Noriko’s sudden departure the day before hardly came as a surprise. Yukio telling him he was the superhero among morons, however, did.
Ulf wasn’t certain when his best friend grew that kind of backbone, but he noticed how Yukio had matured since they met.
I behaved like an arse back then. Well, it couldn’t be helped. At the time, when he realised how clumsily his words came out, Ulf decided to make it worse. Anything to get Noriko’s mind back on track again. He’d spent two weeks on a bike because his didn’t in time. Part of it never would he suspected. Idiot, you’re an idiot.
Ulf felt the gravel crunch under his loafers. He’d spent club hours at school together with his new English teacher. She was good enough to understand the difference between syntactic and semantic precision, and running an academic level conversation with her was a pleasure.
He helped her create education material that went far beyond the poor joke that served as a substitute for anything useful. The material at school made it clear to him the students weren’t supposed to learn English in the first place – they were supposed to take exams without ever understanding the language.
His teacher in turn pointed out the worst of his mistakes in his attempts at learning Japanese efficiently.
Two linguists, which made two more than the moron who held the principal’s office now.
He had part of that co-produced material in his school bag. It should come in handy during the upcoming session. One of the companies that bought his services had adapted far enough to start grasping the real meaning behind proactive responsive processes. Which mean he needed Yukio and Kyoko.
Cause you just don’t have a clue about how good you’ve become. Especially Yukio was a marvel.
Kyoko probably was pretty good as well.
A half truth.
Ulf’s competences didn’t include visual user design, which meant he wasn’t qualified to say whether she was good or not. He just knew his customers loved her representations of his models, which probably meant she was good after all.
Halfway across the school yard he almost, just almost, admitted he’d chosen this specific job because Ryu’s natural leadership wasn’t needed, and hence Ulf didn’t have to spend time around Christina’s new boyfriend.
Damn, am I a kid, or what? But jealousy wasn’t rational, and he was very much jealous. Seeing them together made him want to puke.
When Ulf reached the bike stands he remembered that he left his bike outside the old mall. With him avoiding club hours as much as possible he’d taken up habits of old, and those included walking to school from the mall. Habits from before I met her.
That was a quarter of an hour on foot. Yukio and Kyoko would be waiting for him in the café.
He left school, walked beneath the sakura and followed the road. Soon he came to the stretch that led to Irishima High, and sure enough he met the occasional students from there on their way home.
This year they didn’t give him strange looks and giggles, but then this year he didn’t pretend to be a member of geek squad. Returning to that persona was alluring, but it wouldn’t work now. Too many knew him.
A sudden gust of wind guided him to the low wall where he got drenched together with Yukio last summer, and wasn’t it somewhere around here they met Ai the first time? Ulf briefly wondered what had happened to her. Some of the club members said she showed up at the Haven together with her friends occasionally.
Then he got to the last corner and saw the mall ahead. That sight, walking on foot, brought more memories to him. There had been a time, after he found the Stockholm Haven café, but before they finally abandoned the one in the mall, which mean there had been a time when Christina spent time here as well.
Ulf grimaced at the thought. He’d been too busy with a manhunt to give her the attention she needed, and deserved. With a smirk he corrected that thought a little. He’d been too afraid of falling in love with her, even though he already had by that time.
I really am an idiot, am I not? He sighed. Well, I pushed her into a corner, and she broke up. Any healthy person would.
Should he have told her he loved her? Probably. He never waited over half a year doing so with any other girl, or in Maria’s case, woman. Christina’s as well, if he was to be honest. And while being honest; he never left wife and kids behind before neither.
His feet brought him to the bike, and he quickly checked it for any damage, but here in Japan vandalism was all but unthinkable, and the bike was as shiny clean as when he left it in the morning.
Thinning traffic signalled the end of evening rush hour, and Ulf shouldered his bag and went inside.
The stairs he’d climbed so many times last year took him to the second floor. Yukio waved from their old table, and Ulf waved back. Then he did his usual, stupid semi circle walk towards the counter, but even though Yukio shook his head none of the waitresses showed any sign of recognition.
New staff, I guess.
They had little more than an hour before they needed to leave for a nearby office building. That should be enough time to put the finishing touches to his presentation, especially given Yukio’s scary ability to ruthlessly cut away everything non-essential.
“Ready when you are,” Kyoko greeted him.
As if by magic a waitress materialised by the table, and Ulf placed his usual order. Yukio and Kyoko were already halfway through theirs.
Ulf was about to dig up a laptop when his phone suddenly danced around in his pocket. A little bit dumbfounded Ulf grabbed it and looked at the screen.
She hadn’t called even once since she broke up with him, and Ulf wondered what could possibly be the reason for a call now. His heart beat furiously when he took the call. No matter how grown up he was childish fantasies and wishful dreams played in his mind.
“Ulf Hammargren,” he said, and cursed himself for being so formal.
Christina’s call amounted to one sentence only. Ulf listened to it, said bye and killed the call. Then he looked up and met Yukio’s and Kyoko’s quizzical looks.
I have to tell them. “Guys, we have a problem.”