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I don’t know,” Ryu lied.

With an umbrella he shared with Kuri slung over his bag they were the only ones in the Stockholm Haven café clad in the Himekaizen summer uniform. Most of the faces were still familiar though, but they all sported Irishima High uniforms.

Must be bad for business, Ryu thought but when he looked around he got the answer why only most of the faces were familiar.

The expulsions followed by mass transfers to Irishima High pulled new students to the café. The club had already made up for almost half of its losses, but for natural reasons they were all Irishima High students. For all practical purposes the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club had become an Irishima High club. There were only eight Himekaizen Academy students, and one of them shouldn’t even be here.

Watch out, your girlfriend could get jealous,” the odd one out said.

Ryu glared at Jeniferu-chan. Mere minutes earlier she walked into the inner room, stripped to panties and bra and got into a set of casual clothes. All in plain view of the members inside.

You’re shameless, you know that? he thought, but then he recalled Kuri doing pretty much the same thing at different occasions. Maybe it’s a foreigner thing. He put the lid on that thought as fast as he could. Now wasn’t the time to divide reality into foreign or not – Kareyoshi never ceased doing just that.

You’re the only members still at Himekaizen,” Nori-kun said.

Your guess is as good as mine,” Ryu said and lied once more. None of the arrivals had been expelled, and that included Jeniferu-chan who got mistaken for one. Ryu had made that mistake himself just after the start of the school year.

Noriko-chan thought you’d transfer last week.”

So did I,” Ryu said. This time he spoke the truth. Maybe he had miscalculated just how tightly the four of them, he, his sister, Yukio and Kyoko, were connected to the arrivals. Or with Kuri and Urufu at least. While he saw Tomasu-kun and Jeniferu-chan almost daily they still weren’t his friends.

Ryu,” Jeniferu-chan said, “could you get Ulf to help me hook up with Thomas?”

What kind of roundabout favour was that? “Ask him yourself,” Ryu said.

Despite her being the second most famous girl at Himekaizen, something with Jeniferu-chan made him grit his teeth. In difference from Kuri everything Jeniferu-chan did came from selfish wants as far as Ryu could see.

But you know him better.”

I intend to keep it that way,” Ryu said. For once it didn’t bother him that he was deliberately rude to a girl.

Jeniferu-chan didn’t answer. Instead she grabbed his arm and led him out into the café proper. Her grip was so tight he might have hurt her had he tried to get loose.

They didn’t stay in the café, but instead she forced him under the jingling bell and out on the street.

Late afternoon traffic gave them the backdrop she probably wanted to make certain she wasn’t overheard. Streets wet from rain only increased the noise, and a steady drizzle reminded Ryu they were firmly into the rainy month.

Well outside Jeniferu-chan pushed him under the awning, which helped keeping the worst of the rain away, but it also made them look like a quarrelling couple.

Ryu stepped around a puddle that had gathered where he stood. James really needed to change the fabric above them, or even better, buy an altogether new one.

Look, I don’t like that attitude of yours. I’m interested in Thomas, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to burn my chances because I didn’t do my research first.” Jeniferu-chan stared at him and forced Ryu to meet her eyes. “You’re with Christina, Prince Charming, so you got what you wanted. Pretend you care for your friend all you want, but you stole his girlfriend when you got tired of your own.”

Slapping girls really wasn’t an option, but Ryu really felt like breaking his promise to himself from many years ago. “I didn’t...”

Shut up! Coward! She’s over you now, but I saw how much she was in love with you before.”

She dumped me.”

So man up! You knew Ai didn’t want to break up, but you still turned up with your arms around Ulf’s girl when school started.”

The part of his arms around Kuri wasn’t true, but everything else was. “What about it?” When did you find out so much? But the question was moot. Ai’s friends must have told everyone who wanted to listen, and with him involved there were a lot of those. With both him and Kuri involved they didn’t even have to embellish the truth to make a good story.

Ulf isn’t your business any longer. You betrayed him good. Besides I’m not after him anyway. He’s just too damn boring. I just want his help to get closer to Thomas.

Ryu wondered what made the silent former professor of classic Japanese less boring than Urufu, especially as the latter had been the centre of attention so many times. Ah, but she’s a freshman. She doesn’t know.

Because Urufu spent his time being suspended whenever he should have taken the lead and humiliate the dickhead who was their principal.

Look,” Ryu said and lifted his foot to avoid the puddle Jeniferu-chan almost forced him to stand in. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but if I help you get in touch with Urufu, promise you won’t do anything funny to my friends!”

She gave him a calculating look, and then, very suddenly, she hugged him.

Sure, she said, deal.”

Wait, why...” Ryu never finished the question, because across the street he saw the photographers stalking Kuri, and in lack of anything more exiting some of them had taken shots of him and Jeniferu-chan embracing.

Just to make sure you keep your part,” she said.

Ryu swore inwardly. Damn, you’re a crafty one. With a broken smile he admitted defeat and fished out his phone from a trouser pocket.


***

 

When Ulf received a call from Ryu an exceptionally disgusting day in June he wasn’t entirely certain Jennifer wanting to talk to him merited cycling around in the downpour. At the other hand, cycling around in the downpour was appealing in itself. As long as he dropped the water barrier altogether he’d never notice that he got sweaty. As long as the pannier was waterproof he only needed a restroom to change into dry clothes, or, as it was the manipulating little devil Jennifer he was supposed to meet, he could come dripping wet and pretend it was what he usually did.

For a moment Ulf played with the thought of calling Christina for advice, but even though thinking of hearing her voice didn’t hurt as much as earlier, he still dropped that idea. Christina was bound to come up with something just as devilish as Jennifer, but based on 35 years’ worth of added experience from womanhood.

Right now he rode his bike sans water barrier but with his waterproof pannier secured behind him. Inside lay two changes of underwear and a creaseproof business suit he bought with cycling to customers in mind. But for the rain he could ride wearing it from home to a customer and still look like he just left from a taxi when he arrived.

Ulf hastened through a wet Tokyo. Rather than the Stockholm Haven Café Jennifer chose the river boat from Asakusa. In his previous life, not too many years earlier, he took the Water Bus from Asakusa to Odaiba because the kids wanted to jump into the sea in the scorching heat.

Jennifer, however, wanted to go directly to Hinode. He’d force her to go back to Ueno with him so that he could get on the subway to Asakusa and pick up his bike again.

Well, first he had to ride the twenty kilometres to Asakusa, which meant an hour astride his bike if he didn’t want to be stopped by the police. Jennifer could wait for him there for ten or twenty minutes depending on how well she matched her trains.

In the end he arrived by the river boats in fifty minutes. He was drenched but filled with the kind of gorgeous exhaustion from pushing his body just a little he had grown addicted to.

As Ulf locked his bike to a stand Jennifer arrived as well, and he waved at her.

She waved back.

So why the sudden date?” he asked in English when she came closer. There was no point in speaking Japanese with a girl from the US anyway.

She twisted her face into a grin and blasted away with the brutal charisma of hers. A few tourists turned and stared at him with open envy in their eyes. Saying that he didn’t feel anything would be lying, but Ulf forced a grip on his emotions and gave her what he hoped was a cool stare.

I’m not available.”

You’re eye candy while we have a romantic chat on the boat. Don’t you agree rivers are best seen from the water?”

I know you’re the sixteen you look, but you bloody hell don’t behave like it. “With Christina, last summer, it would have been a gift from heaven,” Ulf said. If Jennifer didn’t know he was still in love with Christina, then she was blind to a degree that didn’t match her manipulating skills at all.

Jennifer just took his hand and led him to the ticket vendor.

I’d love to compete with her, but right now I can’t afford that rivalry.” Then Jennifer tilted her face upwards and shot him an absolutely adorable smile. “I could make that cute little second year act on her feelings instead.”

That cute little second year could only be Noriko. “She already did, thank you very much.”

The smile turned into playful admonishing. “And you rejected her? How mean!”

Damn, this girl is really, really, really good at this game. Don’t get tricked! “Yeah, I can’t return her feelings, and she’s much too important for me just to have as a bedfellow. You could do though.”

It was an awful thing to say to a high schooler, but Jennifer had acted like an arse since they met.

Sorry,” she said unperturbed. “Still a virgin, and I’m not giving it to you.” She gave him one of the tickets the machine spewed out in exchange for a few large coins. “Time to hop onboard.”

It wasn’t really. Departure wasn’t for another ten minutes, but Ulf was happy the awkward conversation had ended, and so he bought her an ice cream and a soda in return for the trip.

While they ate and drank under a shelter he noticed how Jennifer looked like the kid she really was for the first time since she arrived.

In another life, thirty years ago, I’d be in love with you. He sighed with relief she couldn’t make this version of him into her plaything.

They spent the first half of the boat trip in silence, and Ulf got himself the time he needed to start enjoying the ride. Tokyo was too much buildings and too little nature for this taste, and riding down a river gave him a well needed shot of what he missed from living in Gothenburg.

I apologise,” Jennifer suddenly said when they reached open water.

Ulf turned and met her eyes. Finally! Now we can talk. “So you wanted to talk about something.”

Jennifer combed her hair with her fingers and her lips turned into a thin line. “I’ve fallen for Thomas. Could you help me?”

Her choice in men surprised him a little, but given how she behaved well above her age maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that she aimed at boys more mature than they looked. In that case Thomas made perfect sense.

Help, how?”

You’re both from Sweden. I don’t really understand how he works, and I don’t want to make a stupid mistake.”

So it was really a romantic talk after all. “I can’t promise anything. Let me just enjoy this ride. Then I want to get my bike.”

OK?”

I’ll treat you to dinner. Let’s have that talk together with some food.”

For once Jennifer didn’t do something stupid, like trying to seduce him. She just nodded, and Ulf saw a glimmer of gratitude in her eyes.

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