Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment three

The walkway still curved behind him when sand gave way to gravel, and then to the concrete stars used in Japan to reinforce the beach line. Walking barefoot on the uneven surface hurt his bare feet less than he remembered.

Another benefit of 20 kilos less weight, Ulf thought.

He drank the sound of water crashing ashore and enjoyed the feeling of solitude as the sound of shouting voices grew fainter behind him. Above the sea scattered clouds bathed in crimson red. A momentary glory, he knew. Not the luxurious hours of ever fading dusk from home. He felt a pang of homesickness from the memories, but shook it off. There was a different beauty to the sharp transition between day and night here, neither less beautiful, nor more, just different.

The sound of waves breaking against the cliffs was followed by a spray of salty water, and when he wiped his face dry he heard another sound.

Ulf!” That was Swedish, not Japanese.

He glanced up to where she was perched. “Ina! So you went here as well?” Ulf climbed up an intricate puzzle of interlocking concrete figures and took a seat beside her. “Too noisy?” he asked and pointed towards the beach.

Christina just nodded in affirmation.

He turned his head and looked at her profile. Beautiful, always stunningly beautiful. “You want to be left alone?” he asked and made as if to rise.

No. No, it's fine.”

They shared a moment of silence. Not an awkward one. Just some time of peace.

You remember...” Ulf stared at her and broke into embarrassed laughter. They had spoken the same question. “You first,” he offered, still smiling.

Spending days at the beach.” Christina's voice faded into silence as an invitation for him to fill the emptiness.

A driftwood fire in the evening,” he answered, the last word a mere whisper. He glanced at her just in time to see her lips start moving.

Uhum, and sausage barbecue at sunset...”

Like we were still kids...”

And then...”

“… when it got cooler after sunset...”

...getting/offering a jacket from/to the one you're interested in...” Again they had spoken together.

Those summer romances were so embarrassing.”

But so cute. And anyway, they were more part of middle school than senior high.”

So you're saying our friends are kids?”

In more ways than one, yes.” Christina flashed him a melancholy smile. “They really are adorable.”

Uhum, yeah they are.”

I miss home.”

Ulf saw her sag, reached out with his arm and drew her closer. For a little while, while she wept silently, he just listened to her muted sobs and embraced her shaking body.

Memories shared. Memories lost. They had this much left. More than friends, less than lovers.

Then, as he heard voices coming closer, he wiped her tears with the back of his hand. Ulf turned his head closer to her and watched her face. A grieving beauty. You're a world away right now. He bent his head to her ear, close enough to kiss her had he wanted, and whispered: “We're getting company. You'd better laugh at a happy memory soon.”

The closing voices turned into faces, and Ulf rose when he saw Ryu's hurt expression. The unspoken accusation couldn't be turned away by pretending nothing had happened.

She's not...” Ulf swore and switched to Japanese. “Christina's feeling homesick,” he said and rose to his feet. He jumped down the cliff and waved to Ryu. Ryu can't do anything about her being homesick. He can feel jealous, but even he will understand this is a comfort that's mine alone to give. Ulf walked closer to the sea and knelt over a few flat stones.

Still, just the two of you over here.” Ryu's voice held a sharp edge to it, and Ulf could hear Noriko and Kyoko murmuring in agreement.

Ulf threw a look behind Ryu. Both twins showed pain in their eyes. Damn, I hate seeing Noriko hurt. Ulf needed to change the topic quickly. He flicked one of the stones he had picked up across the water. It glanced across a wave top, bounced off it and dove into the water. He threw another stone, with more power and a flatter arc. Damn, when did I start paying this much attention to her feelings. It hit a wave and vanished. He filled his head with memories from a childhood lake shore and threw the third stone. Damn, she's just a kid. I shouldn't care like this! The third stone touched the surface perfectly and bounced four times before it vanished behind a wave crest.

“… at least answer what I'm saying...” Ryu's voice stopped all of a sudden. “How did you make the stones bounce on water?”

Ulf grinned. The topic had shifted. They live on an island, but they've not grown up with open water. Funny people. But for now that oddity saved him. Still, Noriko. He hadn't expected to feel her pain so clearly.

You know,” he said, “we've long since broken up. I hope you'll let us share the friendship we have left.” He looked at Ryu, the young brat who had grown into a man so quickly. This was another stepping stone for him to adulthood.

I know,” Ryu said and failed to bounce a stone of his own on the surface.

Ulf helped him adjust the angle a little.

It's just that it hurts seeing you so close.”


And I won't take that away from you two, or I'll lose her.”

Yea, he's definitely growing into manhood.

Behind him Ulf noticed Kyoko glaring at him. The look she gave him didn't need the company of words to tell him what she thought: “Male bonding fuelled by testosterone. Idiots!”

Ko-chan, climb up to me, please!” Christina's words finally broke the uneasy spell.

Almost. Noriko sought Yukio's company in a way that Kyoko forgave, but still told Ulf how angry she was. Noriko, you shouldn't fall for me. Ryu doesn't want it. And you really are sixteen, both body and soul.

But so was Ryu. So was Ryu. That excuse grew less valid for every week that passed by.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Chapter one, 2017, flashes of summer, segment two

Christina leaned back in her seat and sighed. In an earlier life she’d been giddy with apprehension and not a little self serving when she flew in a private jet for the first time. Now it was only cramped, bumpy and with just employers turned prison guards as her company.

While she forced a little leeway and occasionally escaped by means of the help she received from her primary body guard, usually she had turned into one of Vogue’s most valuable assets. Assets weren’t supposed to have a mind of their own.

Now they were en route to the resort where she spent last year’s summer break. If Vogue got to decide they’d been in Hokkaido now, but when it came to business decisions she held a lot of clout. Someone must have whispered in an ear or two, and as long as she delivered results she had to say about fashion marketing held.

The plane banked and Christina forced down her momentary discomfort. A life spent with aeroplanes and helicopters as her primary way of travelling had done nothing to dispel her irrational fear of flying. Fear of heights she had none of, but flying, well it was irrational and she got used to handling the churning feeling in her stomach.

She missed the rattling experience from last year spent together with friends and the man she had just fallen in love with. She missed Ulf even though she felt she was rapidly coming to appreciate Ryu despite their difference in age. She missed being just herself, but there was nothing she could do about it now. This was a life she chose for herself – the only life she knew how to live.

I’m an idiot. I got a shot at a transition and restart, and what am I doing? Reliving my last life. I’m an idiot.

Briefly she wondered if Ulf and Tomas would make the same mistake. Tomas she didn’t know well enough, but she had a feeling he hid secrets from his past that he was hell bent on never reliving. Ulf however, Ulf spent his time manipulating and coercing the people around him. He bent them, not to his own, but rather to their own will, and to do so he needed a platform. Thus far in this life the club was it, and Christina very much doubted he had many reasons founding a middling size IT company this time around.

Miss, we’re landing soon. Please strap yourself in.”

Christina looked up and smiled. Then she did as asked of her. The last part of her temporary ordeal was upon her and after that she’d go by limousine or bus. A bus she hoped. A bus at least felt a little more like what the others were riding.

Leaving the plane she walked into a wall of gruelling heat. It forced the breath from her and almost knocked her to the ground.

Crap! We’ll do swimsuits and yukatas first. No way anyone can wear the autumn collection well in this. Hokkaido might have been the better choice after all, but she’d be damned if she’d spend her break without sharing time with those closest to her.

We’ll do shots in the water this time. There would be a price to pay in time, but it couldn’t be helped. The crew needed the relative cool or they’d fall victim to heatstroke or dehydration.

Christina looked at the line of mountains, a ragged line of green slightly out of focus as if there was a photographer in her head who was sloppy with the lens. If the turned the other way she’d watch how the sea was also a little fogged over. Never the crisp clearness in the air she once grew up with. Which Ulf grew up with as well. But in the end she’d never be able to explain it to a Japanese who never left the islands. This was as clear a summer’s day as there ever was to be here.

She smiled. She had worked here in her previous life as well. Things like these had to be taken into account for a shoot. For wearing your clothes as well. Almost, but only almost the same colours as back home. And the same went for make-up as well. Only an amateur believed it was merely a matter of skin tone. Her own make-up was different here than it would have been in Sweden. Well, if she wore any at all over there.

Another smile of hers brought her to her ride south. A bus, just as she hoped.

She climbed onboard and enjoyed the relative space, but most of all she enjoyed a milder air conditioning than was possible to attain in a cramped car.

The ride she spent relaxing and watching the landscape passing by. Voices from the rest of the crew lulled her to sleep, and when they finally arrived at the resort she was the last to leave the bus.

She entered the reception and pouted when she realised she’d been assigned a room of her own rather than sharing one with her friends in the club. Most of all she missed the opportunity for a sleepover with Ko-chan and Noriko. Chatting about everything and nothing until the small hours felt like a distant memory.

I enjoyed playing at being a child again. She shook the depressing thought away. In a sense I’m still a child. Just one that lays golden eggs. And she knew that was true. Her mind was still volatile in a way she understood it hadn’t been just before she arrived in Japan. The truly older version of herself would either have told the people from Vogue to go to hell or hammered down on any want to pout in the first place.

Work was work, or at least it had once been. The old her would never have pouted. She didn’t recall feeling sorry for herself since she got over being cheated on.

But I like feeling like a teenager. I’m more honest this way. Or was she? She brought that question to her room and played with it until it was time for dinner.