“Little Tina. You look just like when you grew up!”
“Grandpa, is that you?” Tina, no-one's called me that for years. Those eyes! It's him! Christina felt her hands fly to her face. It's really him!
Beside her Ulf rose so quickly that his chair overturned. He moved to get in between her and whatever he felt was a threat. She caught his eyes with her own. Are you back, Ulf? She shook her head. It's my grandpa. He's not dangerous.
Somehow he seemed to understand, because he backed away, pulled up his chair from the floor and sat down. She could see him pretend to drink some coffee while she shook hands with her grandfather. She would have preferred hugging him, but there were just too many club members still in the dining hall. Hugging could wait.
Christina looked between Ulf and her grandfather until se felt certain Ulf wouldn't try to make a scene.
“Hot-blooded bloke that one,” grandpa noted in Swedish. That was the last piece of reassurance she needed to accept that it really was him. A forty year old version of him, with a face she barely remembered from her mother's photo album.
I wasn't even born when you looked like this. I remember grey in your hair.
She got a curious glance from him and all around the table the others leaned back to give them a bit of privacy. “Is he yours?” grandpa asked?
By now Christina was certain he spoke in Swedish to keep the rest of them in the dark. James would have mentioned him if they had met earlier, and neither James nor Ulf had the looks of someone speaking that language. You're in for a rude surprise. “I love him, but he doesn't belong to me,” she said. “Should I call you Sano-sensei? Grandpa is out of the question in this world.” Ulf, did you hear that?
Her grandfather twisted his face into a grimace, but eventually he reluctantly gave her a curt bow. “My name is Mitsuo, but I guess that would sound impolite. I don't want you to be that formal with me, but for the sake of pretence, fine.”
Christina looked at the other adults. Apart from James who was smiling slightly they all seemed to accept that the two of them used Swedish as a barrier. Ulf stared down into his cup with the apathy he had worn as a cloak the last days, but there was a flickering glimmer in his eyes. Christina's heart jolted with sudden hope when she saw his fingers move like they did when he was planning something nasty. Please, please, please be back again! I need you!
“I believe I should mention I know some Swedish,” James finally admitted from his place.
Sano-sensei smirked and shrugged. “Arrival like us?” he asked.
James nodded. “Just so you're aware that there are more of us who can understand you.”
“Pity,” Sano-sensei admitted. “Age?”
“Forty, subjectively. Twenty five here.”
Sano-sensei rolled his eyes. “Crap, he's ten years younger than you Tina. Still, shouldn't you reconsider your choice of boyfriend. Don't understand what you see in that kid?” he continued and glared at Ulf.
Christina felt her cheeks heat up and when she turned to look at Ulf she noticed how both of the Wakayama parents shot him disapproving glances. If you two have seen something you don't like then he's really only pretending. Ulf, you bastard! “What do I see in you,” she asked him in Japanese.
“Don't know,” he answered and offered her that wolfish grin she had longed for so much the last days.
She felt tears welling up in her eyes and sat down on her knees to hug him close to her. “You're back! I've been so afraid.” She hid her face in his chest and allowed the tears to take her. Half a week's worth of tension slowly left her as she sat shaking in his embrace.
“He's still only a teenager, you know,” came Sano-sensei's voice. No, this time it was her grandfather's voice. There was no malice in it, only concern. “It won't last, and I'd hate to see you hurt again like in France.”
“I can't promise it will last, but I won't cheat on her like that piece of shit,” Ulf said in her stead, in Swedish.
Behind her she heard her grandfather gasp. “You speak Swedish?”
“My Swedish is a lot better than yours. I was born to it. Japanese is a problem though.”
Christina heard James laugh together with the other adults. None of them needed to understand the words spoken to know what an ugly trap Ulf had sprung on her grandfather.
“Just accept it, Mitsuo-kun. You've been had,” Noriko's mother said. “He played you.”
“Fooled by a teenager at my age. Embarrassing.”
Ulf stroked her hair and spoke again. “Mister Sano, did it ever occur to you that I might be an arrival a well?”
She couldn't see anything, but she could feel how her Ulf and her grandfather stared at each other.
“No,” came the curt reply.
“Well I am, and a year older than little Ina here.”
Ina, I love the sound of that. You're truly back. U-kun. I'll call you U-kun in private. She held him closer to let him know how much that nick-name meant for her.
“Little Ina, what kind of nonsense is that? She's my Tina and nothing else.”
Christina felt Ulf's muscles harden. “She belongs to nobody! I'll call her Ina as long as she allows me to, and the day she says I can't I'll stop. Show her the respect she deserves!”
Christina tensed and waited for her grandfather to explode, but nothing happened.
“Fine, you pass. Stay by her side.”
“As long as she wants me, I promise.”
From all over the dining hall she could hear sighs of relief. The will-contest between the two men hadn't gone unnoticed by the club members, and Christina wondered what kind of rumours would be born from this. As far as the members were concerned their tall vice president had just won a stare-down with an adult. At least that must have been what it looked like.
This is bad. We're in Japan now. I have to get them in line before discipline is shot to hell. If they believe we can behave like this with our teachers the school will come down on us like a horde of those Japanese bakemono.
Reluctantly she let go of Ulf. “Don't use that voice to your seniors!” she said in Japanese and winked to him.
“I...” and then he got it. “I apologize President. Sano-sensei, I humbly ask for your forgiveness for my overstepping,” he said as he rose and bowed deeply.
Her grandfather looked nonplussed for a moment. Then he turned into Sano-sensei and nodded. “Apology accepted.”