In her previous life. It would be bad to forget that. Restart. You're not 'The Princess of Scandinavia' here. They don't remember you because they have never seen you before.
She stopped moving when she felt how the photographer dropped out of focus.
“Am I doing something wrong?” she asked to remind him that he was doing a sloppy job. He was tiring faster than she. “Please direct me so you get the shots as you want them!” I can always fake following his directions later. As long as he gets the shots he needs he'll be happy.
He just stared at her with awe in his eyes.
This is bad. I need crew, not fans. “Where do you want me now?” she asked to wake him up.
The reaction she got was about as far from professional as possible. He leered at her.
For crap's sake. It should be illegal to work as a fashion photographer before you've shot a few hundred sets with nude, beautiful women and men!
“Don't look at me like that!” Christina squealed in what she hoped was a suitably shy and shocked voice. There was hardly a part of her she hadn't shown the crews in her previous life. She had most of those shots destroyed afterwards, but she couldn't stay among the top ten if she froze whenever a camera saw her naked body.
Idiot! You think I'm working with my body. You'll never be top notch. She slid into a new pose when the photographer finally regained his senses. My body is our tool. You and I have to cooperate when using it. That's why I always work with my brains and not with my body.
Christina really, really detested small minded men. Put a beautiful head on a beautiful body and they automatically deducted twenty points from IQ. But who am I to complain? Made it a lot easier for me to break through. Manipulating morons is a lot easier than handling the crafty ones.
That thought however belonged to a later life than the one she tried restarting here. Once she quit modelling and started out on the road that led to her becoming 'The Billion Dollar Empress' she began thinking in such terms.
Ulf, will you love this side of me as well? So different from the last two months, my best two months.
Christina fell out of sequence and they had to retake the last shots. Thinking of Ulf too much still made her unprofessional. But I wish I could have stayed that way. Young and in love like a teenager. I felt like one, was one and I loved it all. You made my dream come true, Ulf. For that alone I'll love you for the rest of my life!
They had been shooting for the better part of three days, and it was time to wrap it up. Her photographer was too tired, and Christina kept thinking of Ulf. Spending more time wouldn't make good shots.
She thanked the crew and left for the dressing room. It reminded her of when she had been sixteen, the first time and before she became famous. A dressing room she had to share with all the other starry eyed girls.
This time around she knew to keep a lower profile. The backstabbing was brutal among those who had yet to make it big.
Christina took a seat in the corner and quickly removed her make-up. Then she dressed in a baggy set of clothes that didn't do her justice at all. A few days earlier she spent over an hour to find exactly that set. It came in handy when she needed to be left alone.
After that she powered up her smart phone for the first time in three days. Christina needed to have it off for her concentration and now she wondered what kind of gossip her friends had shared during her absence.
What she read sucked all air out of her as if someone slugged her in her stomach.
Ulf, what have you done? What have I done? He's hurting and I wasn't there. The one time he needed me and I wasn't there!
Christina sobbed with fear when she threw open the doors and dashed out of the studio.
Ulf spent the night in a drunken stupor, and when morning came he went after the bottle again. James stopped him, but that he had allowed it in the first place stunned her.
Sometimes it's not between right and wrong. James knew that. He bought the run down coffee house five years earlier and turned it into Stockholm Haven Café. Arguably just as run down as earlier. Because he needed to.
Halfway to a bachelor's degree he realised he didn't want a BA for the second time in his life. True the first time it led to an MA and doctorate studies in Sweden – and nothing.
A Ph. D. in history wasn't exactly what corporate business looked for, and he took up cross country hiking and a lot of odd jobs. And he was on his way to thirty when he vanished one day only to end up naked and half his age in this version of Japan.
So James needed a new life, and owning a café with just enough customers to keep him alive was new. And so was meeting the first two new arrivals in ten years.
But Ulf didn't need new. The fifty year old boy needed something very old. A good old senseless binge drinking night when he could blow off all the steam that almost had him bursting.
James had seen how Ulf built up more and more pressure the last month, and when it finally blew up he made sure Ulf spent it all in a drunken stupor in the café rather than doing something really stupid elsewhere.
Of course he had to stop Ulf from hitting the bottle again come morning. He watched Ulf sleeping the hangover off in the inner room, and shortly after Ulf crawled to the toilet to puke for the second time.
The door bell chimed followed by an angry roar. It was the golden girl, and she had come to get herself a pound of flesh. Or at least enough of his hide to make a pretty carpet.
James heard the Wakayama twins take the first brunt of the attack, which was kind of unfair considering they had played almost no part in it at all. Then the door to the inner room was forced open and Christina stormed in.
While James realised he looked like twenty five and was in fact forty he also knew when he was beaten. The battle tank forcing its way inside the room showed a face James had never seen before.
“Where is he? What have you done to him?” she screeched. “You!” She stabbed a finger at him. Then she saw Ulf.
Bakemono! James had never seen anyone transform so fast from a vengeance demon to a lover sick with worry. She's not from this world. Kitsune? Because she's not merely an arrival like him and me.
“Ulf, Ulf please forgive me!” Christina rushed to where Ulf lay on the pillows James had scrounged for earlier the same morning.
Maybe she's really fifty but right now she looks like a hurt kid. Damn I should have made sure she knew the hell he's been through. Suddenly James felt very ashamed of himself. Old Nakagawa would most likely help Christina to a part of his hide.
Ulf groaned from his corner, and then he was covered by golden hair and long arms hidden in baggy clothes.
“Stupid boy! Why didn't you tell me?”
James winced when he saw her crawling all over her boyfriend. That had to hurt even if the worst of the hangover had abated. “He's not a boy, not really,” James tried, but he harboured little hope Christina would listen to anything he said. “I'm afraid that principal of yours set him on a job he wasn't prepared to do.”
Christina looked up from where she was cradling Ulf. “Nakagawa did? He got Ulf involved in the death of another?” Suddenly the vengeance demon was back.
James took a step back. He didn't know if she was about to get violent or not. When she showed no signs of leaving Ulf he calmed down a bit.
“You really have to talk with Nakagawa about that. I don't know what happened more than that it hurt him a lot.” James finished the sentence nodding at Ulf. “I don't think Ulf did anything more than find a person he was looking for. Well, and calling the police.” That explanation wouldn't be enough, but it had to suffice for now.
Christina seemed to understand. She settled down with Ulf's head in her lap, slowly stroking his hair and looked like a hurt child again.
“Red Rose,” she said. “His middle school. He called it Red Rose Hell.”
“Sorry, haven't heard of it,” James muttered in agreement. “Sounds bad.”
Christina nodded slowly. During their last exchange her eyes never left Ulf. “Something bad happened there,” she said after a while. “I was attacked in school, and I believe there was a connection with what happened to him at Red Rose. Ulf doesn't want to talk about it.”
James made a mental promise to himself that he'd pressure Nakagawa for information. The old principal kept his secrets far too close to himself, but James was an arrival himself. He could use that. If nothing else he could threaten Nakagawa with involving his government handler directly.
I'm ten years younger than those two subjectively, but I'm still twenty five in this world. Has to count for something. “I'll help you,” he said. He was taking sides. For ten years he avoided doing so but somewhere down the line he knew he had to make a stand. The two new arrivals had only speeded that process up.
On the floor Ulf slowly woke up for the third time that day. James saw him groan. Then Ulf looked up at Christina's face hovering above his own. The second groan was filled with shame and self-loathing.
This is where I pick the side I really knew I would pick from the beginning. I'm grateful to you both, James thought. Open Japan or closed Japan. Such a simple choice. Seems I didn't spend those years in Sweden in vain after all. We have to change. “If you want my help you have it. Start with changing Himekaizen. It's my old school as well, and Nakagawa is on your side even if it doesn't always look that way.”
Christina lifted her head for the first time in a while and looked at him with blank eyes.
“It's what he needs.” James pointed at the awakening body in her lap. “If he can't create change he'll destroy himself.”
She still didn't look like she understood.
“He's not like you and me. We change ourselves and sometimes that changes people around us.” James knew he was out on a thin limb, but he was also certain he had guessed correctly. “That boy of yours is unchanging. He only changes the world around him.”