Damn, why did he have to crash again? Christina fetched a couple of water bottles, and then she went after some tea for good measure.
A few tables away Ryu sat entertaining his court and the sound of stupid jokes dimmed and rose as the wind carried the voices on and off. If not for Ulf's apathy it would have been a welcome break before they started making food and prepare camp.
She saw Ko-chan and Yukio staring uncertainly between tables and decided to wave them to hers.
“It's OK,” Christina said when Ko-chan fidgeted. “He's been like this since breakfast.” Since I made an arse of myself. “You're not disturbing, and I could use a friend right now. We both could,” she added and shot Yukio a glare.
“It's my fault,” Ko-chan said defensively. “I kept him from Urufu, so please don't blame him Kuri-chan.”
Christina waved the self-accusation away. It wasn't like Ko-chan to go all on the defensive like this. “You just met, and I know what it's like to want to share every waking moment with someone. Trust me.” With these two she could afford to show how much she needed Ulf. They were the same. “Besides I was the one who turned my phone off when he needed me.”
There, it was out in the open. She had betrayed him. No-one else had. Ulf was her responsibility.
“What are we going to do?” Yukio asked and pointed at his friend.
Christina poured some tea into her mug, and as an afterthought she rose, fetched two more and poured for her friends as well. “I don't know,” she admitted after she had sat down again. “I'm going to take a risk here, and I want you two to listen and to stop me if I go too far. OK?”
“Ulf, Ulf can you hear me?”
“I'm unwell, not dead,” he answered. There was a weak glimmer of his grin showing. Not much, but still something of his old self.
Christina looked at her friends and began. “Ulf there's something that's been bugging me for a while now.” It felt uncomfortable speaking with him in Japanese, but she needed the other two to understand as well.
“I'd been at building the company, you know Chag, for some fifteen years, and we were expanding like mad. Something went down back home in Sweden when I was in the states.” Christina stared ahead of her. He had hinted at it early on during summer break.
Across the table Ulf just nodded and slumped back in his seat. It was as if he wasn't present. Hadn't been the last days but for the short time during breakfast when he felt a need to protect her.
“Ulf, that was you, wasn't it? I got you involved in my life before we transited here, didn't I?”
Once more he nodded slowly. On the table, just by his right hand a mug of tea stood slowly cooling. He hadn't taken a single sip since they sat down. Christina watched the printed kanji on it. An ad for the resort they visited.
And Ulf kept his silence. At least he shook his head when she asked him questions she knew he should answer in the negative.
“Your daughter. Someone went after you and she got so badly hurt she didn't survive?” Just asking the questions burned holes in her heart, but she had to do something to wake Ulf from his apathy. I love you so much. I can hurt for you if it helps. Please come back to me!
After he gave her the nod she had feared she would receive she slowly continued her one sided interrogation. “She didn't die right away, did she?”
Ulf shook his head, and Christina could hear Yukio and Ko-chan gasp. I need you here to stop me if I hurt him too much.
When she didn't get a reaction she tried guessing.
“A week?” A shake of his head. “A month?” Another shake. “A year?” A nod and a slow trickle of tears finding their way down by his nose.
Yukio grabbed her arm and yanked hard, but Ko-chan calmed him down. After a silent negotiation they allowed her to continue.
“The guy Nakagawa had you hunting down. He committed suicide, didn't he?”
Once again Ko-chan and Yukio gasped while Ulf nodded. They hadn't heard all of it then. She decided it was time to grab Ryu by his ears to teach him when to keep his mouth shut and when to trust his friends, but that would have to wait.
“Ulf, did he use a gun?”
This time it was Ko-chan who pulled Christina back. Yukio gave her a furious stare instead. Too far, I went too far.
Ulf looked at her. His eyes were large and empty, so large, so very large. With a clumsy move he rose and staggered away. The mug with cold tea he hadn't drunk from fell to the ground and shattered. Christina could see the tea spill out on the stone like so many tears. When she rose to follow him both Yukio and Ko-chan pulled her back.
“No more! It's enough!” Yukio growled.
Defeated Christina sat down again and watched how Ulf almost fell into the garbage depot before he threw up.
Students from the other tables rose and rushed to his aid, but Yukio and Ko-chan held her back. Too far, I went too far. The thought echoed in her mind as she helplessly had to watch Ulf heaving when he tried to empty his stomach of what was no longer there.
“Please!” she pleaded and tried to pull herself free. “I want to help him.”
In the background she heard engines running. Someone, most probably Noriko's mother, had arrived with tents, sleeping mats and things needed for dinner. Distantly in her mind she knew the car would have to make two or three more runs to deliver all they needed, and she wondered why such thoughts occupied her mind when all she wanted was to run to his side.
Yukio and Ko-chan finally released their grip on her arms and she ran to the crowd standing around Ulf asking what was wrong.
“He's sick,” she shouted. That had to be a new low-score for overstating the obvious, but somehow it worked and they made way for her. “Ulf, how are you?” And she realised she had just managed to surpass yet another low.
Ulf groaned and shakily rose to his feet. “I'm fine,” he murmured in Swedish, and Christina realised she had spoken Japanese all the time. It was the first time he had ever answered her in a different language than she had used.
He's somewhere else again. I made it all worse!
“Maria, I'll bring her back. Somehow I'll bring her back.”
Maria? His wife! He's back in the other world. I can't reach him. “Ulf!”
There was no response at all.
She had to take a chance. “U-kun, please let me help you!”
Around them the students smiled or laughed at her overly familiar nick-name for him, and once again she noticed how she had spoken in Japanese.
“Ina, please help me!”
Japanese, he's speaking Japanese. He's back! She held him tight to herself. “U-kun, my U-kun. Come back to me! I need you and I love you.” Frantic thoughts passed her mind, and Christina knew she had encountered a rival she couldn't beat. Maria. She carried the child you lost. How could I possibly compete with that?