Ulf winced visibly, but then he regained his composure. “You look stunning!” he said in a tone reassuring her that he understood what just happened. “I'm honoured.”
It felt strange to be taller than he was, but it was impossible to move in the right way without her heels. She had come here to conquer after all.
Facing her Ulf stood staring back. She watched a peculiar glimmer of absence in his eyes. Spellbound, he's spellbound. He can only see Christina Agerman. Ulf I want you to find me beautiful. Your Christina. “What do you think?” She had to say something.
Something shifted in his eyes. One moment he had been staring at Christina Agerman, Princess of Scandinavia. The next he looked just as intensively at her. “My Ina, you're my beautiful Ina!”
Ina? Oh! Christina, Ina. Yes I like that! “Do you really mean that?”
In response he took a single step and kissed her. He had to tilt his face up to do that. Then he took her face between his hands and looked into her eyes. “What are you doing with me? I can stay in this Japan forever with you Ina.” His eyes were the brownest of brown, soft and caring and she drank herself dizzy with his gaze.
That has to count as a declaration of love. “I'm just loving you.” It still felt strange being taller than him. My little U-kun! “U-kun, I love you! You fill my life.”
The look she got in return was filled with endless love, but also with endless sadness. He looked happy and forlorn, ecstatic and horrified, basking in her feelings and filled with self-loathing. He looked like he wanted to be in two places at once.
Then her surroundings tore her from that singular moment of glory. “Miss! Miss! Can we have a word with you?”
“I saw her first. I'm her agent!”
“She's signing with us. All contacts will have to go through our agency!”
Ah, the work I came here to do. I don't want to any more but I have to. Ulf, U-kun, we need to talk.
Christina turned on her right toes, let her left foot follow in a tight circle and set it down toe and heel clicking against the stone paving simultaneously. The movement sent a calculated shock wave through her body which she used to flick her neck into the terminal pose used on the catwalk just before it was time to turn around and go back.
Toes out, never inwards like some Japanese girls did to look cute. She wasn't here to look cute. She had an empire to build.
The crowd pushed forward to see better, and the formal fashion shoot drew almost no interest any more. Christina doubted it was even commencing at all by now. The first half of her plan had gone through without a hitch. Now the time had come for the second half, and that one depended on the people she saw elbowing their way to her through the crowd.
A man in his thirties approached her together with a woman a few years older in a business dress. Behind them one of the cameramen from the scene followed, carrying photo equipment designed for a static shoot. This was the real deal.
“We would appreciate if you tell your agency that we disapprove of your disrespectful prank here today,” the woman said.
Too easy. They're making this too easy. “Agency? Aren't models using those?”
“Cut the bullshit. What is a professional model doing here during our shoot?”
“Oh my! Why, thank you! But I'm not a model. I'm just a student at Himekaizen Academy.”
“I said cut the bullshit. I can see you've done this for two years or more.”
You piss-ant! Two years! I'll show you two years you rank amateur! Christina slid her left foot closer to her right heel and used the extra energy to let her dress billow out in a wave that followed her body all the way to her shoulders where it snapped out of existence. Just when it did she jingled her handbag to make it look like her dress had sent it swinging.
“Thank you for saying that!” That single move had taken her the better part of seven years to master. A dress hugging her body like this did didn't lend itself to any billowing to begin with. What she had done was effectively impossible for most women. Maybe with the exception for a dozen or so on the planet. Oops. Forgot that I'm one of them. Christina grinned inwardly. “You're too kind!”
The business woman really was a rank amateur. Christina's act was lost on her, but further back the cameraman stood mouth agape and studied the integrated monitor on his camera.
Christina cooed. “But I'm only sixteen. I couldn't possibly have worked as a model for over two years.” And with a twist of her hand she flicked her pose into 'The Princess of Scandinavia'. A simpler pose, but one that had been her trademark and had helped her stay in the absolute top worldwide for ten years.
“How could a mere high school student interest you this way?” The contract was a done deal. They had swallowed it all, Hook, Line and Sinker.
Difference being that she could deliver far beyond their wildest imagination. Japan held nothing even remotely worth being considered competition when it came to raw competence. In an earlier life she chose to end her modelling career when she understood where true profit lay in the fashion industry, but if she wanted she could have stayed on top for another ten years. Still that was an earlier life and popularity was a fickle goddess.
Christina had yet another face. One that came after her modelling career, and she flashed it to the business woman, shooting producer and cameraman alike. The Billion Dollar Empress. “It would seem I have caught your interest. Now, what would you do to catch mine?”
The first mail arrived a bit after lunch. The twentieth less than ten minutes later. When Ryu checked his on-line waterholes they were ablaze with the news.
At three in the afternoon he grabbed a bit to eat in what was supposed to be a trendy place in Sapporo. Around him young people talked about the event in Tokyo earlier that day.
Feels strange, Ryu thought as he gobbled down his sandwich in silence. Where I come from people gossip about Kuri and me. Here I'm a nobody. He rose and went for another round from the soft-drink bar. On his way there he flashed a grin at the girls filling up their glasses and was rewarded with long, admiring stares. OK not a nobody if I make an effort.
When he sat down again he noted, not without some satisfaction, that at least one table ran two topics while they stole glances at him. But Kuri didn't even need to be here to take centre stage.
Ryu fought a childish urge to stand up and do some advanced name-dropping. They might even believe me, but that's not the point. The point is that I feel doubly lonely up here when she's down there.
For the first time he felt locked away. He had looked forward to the trip north, even knowing he wouldn't see her for some time, but he hadn't expected to hear about her wherever he went. Or watch. Pictures and videos spread like wildfire, and the net ran crazy with images of her. Images of an almost otherworldly beauty planting her banner in central Shibuya and claiming it for her own.
By nightfall she made it to the major media. It wasn't big news by any means, but late in a TV-newsreel Ryu saw her face flash past again in a short story about noteworthy commotions in Tokyo.
In the middle of the news-downpour he almost missed the really big news. Noriko called him after he failed to respond to her mails. Kyoko and Yukio had finally removed their blindfolds and become a pair.
He mused on that piece of news after they hung up. Lucky bastards! Twice lucky. After Kuri's public stunt you'll be left alone. It suited them better, Ryu guessed. He would have flaunted his girlfriend to the world, but those two were more grounded. More solid. They made perfect wingmen and were both loyal to a fault. Yukio even dared facing off against Ryu when he suspected an intrusion on Urufu's turf. Ryu respected that, and he felt genuinely happy for both Yukio and Kyoko.
Does that leave us as the comedy duo, Noriko? Never happened before. But strangely enough he only felt lonely. There was no jealousy when he thought of Kuri and Urufu. Ryu might be in love with her, but they were two of his closest friends. We are the same sis. I see you laughing as well when you pull your pranks on them Noriko. It doesn't hurt as much anymore, does it?
The Wakayama twins. The bond they shared stretched thin but not broken by the distance between Tokyo and Sapporo. Obon, and after that I'm back home again.