Ulf swore when his phone came alive. He’d spent half an hour discreetly comparing notes about his old school now and then, even though there was the barrier of a world between them as well. Still, for most practical purposes it was a matter of a stiff thirty years.
Those had been thirty perfectly enjoyable minutes in the sun chatting away with an absolutely adorable Jenny, who reminded him a whole lot of his first girlfriend from back then, and her boyfriend.
Rika hovered around them most of the time as well, even though she pretended not to. In the end Ulf silently agreed to pretend flirting with her to give her an excuse to stay with them.
He grinned at the memory. Two gave them ugly glares. Noriko and Alexander.
All in all Ulf would have preferred to stay another half an hour in the afternoon sun with something almost resembling a cool breeze rolling in over the waves.
His phone rang and he felt compelled to fish it up and move away from his company.
“Hamarugen Urufu,” he answered when he got far enough away to at least make certain Jun and Rika couldn’t hear him. Jenny couldn’t understand him when he spoke Japanese anyway.
“Seaside café, behind you.” came an old man’s voice. Ulf was certain he had heard it before.
“Get here young man. Nakagawa-sensei will treat you.”
Ulf heard a low murmur of protest in the background. “Fine, I’ll be there.” He licked his lips. They tasted salty, more from sweat than any sea water by now.” What is the old goat up to now?
First he returned to his company. He gave them an apologetic shrug and explained he had to take an interview, and after that he crammed his belongings into his backpack and shouldered it.
When he entered the wooden deck of the café he noticed how the teenagers had become scarce and were replaced by people in their twenties and thirties.
A quick glance told him covering his torso was probably a good idea if he didn’t want to be ejected. He wrenched his backpack off his shoulder and dug up a shirt with which to cover himself.
“Show-off!” a voice to his left said.
“At least the kid’s got something to show. Wanna join us?”
The girls might have been in their early twenties, which made them his senior by at least five years in this world.
“Picking up high schoolers are we?” Ulf teased. The situation reminded him a little of the winter evenings he had spent together with Yukio in the city while they were still middle schoolers.
“High school? No way!”
“Sorry, but yes way. I’m a junior.” Then he decided he didn’t have time for them.
“Look, you’re cute and gorgeous and all that, and any other day I’d take you up on your offer, but I’ve got old people breathing down my neck right now.”
Two pairs of hands flying to their mouths was reward enough. Ulf grinned at them and threw both girls a mock salute before he turned and searched for the old goat. Nakagawa should fit in here like the proverbial snowball in hell.
He did his search from the bar, and just as he ordered a glass of juice and a bottle of mineral water to go with it, he found the table. Nakagawa wasn’t alone.
Crap! So Ina’s granpa is here as well? Some new shit or just complaints because I didn’t stick to her?
That was unfair. Ulf knew that, but anything Christina brought a sour taste to his mouth. Forgetting her was out of the question, and he silently cursed himself for hurting still. It was unfair in more ways than one. Noriko ate sharp jokes and comment from him just because she did what he himself hadn’t done for Christina – openly and consistently told him she loved him despite his repeated rejections.
He gasped, because with that thought came a new realisation. For the first time since he arrived here Maria didn’t tug at his memories. Sometime since he broke up with Christina his old life must have become just a memory, and pains and fears belonging to that world were just dulled memories.
He remembered loving his wife, but she was gone, as were his children, and for the first time he truly accepted that. Good bye Maria. I wish you a good life.
“Sand in your eyes?”
Ulf balked. The voice belonged to Sano-san, Christina’s grandfather.
“Yeah,” Ulf said and sat down. He put bottle and two glasses on the table. “Something like that.”
“Tina, or memories older still?”
His lips stretched. Ulf guessed his smile came out as a smirk. “My family,” he admitted. “They’re really gone, aren’t they?”
Sano-san shook his head. A smile mirroring Ulf’s came to his lips. “No, they’re still there. At least I hope they are.” Then his smile was just sad. “We’re the ones who are gone.”
Blinking away tears Ulf reached for his glass. With a few gulps he downed the juice. For a moment the taste of orange mixed with salt when he swallowed tears and memories of a life lost to him.
“It’s strange,” he said. “It hurts that it doesn’t hurt any longer. When did I betray them?”
Again Sano-san shook his head. “They’ll always be with you. You never betrayed them. If anything you were betrayed.”
Ulf met Sano-san’s gaze. “No, I betrayed them. I no longer regret arriving here. I’ve made this life more important that my old.”
“Fool! The life you’re living at the moment is always the most important.”
Ulf flinched. He stared at Sano-san. The man was older than him by far. “What?”
“We need our memories, but we can’t live in them. That’s not living, that’s just a shadow of a life.”
That philosophy would take some time to digest. “You know,” Ulf started to change the subject, “arriving here really was a transition.” Memories from the last two years shot through his mind. “And a restart,” he added.
“What did you just say?”
Ulf stared at Nakagawa-sensei. The old man’s face was ashen. “Transition and restart,” Ulf repeated.