When Ulf received a call from Ryu an exceptionally disgusting day in June he wasn’t entirely certain Jennifer wanting to talk to him merited cycling around in the downpour. At the other hand, cycling around in the downpour was appealing in itself. As long as he dropped the water barrier altogether he’d never notice that he got sweaty. As long as the pannier was waterproof he only needed a restroom to change into dry clothes, or, as it was the manipulating little devil Jennifer he was supposed to meet, he could come dripping wet and pretend it was what he usually did.
For a moment Ulf played with the thought of calling Christina for advice, but even though thinking of hearing her voice didn’t hurt as much as earlier, he still dropped that idea. Christina was bound to come up with something just as devilish as Jennifer, but based on 35 years’ worth of added experience from womanhood.
Right now he rode his bike sans water barrier but with his waterproof pannier secured behind him. Inside lay two changes of underwear and a creaseproof business suit he bought with cycling to customers in mind. But for the rain he could ride wearing it from home to a customer and still look like he just left from a taxi when he arrived.
Ulf hastened through a wet Tokyo. Rather than the Stockholm Haven Café Jennifer chose the river boat from Asakusa. In his previous life, not too many years earlier, he took the Water Bus from Asakusa to Odaiba because the kids wanted to jump into the sea in the scorching heat.
Jennifer, however, wanted to go directly to Hinode. He’d force her to go back to Ueno with him so that he could get on the subway to Asakusa and pick up his bike again.
Well, first he had to ride the twenty kilometres to Asakusa, which meant an hour astride his bike if he didn’t want to be stopped by the police. Jennifer could wait for him there for ten or twenty minutes depending on how well she matched her trains.
In the end he arrived by the river boats in fifty minutes. He was drenched but filled with the kind of gorgeous exhaustion from pushing his body just a little he had grown addicted to.
As Ulf locked his bike to a stand Jennifer arrived as well, and he waved at her.
She waved back.
“So why the sudden date?” he asked in English when she came closer. There was no point in speaking Japanese with a girl from the US anyway.
She twisted her face into a grin and blasted away with the brutal charisma of hers. A few tourists turned and stared at him with open envy in their eyes. Saying that he didn’t feel anything would be lying, but Ulf forced a grip on his emotions and gave her what he hoped was a cool stare.
“I’m not available.”
“You’re eye candy while we have a romantic chat on the boat. Don’t you agree rivers are best seen from the water?”
I know you’re the sixteen you look, but you bloody hell don’t behave like it. “With Christina, last summer, it would have been a gift from heaven,” Ulf said. If Jennifer didn’t know he was still in love with Christina, then she was blind to a degree that didn’t match her manipulating skills at all.
Jennifer just took his hand and led him to the ticket vendor.
“I’d love to compete with her, but right now I can’t afford that rivalry.” Then Jennifer tilted her face upwards and shot him an absolutely adorable smile. “I could make that cute little second year act on her feelings instead.”
That cute little second year could only be Noriko. “She already did, thank you very much.”
The smile turned into playful admonishing. “And you rejected her? How mean!”
Damn, this girl is really, really, really good at this game. Don’t get tricked! “Yeah, I can’t return her feelings, and she’s much too important for me just to have as a bedfellow. You could do though.”
It was an awful thing to say to a high schooler, but Jennifer had acted like an arse since they met.
“Sorry,” she said unperturbed. “Still a virgin, and I’m not giving it to you.” She gave him one of the tickets the machine spewed out in exchange for a few large coins. “Time to hop onboard.”
It wasn’t really. Departure wasn’t for another ten minutes, but Ulf was happy the awkward conversation had ended, and so he bought her an ice cream and a soda in return for the trip.
While they ate and drank under a shelter he noticed how Jennifer looked like the kid she really was for the first time since she arrived.
In another life, thirty years ago, I’d be in love with you. He sighed with relief she couldn’t make this version of him into her plaything.
They spent the first half of the boat trip in silence, and Ulf got himself the time he needed to start enjoying the ride. Tokyo was too much buildings and too little nature for this taste, and riding down a river gave him a well needed shot of what he missed from living in Gothenburg.
“I apologise,” Jennifer suddenly said when they reached open water.
Ulf turned and met her eyes. Finally! Now we can talk. “So you wanted to talk about something.”
Jennifer combed her hair with her fingers and her lips turned into a thin line. “I’ve fallen for Thomas. Could you help me?”
Her choice in men surprised him a little, but given how she behaved well above her age maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that she aimed at boys more mature than they looked. In that case Thomas made perfect sense.
“You’re both from Sweden. I don’t really understand how he works, and I don’t want to make a stupid mistake.”
So it was really a romantic talk after all. “I can’t promise anything. Let me just enjoy this ride. Then I want to get my bike.”
“I’ll treat you to dinner. Let’s have that talk together with some food.”
For once Jennifer didn’t do something stupid, like trying to seduce him. She just nodded, and Ulf saw a glimmer of gratitude in her eyes.