While her world broke down just a little more Christina surprised herself by honestly feeling happy for Ulf. Bitter, yes, angry, yes, hurting yes, but happy still. She hurt him so much, and whenever he was in pain it hurt her as well.
She stared at Noriko. No, the midget didn’t gloat, but in Noriko’s eyes Christina saw a determined flame. The girl was ready to take even her on if she tried to get Ulf back.
I like you Noriko. I like your guts. You’ll be good for him.
But still it hurt.
“I’m happy you found someone to love,” she said. Then the words registered in her mind. What am I saying? I broke up with him. How petty a human have I become?
“I’m not. Not him. I’ll never agree to it.”
Christina looked at Ryu in surprise. She knew how she felt about his little sister’s crush on Ulf. She hadn’t expected him to come clean about it though.
And why is Yukio getting involved?
“Shut the hell up! Good thing Noriko’s your sister and not your property. Agreeing with it, blah! Shithead!”
“Look, she’s my...”
“Shut up you moron!” Ko-chan said all of a sudden. “Agreeing with it? Are you stupid. None of us care if you agree with anything or not.”
“You don’t have the right to...”
“And neither do you, idiot bro.”
“If you don’t break up with him immediately I’ll...”
“Tell mom? Please do. Or dad? That would, if possible, be even more stupid.”
“Noriko, I’m you’re brother. You have to...”
“How tainted did you become. How much of Red Rose is part of you?”
Christina didn’t have to look twice at Yukio and Ko-chan to see the open disgust in their faces. That Noriko shared it stunned her, but what scared her the most was the burning contempt in Ulf’s eyes.
I expected more of you. Ryu’s disapproval was more understandable than what the rest of them believed. “Ryu, I’m also over fifty,” Christina said.
She searched his eyes and received a nod of understanding.
“I know, but that’s different.”
“Is it? How?”
“Well, I’m a guy and...”
“You really don’t want to go there,” Christina said. “Especially not with me.” She probably sounded more irritated than she was. Japanese gender values were very different from those in Sweden, but at least she hoped her friends understood there wasn’t a trace of racism in Ryu’s anger.
He backed down, just as she had expected.
“I still don’t like it,” he said and entered the spa.
She waited for him to make it halfway to her.
“You don’t have to like it. I disagree with you, but no one can force you to like it.”
Ryu smiled at her and Christina saw exactly the wrong kind of hope in his eyes.
“That still doesn’t give you the right to control your sister,” she added to shoot him down as firmly as possible. Everyone was entitled to their opinions, but acting on them was a different thing.
“She’s still my...”
“She’s not your anything.” Christina glared at her boyfriend. “While she’s a minor your parents have the right and responsibility to make decisions for her. You, none at all.”
He pouted. Ryu actually pouted. “You’re just taking his side as always,” he said and glanced at Ulf.
Damn, sometimes he’s just a kid. Christina was too angry to feel uncomfortable around Ulf and Noriko despite what she had done just days earlier.
“No, I’m taking Noriko’s side.”
“Tell us when you’re done. Listening to the two of you makes me sick,” Yukio suddenly blurted out and stepped out of the pool.
Ko-chan kept her silence but followed him. Christina was sure she saw her shoulders rise in frustrated rage.
Noriko stretched uncomfortably from where she had nestled under Urufu’s arm as if to seek shelter from the verbal onslaught. The discomfort however, Christina noticed, had nothing to do with being naked so close to someone else. I anything Ulf was Noriko’s only safety here, and that hurt in more than one way.
“Look,” Ulf said, “we’ll let you and Ryu talk things over.” He gave Noriko enough room to sit up properly. “I’d like some tea anyway.”
“Christina, you did nothing wrong, but sometimes you’re dumb as a post.”
Christina thought for a moment if she would get angry or not. Ulf verbally insulting her was so unusual she didn’t have the luxury of an instinctive reaction, and in the end she was glad she didn’t.
“Explain,” she said.
Ulf was halfway to the doors, and Noriko had already gone inside. “They’re still kids. I see what you tried to do, but it was too little too late.”
“Until he apologises,” Ulf pointed his index finger at Ryu who by now sat beside her, “they’ll never understand that you only tried to partially cover for him.” Ulf shot a glare at Ryu. “You’re an arse kiddo. Grow the hell up!”
Ryu half rose. “You don’t have the right...”
“As your friend I can only wonder if you’re a moron or not.” Ulf suddenly grinned and shook his head. “Telling Christina and Noriko what is right or wrong for a woman. How bloody stupid can you get?”
“This is Japan...”
“And I’m trying my best to get the hell out of here, but they refuse to hand me a passport. Don’t ever try that shit on me again!”
Christina shuddered despite steam rising from the spa. Rapidly becoming infatuated by the boy by her side didn’t lessen the fear of Ulf suddenly deserting her at all.
“Ryu, he said he wanted some tea,” she said in an attempt to defuse the situation.
“I am. Have a nice chat.” Ulf turned and headed for the doors. Almost there he turned once again. “Don’t forget homework. Summer’s almost over.”