Date and search came to an end faster than Ulf had hoped for. The bell rang for class, and he had to postpone his search to the next day.
Full of apprehension he made the rounds the following lunch break. This time without the company of Noriko. Ulf worried about having to look through the freshman classrooms without Noriko to create a diversion, but in the end searching for Jennifer Cooper took shorter than he had expected. He felt her presence before he even peered inside the classroom. Inside a full three dozen students sat mesmerized by a petite brunette in what was mostly a regulation school uniform.
Funny, I thought he said she was dark blond. Well, it's been a year, and she's the only one here with looks that scream: foreigner.
But that presence! It was almost overwhelming. It would look like he was going to confess, during their second week. Not worth it. I'll ask Christina. Better if they think she's sizing up the newly arrived freshman competition.
Because the brunette definitely represented competition. Not because of her looks. Nothing living in Tokyo could compete with Christina, and she wasn't even fully grown. But that presence! It transformed an already very pretty girl into something totally different. This girl could walk into a dark room and have everyone inside crushing on her without ever having seen her.
She's an arrival, so we want her in the club. But she's trouble walking on two legs. Damn, the guys are going to develop whiplash unless we keep a very, very short distance between her and Christina.
“Jennifer Cooper?” he asked.
She looked up and smiled. “Yes?”
You’re cute, but you’re still no match for my Ina. Every time he thought of Christina something hurt in his chest. Ulf wondered when that pain would go away. Seeing her all over Ryu certainly didn’t help. Or did it? Do I miss her more than I’m angry at her? Is this why she’s doing it?
“I have your friend in the other wing. Want to meet him?”
“My friend?” For a moment Jennifer looked as if she was at a total loss, but then she grinned and nodded. “Sure,” she said and rose.
“Superb.” Ulf took the lead. “Which middle school did they send you to?”
He heard her steps falter behind him and turned.
“I went to school in Nagoya before moving here.”
Nagoya? Well, I guess they wanted them separated for a year. The more Ulf thought of the system the more sense it made. Spend one year alone to get used to being a teenager, without any connections to the past to act as crutches. “So, what did you do before you arrived?” Ulf asked.
They were midway though the corridor that connected the wings, and through the windows Ulf saw how the freshmen tried to make themselves comfortable in the outdoor area behind the cafeteria. By now they should have started to understand that sitting indoors was a privilege of the seniors’ and some lucky juniors.
“Jennifer?” Ulf asked when she stayed silent.
“You mean in Nagoya?”
“No, you know what I mean. In Sweden. Your previous life.”
When she stayed silent Ulf turned once again, only to find her several steps behind him. What now? Bad memories?
“Jennifer, if you have bad memories from your last life I’m not going to pry. But could you at least tell me how old you were before you arrived in Japan?”
The girl didn’t react, and she didn’t say anything. Two eyes looked back at Ulf with a strangely calculating glint in them. Then finally her mouth opened. “You’re not trying to pull my leg, are you?”
Huh? “Sorry, I didn’t quite follow you there.”
Just as she was about to answer Ulf heard Noriko’s voice calling out to him.
“Here,” he said and tried to find her.
She came walking down the corridor from the wing Ulf was trying to lead Jennifer to. “Urufu, you found the other arrival?”
A year does wonders, Ulf thought. Noriko, do you even understand how fantastic it is that you take us for granted? “Yeah, Jennifer, meet Noriko.”
“I’m Coperu Jeniferu, pleased to meet you,” Jennifer said.
Ulf shook his head. Jennifer couldn’t know Noriko was used to the western naming conventions by now.
“Wakayama Noriko, pleased to meet you.” Then Noriko turned to Ulf. “Tomasu-kun agreed to join the club. He’s waiting to meet her,” Noriko nodded at Jennifer, “in his classroom. Reunite he called it.”
“Jennifer, then follow me. As for the club, you have a standing invitation as well,” Ulf said and led the three of them on.
“Age, your age?” Jennifer asked from behind his back.
“Sixteen here. Fifty two in total,” he answered. “Noriko’s born here, so she’s the sixteen she looks.” Better not give the new arrivals the impression we’re crawling all over the place.
“Fifty two. And… no it doesn’t matter.”
“Wondering how many we are? At this school, apart from Thomas and you, it’s just Christina and me. She’s part of the club as well.”
“Yes, that Christina. The model. She’s a year younger than me, well, same age here, but, you know.”
Jennifer ran up to him and tugged at his sleeve. “Are we talking Kuritina?”
Bloody hell, the Japanese name sticks even to another Swede. “Yeah, but she was born Christina Agerman, so the Kuritina part is just a way to make her name possible to pronounce here.”
They had arrived in the shorter corridor feeding the classrooms in the left wing. Christina’s corridor just a few weeks earlier. It felt strange to walk up to 3:1 when it was no longer her classroom, or Noriko’s for that matter. Ulf glanced down at his other side where she flanked him.
“Nothing,” he said. “Jennifer, he’s waiting for you.”
She didn’t move.
“Look,” Ulf said, “he’ll be looking a lot younger than you’re used to, and it’s been a year since you saw each other the last time. You just need to get used to it.”
She just shook her head.
“Urufu, I’ll fetch him instead,” Noriko said and went inside.
Moments later she returned with Thomas.
“Thomas, meet Jennifer. We’ll leave the two of you alone,” she said, and Ulf felt her pulling at him to give the two freshmen some privacy.
“Who are you?” Thomas said. “You’re not Jennifer. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”