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They sat in her room. Christina's futon lay rolled up against a wall and Ulf used it as a backrest. His seat was the tatami mats, and she sat between his legs with him as her backrest.

Her hair smelled fantastic even in the sweltering August heat, and he could stay here forever feeling her fingers caressing the backside of his hands as he hugged her. Ulf revelled in the luxurious mass of golden hair draping his fingers whenever she moved her head.

The talk, however, had taken a turn for the worse.

I have family. It's problematic.” He hugged her closer.

How so? And you never told me.”

They were sharing memories again. In Swedish, but no longer distant memories from Sweden.

Well, my daughter...”

Daughter!” Christina turned and pushed herself away from him. Stunned rage played in her face. “You got a kid here?”

Ulf blushed. “N, no, it's n, not that way...” he stuttered. I'm an idiot! “She's my guardian.”

She?”

Careful now Ulf. Tread lightly or she'll never forgive you. “I was assigned a legal guardian as part of my background story in this world.”

Christina's jealousy abated. A little. Very little.

You never told me.”

You never asked.” And that was a supremely stupid thing to say.

Once again Christina looked like she was going to explode. A moment later he received a hard slap.

I deserved that.

It took him the better part of half an hour to calm her down, and he had to run after her into the streets before she agreed to listen to him. By the end of it it was all out in the open.

How old is she?”

They stood beneath a scattering of trees hugging one corner of a playground. Ulf's clothes were soaked with sweat. No cosy cuddling on her floor any more.

Thirty. Works as a beat cop, or however the system works here in Japan. Uniformed anyway.”

Your legal guardian is a police officer, and she's your daughter?”

She's thirty,” Ulf said glumly. He knew it didn't really make sense.

He had sweated all through his casuals and now he was drenched from the inside out. Hugging was out of the question, and even though he had a hard time letting go of Christina, the heat outside proved that her asthmatic air conditioner made some difference. Hugging her he'd soak her clothes as well.

But why?” she asked, and Ulf could see that Christina was fishing for a reason.

Ulf waited for a gust of breeze that never came before answering. “Amaya, my guardian… She kind of resembles...” How do you manage to stay fresh in this heat?

Oh, oh. Sorry. I didn't know you had kids that early.”

I didn't. Ten years ago, well, eleven now.” Ulf went silent for a moment. It was still hard to talk about, but Christina had demanded to know. “She was eight.”

Maybe it was some kind of female instinct. Maybe they had just grown close enough for her to understand, but she flinched and reached for his lips with her fingers. “No! Don't say anything!”

If she had grown up. I've always wondered what she would look like. And, and, with black hair instead of blond, just maybe...” Shit, I shouldn't have said anything! I got angry and now I hurt you.

Ulf, please! Don't say anything, please!”

I'm a moron. Christina, please forgive me!

And so he stayed silent, but they both knew, and a small wedge crept between them. Somehow the loss of a child is worse for those who never had one, and this loss was something they couldn't share.


***


I heard there's a shoot this Sunday.”

Shoot?” Kyoko said. Photo shoot?

Shibuya,” Kuri-chan said, as if that answer carried all the information she needed.

Kyoko looked at her tall friend. As an afterthought she gave Kuri-chan a hard glare to slap her back to the domain where friends shared a common language. “Please translate that into something us mere mortals can understand.”

Sometimes Kuri-chan could be surprisingly dense, or rather, it was as if she moved in a world where she was surrounded by people who could read her mind.

Kuri-chan took a few steps more, looking like she was trying to solve a difficult problem. Then she seemed to have arrived at a solution. “It's a magazine, or some other commercial shoot. Fashion, and models.” It all came out bits and pieces. A strange mix of English and Japanese, but by now Kyoko was getting used to Kuri-chan's mixing up the two languages without a second thought whenever she got really excited. Besides her Japanese was getting better by the week. Which helped. A lot.

So you want to watch the event?”

Kuri-chan tried a few extra steps. It looked like she was trying out a new outfit. In a way she is. Fifty, that girl is fifty years old! Sure doesn't look like it. Kuri-chan bounced down the street, very much behaving like the sixteen year old teenager she was in this world. Carefree, she's totally carefree.

Kuri-chan had turned and walked backwards. A happy laughter bubbled out of her. Then she met Kyoko's gaze. “No. I want to crash the party.” A gust of wind caught Kuri-chan's hair, caressed it and spread it into the sunlight.

She's planning to make gold out of that gold, Kyoko realized. “You want to get scouted?”

I was 'The Princess of Scandinavia'. Top ten in the world, for ten years. I can be again.”

Top ten?”

I used to be a super model. In that other world there isn't a catwalk on this planet that hasn't begged for my feet to walk it.”

Used to be. Suddenly those fifty years showed in Kuri-chan's eyes. She's looks like sixteen but she's planning a come-back. She looks like a goddess, but I wonder if there's a boy in this school who's as much of a man as she is. Kyoko blushed. Depends on how you define 'man', I guess.

Thinking of Yukio much?”

Kyoko's blush burned deeper.

Kuri-chan bounced down the pavement dancing backwards. “Ko-chan, this is important to me. I don't like my current job much, and I think Ulf would disapprove.”

How can you move around like that in this heat? “Can you afford not to?” Kyoko knew how hard Kuri-chan worked to ensure her independence.

For a while. School paid me to keep quiet about you know what.” Kuri-chan's voice became subdued and small.

The 'I know what'. That was disgusting what they did to you. It had better be worth it.

They paid me a lot. Like, I won't have to work for a year, lot. But I don't want to live through all that money and do nothing.” Christina grinned and danced around the corner to the Asakusa tourist trap. At least they'd leave the heavy traffic behind them.

Kyoko dragged her feet a little. Her clothes were clammy and she felt very unladylike. “So you want to be a model again?”

Kuri-chan nodded. “I was rather popular here in Japan, back home, in the other world, you know.” She must have heard how strange that sounded, because she stopped dead in her tracks and gave Kyoko an apologetic smile. “Even if it sounds strange I'm really a bit too short for modelling,” she said in an attempt to make her earlier ramblings make sense.

Short?” Kyoko pretended she hadn't heard how flustered Kuri-chan got. I guess living two lives gets confusing.

Yeah, sounds funny, doesn't it? It wasn't as bad back then. People were a little shorter.” She swept some hair from her face. “I'm still tall in Japan, and in another year I'll have grown into the body I knew.”

So wait a year,” Kyoko suggested.

Kuri-chan shook her head. “Can't. If I'm to have a running start I have to gain some fame before that. I was lucky last time, and I don't dare to count on being lucky twice.”

That's not all, is it?”

Kuri-chan looked down. She shook her head. “No. My guardian, the landlady you know. She wants more money, or… I have to find a way to stay free for another two years until I'm eighteen.”

Four years,” Kyoko said. “Twenty here in Japan.”

Two years, four, whatever. I'll bribe her for another two if it is what it takes to keep my independence. It's important to me.”

You've already lost that independence. You lost it when you met Urufu. Kyoko decided that wasn't a topic she wanted to drag to the surface. The photo shoot next Sunday was safer to talk about. “And you want me to come with you?” she asked. More for verification than because she really felt a need to ask the question.
Kuri-chan nodded. “Please!”

Kyoko bowed her head. If it was important for Kuri-chan, then she would be there. Together they headed for the stalls and the open galleria. There was a place serving really good katsudon that Kyoko wanted to share with Kuri-chan.

Still, it worried her that she needed to cram that event into an already packed schedule. Soon they'd receive their visitors from Sweden.
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