but I'm here to meet my girlfriend.” Ulf said in Japanese.
Dazed, Christina accepted the offered hand. She stared at an Ulf she had never seen before. An Ulf in a lazily unbuttoned business suit, with a deep burgundy shirt to ironically admit that he had yet to grow into adulthood. He no longer wore any glasses, and his usual, lifeless hairdo had given way to a playful one that didn't even attempt to deny that gel had played an important part in the making.
In ways it was a bit old-fashioned, but Christina liked that. It made her feel less of a stranger.
Italian suit, Swedish shirt, German shoes, Japanese neck tie. High quality but not stupidly expensive. Oh, and that Swiss watch looks gorgeous on him! Damn, that man knows how to dress!
Because it was a man, despite his youthful appearance. Ulf wore his suit as the other teenagers wore their casuals. It looked a part of him, and she knew how many years it took most men to wear a suit the way you wore blue jeans.
Around them the mood had changed once again.
“I don't recognize her. Are they filming a Hollywood production here?”
Christina smiled. Then she gave Ulf a closer look. He was visibly shaken. So I made an impact after all.
“She's stunning, but that's one hell of a guy she's got there!”
“What's with that guy? Like Japanese girls aren't good enough for him!”
“I heard him speak. He's a foreigner as well. Probably why he's so tall.”
All fear drained away from her. Ulf's arrival had been a shock, but now she only felt safe as she snuggled closer to him.
Their date had already taken a different direction than she had planned. And as for her plans… Out gunned? Yes, she knew what she could do with clothes and make-up. Outclassed? No, not really. Outmatched? No way in hell! In Ulf she had met her match.
They walked along the streets, arm in arm like an old pair. She preferred walking this way. Holding hands was so… teenager. But then again they were supposed to be just that. Upon that reflection she released her arm and grabbed his hand instead.
I'll die from shame, but it can't be helped. In this world I'm fifteen for crying out loud, not fifty.
Ulf offered her a surprised look and an uncertain smile when her fingers intertwined with his.
He's striking, but he's still just a kid. I wish I could feel that mix of fear and joy of his right now, but I'm too old for that.
Beside her Ulf blushed slightly, but he didn't let go.
“Anything special you want to see?” he asked when the silence became intrusive.
Christina didn't answer. Of course there were things she wanted to see, but what would her fifteen year old self have wanted?
They spent some time in awkward silence as they walked through this capital of capitals. Then, when she took a closer look at him, she noticed that he was frowning as if trying to remember something.
If he doesn't know his way around here I'll just guide him discreetly. Not that he could afford any of the places I went to last time I was here. Not that we would be allowed inside any of those places now. She sighed. My favourite waterholes are probably 'old people' places anyway.
“You know,” Ulf said to break the silence, “I think I've seen you before.”
What a strange thing to say. “I think most of the people at school have seen me before,” Bah, those are things I'm only supposed to think, not say aloud. Besides, there's not a single soul here who has seen me like this.
“No, before that.”
“Middle school? I went to a different one than you. Close? Which one did you go to?”
“Eh, Red Rose Hell.” Ulf's answer had come in Japanese.
Christina gave him a long look before she translated. “Red Rose Hell?” What was that about?
“Forget what I said. It was a bad place. Don't want to talk about it. Come to think of it, forget anything I said.” Ulf's voice sharpened into a cutting edge.
“Sorry.” You didn't have to be that mean. “I'm just used to people watching me all the time.”
“I apologise. That was uncalled for. Let's talk about something more pleasant. Like how stunningly beautiful you are?”
Christina laughed. Over the top, Ulf. You shouldn't flatter a girl so blatantly. “Ah, let's not.” Actually, let's not. Just for now I'd like to be something more than just my looks. And she regretted dressing up as she had done. Over the top, Christina. “You know, you asked if I wanted to go somewhere earlier. What about something to eat?”
Ulf brightened when she so obviously changed the topic. “I know a restaurant where the food is excellent. The sommelier is an expert as well.”
Christina stared at Ulf. What had he just said?
“Or so I'm told. Not that it matters for us, of course.”
“Eh, mom and dad. Back home, during holidays, outside Sweden.”
Ulf was obviously flustered.
“So you travelled a lot before you moved here,” Christina asked. She was grateful that Ulf had handed her a neutral topic, and it didn't hurt if she learned a bit more of his background.
“Some,” Ulf admitted. “I got to taste wine and beer. Small amounts,” he added.
“Preferences?” Christina suggested.
“A full bodied… eh, it's rather the same. Wine is sour and beer bitter.”
Who are you?
“I'm almost sixteen, so it's not as bad as it sounds.”
It was just as bad as it sounded. “When is your birthday?”
That made 'almost' not nearly as imminent as he had made it sound.
“May fifteenth,” she answered absent-mindedly. So, you're Leo. Certainly full enough of yourself to be one, I guess.
“Taurus? Wait a moment. Fifteenth?”
“You know you're supposed to tell me small details like that?”
“Why? Because… Bah, follow me!”
What's up with him? Then an image of a calendar popped up in her head. Oops. Forgot my own birthday again. Christina smiled. He's cute. I wonder what he's up to? She walked breathlessly behind him, fingers still locked with his.
“You like biking?” Ulf asked after they had rounded several corners and she was totally lost.
“I've seen that atrocity of yours.” He dragged her through a door opening and quickly scanned the interior.
There were rows and rows with bikes.
“No, Ulf, you can't.”
“Watch me! What about this one?”
He was Swedish for certain. The bike he rolled out was the real thing, not one of the grandmother monsters the kids here used. That I use myself. The one he suggested was a subdued red and black street hybrid of a mountain-bike. Sturdy but lightweight. Eighteen or twenty four gears – she couldn't see from where she stood. She knew she was shining like a kid in a candy-shop.
“It's beautiful!” There was no point denying it.
“Sir, we'll have this one, and a helmet and an external lock.”
“Happy birthday! Sorry I couldn't wrap it for you.”
Christina panicked. It was too expensive a gift. “Ulf, I can't possibly...”
“You can. Making you happy makes me happy.” And he smiled that wicked grin of his.
How can you be this relaxed? How can you talk that way? You're just a kid!
Numbly she received the registration papers and signed them. In the corner of her eyes she saw Ulf handing over more money than she made from her part time job in an extremely good month.
I don't want to be in your debt, you idiot. But it's beautiful. It really is! With this bike I can see so much more of Tokyo than before.
“I like your company. This is partly a gift to myself. I hope, if you'll agree to it, that we can tour the city together.”
At least he had ulterior motives. Somehow she liked him better for that.
Ulf arranged to have the bike delivered to her home. The clothes she wore really didn't agree with leading a bike by her side, not to mention riding one.
When they returned outside it was raining. Ulf brought out an umbrella he had hidden god knows where, and they shared it in search for something to eat.
Date. We're checking off a lot of items on this first date. First? When did I start thinking of this as the first?
She snuggled up closer to him. Who cared? He'd been a perfect gentleman, and that bike, bribe or no bribe, was really beautiful.
Best birthday in years!
Christina still agreed with that assessment after they had finished their meal in a middling class restaurant. She was happy Ulf didn't flaunt his money, OK her gift aside, and kept the cost for the meal within scope of what she could possibly return.
When they passed a vending machine Ulf picked up two bottles. One of the strangely tasting energy-drinks for himself and a coke for her.
“Pick one,” he said, as if there had ever been a question what she preferred.
She took the offered coke and smiled at him. “You knew?”
“Love these dispensers in the streets.”
“So do I. Pity we can't have them back home.”
Christina snorted. “Likely. People would stand in queue with a crowbar to break them open.”
“And then the police would chew the face off the owner for being naive. I know. Still would have been nice in summer.”
“We're in Japan. Ulf. Just accept that everything isn't better at home, if Sweden really is home any longer.” She felt a pang of homesickness just saying those words.
“You're right Christina. Every place has its pros and cons.” He hesitated for a moment. “I'm behaving like a spoiled brat. Sorry.”
You always have to compare, don't you? “Don't worry. I like you the way you are.” Now. Did I say like? She passed under the greenery of trees. Christina, get a hold of yourself. He's just a kid!
They were headed into a park Ulf had seen. Steam rose from the streets in the sunshine when his suit suddenly blared.
“Ulf Hammargren, speaking.”
So he knows people here who speak English?
“Mister Yoshida, it's a pleasure hearing from you again.”
Mister Yoshida? Sounds like an adult.
“No, today I'm free. I'm very much the average school kid right now. Thank you for asking though.”
Free? Normal? Christina looked at Ulf in his suit. Nothing normal with a fifteen year old kid wearing that. And it's been used before, as have his shoes. Should have seen that before. He didn't buy any new clothes for this date.
“Sounds like you have a problem with horizontal slicing.”
Ulf was more agitated now. More alive. Seeing him like this definitely woke something in her. She could stand here forever, just drinking the sight of him.
“No, I believe you're running the entire set as component teams. Basically running a relay.”
Who are you, Ulf?
“Yes, that's correct. But just so we agree, your people won't like my suggested changes at all.”
He's doing business on his phone? You're actually using that suit for work?
“No, from what I've seen the competence profiles are pretty evenly spread. Reorganising into cross functional teams all over should work fine. You still want a fire brigade though.”
I don't understand at all, and I was good for a billion dollars. Who are you, Ulf?
“What? No, I don't think she minds,” Ulf stole a look at her, and Christina smiled back. “Yes. No. No, she's more than cute. She's the most beautiful girl I've seen in my entire life.”
That made her blush. A lot.
“In love? Really, you're not supposed to ask that, Mister Yoshida,” Ulf laughed, and he was enough of a boy to allow his discomfort and embarrassment out. Christina almost forgave him just because of that.
“I'm just getting to know her, and right now she's giving me the evil eye. Yes, she understands English.”
I'll give you more than an eye. Talking about me like that!
“My offer? Eight coaching sessions biweekly, plus preparations and wrapping up.”
Yes, he's definitely doing business. He's handsome. He really is! Christina, stop it!
“That's right. I like working with you, and I'll skip the chaperone this time. I'll give you a discount. Half a million all in all?”
Half a million?
“No,” Ulf laughed. “No can do. That's already 40 percent off.” He gave her a thumbs up and indicated that the call was about to close. “OK. I'll send you a formal offer later today. Mid-June, or earlier? OK, I'll read your reply then. Bye Mister Yoshida, and thank you very much for your call.”
He looked at her with alarm in his eyes. It was as if she had found him with his hand in the cookie jar. “Christina, there's something I need to tell you.”
There was something she needed to ask him first. I think I've seen you before, was that what you said to me me earlier? Could you possibly? “How old were you, Ulf? Before you turned fifteen again?” Now, she had said it.
He deflated. Totally. He was so stunned she could have pushed him over with her pinky. “Eh?”
Well, there goes my secret as well. My asking him pretty much gave it all away.
“Christina, that's an, eh, unusual question.” He coughed weekly.
So my guess was correct after all. Thank god, I'm not alone here! “Forty, fifty, sixty?”
“Fifty, and change,” he whispered. The look he gave her was begging.
I'm not alone! I'm not alone! I'm not alone! “Fifty, no change.” Then she giggled. “That's wrong, fifty one, exactly, today. Thank you Ulf!” She danced around in the gravel. “How do I look? Well preserved?” And then she flaunted her sixteen year old body some more. Life was wonderful and she was giddy with relief.
Ulf looked very much the fifty (plus change) he said he was, despite his body being marginally younger than hers. He sagged on the bench and shook his head.
“You're from back home. I can't believe it.”
“Back home, yes, I guess you could call it that.”
“Christina Agerman, one like me. That's rich.”
“Christina Agerman, one like you.” She had to give him a hint. He would remember her sooner or later anyway. “You know, you probably have seen me before.”
“Christina Agerman. Christina Agerman? Christina… no, no way!” He looked at her. No, he ate her body with his eyes.
“You really should have known by now, at least if you're from the same place as me. Yes, that's me. I'm older, or younger, than I was, but it's still me.”
Ulf just stared at her.
“Like what you see?” I feel like sixteen, not fifty!
He shook his head again. “And here I am holding hands with you. I've only seen you on pictures, or TV, you know.”
Christina laughed. One year of worries ran away from her with that declaration of admiration. “Sorry, can't say I know you though. Will you forgive me?” Why am I being this cute to him? She found no answer but for her body racing with feelings she hadn't felt for years. Years? Decades more likely.
“Forgive you? Half the planet would gladly kill me for this date with you, but you probably already know that.”
“Date.” She reddened. Am I dating him? Are we going out? Would we be considered a couple, even in Sweden all those years ago? “Are we dating?”
“If you want to. Damn, I'm so embarrassed. I wasn't planning. Yes, if you want, yes.”
She took his hand again. “Yes, I very much want to. To get to know you better, OK?”
He finally blushed like the fifteen year old boy he looked like. He blushed from his neck all the way to his hair, and his eyes were anywhere but meeting her gaze. And then she felt the temperature rising within her as well.
I've totally lost control of my body. This is so, so… unprofessional!
Around them people who passed them in either direction took a look and grinned knowingly. With faces beet-red none of them looked strikingly handsome or beautiful. They could just as well have worn signs saying: “Kids in love.”
She took a step closer. Kissing felt too intimate. They bent forward in a half hug. Hands holding upper arms and foreheads touching. She could only see his eyes, and his blush. His nose was touching hers.
You'd better do something special for me. Did I say that? Something special, indeed!