She hated that, but she went through with her work, and she even built a small reputation for having an uncanny taste when it came to pick out which clothes were best for a certain shoot.
After that the positively most boring week in her life started. Principal Nakagawa acted as her teacher, and she was the class. The days started at seven and ended at ten in the evening. She only got breaks for two meals, and all the while the hotel echoed with the activity of Ulf and the others running workshops. There was only silence when they were out walking talking.
In three days she nailed her make up exams but for Japanese. Then it was cramming Japanese thirteen hours a day. At night she was so tired she even forgot to sneak out of her room twice, and even when she slept in Ulf's arms she barely had the energy to enjoy a quick kiss and the feeling of safety when she burrowed her back tightly against his body.
Ryu and Yukio never said anything, and neither did Noriko nor Kyoko when she stole her way back early mornings.
On the verge of breaking down, after over a week's worth of cramming, she finally passed her last exam. That made her by a wide margin the worst freshman in all of Himekaizen. She didn't care one bit. Cramming hell was over and there were still a few days left of summer break.
That was yesterday, and now was her first morning of freedom. She woke to the amused snorts of Ko-chan.
When did I crawl back to my room? Christina stretched, or rather tried to.
“Careful Christina, those are my eyes.”
What? She opened her eyes. What! She hadn't. Crawled that is. She lay half naked in Ulf's lap showing lots and lots of leg. He had only made sure to cover her torso. By the window Ryu and Yukio sat watching the courtyard. Christina wasn't fooled for a second. Both boys were too adamantly not looking at her now, so she understood they had taken a good look earlier.
“The snoring beauty,” Ko-chan said.
“Urufu, take this one as well, there's more snot,” Ko-chan suggested and handed him a paper wipe.
Ulf wiped her nose. “Sorry, now it's gone.”
Christina hurried to cover her legs. “Why is everyone here?”
By the window both boys turned. Yukio gave Ko-chan a guilty look, but she just stuck her tongue out at him.
Ulf bent over Christina's head and caressed her hair. She closed her eyes and concentrated on his fingers in her mind. Feeling his hands massaging her head sent shivers of longing through her, but she quickly sent those thoughts away. She forced her eyes open again. “Ulf, why?”
She felt his thumb gliding along her ear. “Last day. We were planning,” he said.
His eyes were large and brown. A deep, warm and caring brown; a little like her favourite chocolate. And she could see how his hair one day would be just as black as other Japanese.
“Why didn't you wake me up? What if Nakagawa finds out, or your guardian?”
Ko-chan snorted again, and she was joined by Noriko. “Do you honestly think Sato-sensei doesn't know already?” the latter said.
That made Christina sit up straight. “Trousers Ulf.” He leaned away and shoved them to her under the cover. “Where's my bra?” she whispered to him.
“Here.” Noriko shouted in reply, and the bra came sailing through the air.
If Ko-chan is blushing like that what do I look like right now? Christina gathered up her bra, and after she had slipped into her trousers she quickly left the room and ran for her own.
Maybe sleeping in my underwear with Ulf isn't so smart. But I want to be close to him, and it's not like we do anything. She changed clothes. Underwear and the T-shirt she had slept in went into the pile of dirty clothes. On her way down to the reception she popped in to the room where the others still sat planning and picked up her socks from yesterday.
For the first time since coming to the resort she didn't know what to do with her day.
Maybe I'll look for grandpa. There's so much for us to talk about.
That had indeed been a lot of leg. But right now Ryu was far too interested in grasping the finer points of what Urufu had to teach to care much about his sleeping habits, or Kuri's for that matter.
They were wrapping he gig, and Urufu ran the last kaizen-workshop. The businessmen had done a retrospective, but Urufu apparently disliked the term. 'Stupid crutch and semantically imprecise,' he said.
“Well, then we're set for the next one should I get another order like this.” Urufu looked at them. “To be honest I believe it'll mostly be more operative workshops to where I bring you one or two at a time.”
“Urufu,” Noriko said. “When do you think we can run our own?” She was waving he hand in the air like a middle schooler.
Urufu smiled. “Good question. There are a few you could run independently right now. I'll see about that.” He dug his hands into a bag. “Candy-time!”
Ryu looked up. This would be interesting.
“I learned that it's common to pay high schoolers in cash, so I'll do the same now that I verified that Nakagawa's contract was a real one.” Urufu looked at them and bent over the table. “Kyoko, great work. I like how you're always observant to minute but sudden changes.” He offered her an envelope with both hands. “Yukio, you're loyal and diligent, but learn a bit from that girl of yours.”
I wonder what he thinks, Ryu thought and looked at Yukio. There was only respect to read in that face. Those two dispensed with all bullshit a long time ago.
Noriko had stopped waving her hands and stood gaping at her envelope. “The brightest of you lot and the only one to see through me,” Urufu said and turned to Ryu. “I'll make you our outward face, but I guess you knew.”
Ryu glanced at the contents in his envelope. Crap! “Urufu, that's more than...”
“And there's a small bonus for each of you. There won't be one every-time though, so don't get used to it.”
Quarter of a million. That's quite a lot even for sis and me.
“Urufu!” Kyoko shouted and gave Yukio a frantic look.
And now she just saw her own pay.
“And get me right. I'll differentiate your salaries, but bonuses are split flat. As I own the company I only get the bonus,” Urufu laughed and dug out five ten thousand yen bills for himself. “I've paid you for sixty hours at a slightly higher pay-grade than agreed on because you had to work weekends and evenings.”
Yukio sat with his face in his hands. He was laughing silently. I forget those two aren't used to money this way. Guess it's more than any of them have had in their hands before.
“Just don't quit your other part time jobs. I can probably only hire you for ten hours or less per month once school starts.”
With that Urufu left the room. Ryu wondered if he had gone in search for Kuri. Absent-mindedly he pocketed his pay, but when he looked around he saw Noriko stare at hers.
“Idiot! Why did I fall in love with an idiot?” There were tears in her eyes as she hugged her envelope close to her chest. She met his eyes and shook her head. “Ryu, I'll go forward from here. I can't keep up with him and if I hurt myself this way I'll lose him as a friend as well.”
What's she talking about? Ryu stared at his sister, but nothing in her face gave him a clue about what she was thinking about. He looked at the other two. Both gave him uncomfortable glances in return. They know we're both still in love, but they pretend not to notice. “It's OK,” Ryu said and shrugged. “I'm not making a move on her. Wouldn't stand a chance now anyway.” Then the absurdity of his own situation got the better of him and he laughed. “Besides they're just so much fun to look at.”
“I'm off for the baths,” Noriko said and rose. “You guys want to join?”
Kyoko blushed beet red and Yukio stared down into the table.
“Don't be that way. I'm not interested in him anyway,” Noriko said and pointed at Yukio. That didn't help Kyoko's colour at all. “Sheesh! It's like Urufu and Kuri said that day. Just relaxing and a good way to chat about nothing.” She went for the door, and just as she was about to exit she turned. “Bring towels if it's awkward.”
Ryu smirked as his sister left them. She was right. It wasn't like that at all, and maybe he had gotten used to seeing Kuri undress like an unruly kid before she shouldered her way under Urufu's covers until he hugged her the way she wanted. Funny, the most beautiful girl in school half naked before my eyes most every night and it's about as exciting to watch as looking at myself in the mirror.
He rose. “I'll have that bath as well. You two join us if you want.”