Monday, 31 August 2015

Midsummer's eve, nightfall

Some kind of darkness came even to this strange country in the north. It was slow in coming, but it did.

Yukio had gone looking for his wife earlier, but when he found Kyoko she sat in a sofa with an extra blanket folded in her lap. It wasn't for him. He knew her too well to make such an assumption.

She's still your most important friend. You two should have this time alone my love.

He returned and looked for Urufu instead. There was a lot to be said about spending time with your best friend. He'd still be married tomorrow, or the next week or in ten years time if he behaved in a way to deserve it.

Friends though, the best he had or others for that matter, weren't as easy to meet every day in the week, and for that reason alone he should value the time he got. Maybe now more than ever before.

“Urufu, there you are, what about checking on the kids discreetly?”

Urufu looked over his shoulder and shot him a grin in the growing darkness. “There's nothing discreet to their party. They'll be going on until morning. Let them have their fun.”

Yukio smiled. “You don't think we should see what they're doing?”

Urufu slapped his hands to his ears in an exaggerated gesture to block out the rhythmic music that hammered its way up the hillside. “Thank you but I have a pretty good idea about what they're doing even from staying up here. Don't worry, a lot of them are older than we were back then, and we even had to plan our parties all on our own.”

Yukio laughed at the memory. Madness, it had been madness, and even though Urufu had done most of the planning Yukio still took pride in having been there covering his back.

Then he remembered all that had happened apart from the planning sessions, and mirth left him in an instant.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Prologue, 2015

“I'm Ageruman Kuritina and I have transferred here from Sweden. I hope you will be friends with me.”

The rest of the class stared at the foreign girl with mouths open, just like Kyoko did herself.

That was about the worst Japanese she had ever heard, but the skinny girl had hair so blond it was almost white, so nobody expected her to speak proper Japanese in the first place. Apart from skinny she was tall as well.

Kyoko couldn't help but giggle. Two opposites. She was round like a ball and the foreigner looked like a flagpole. They were by a wide margin the two ugliest girls in their class, and that was enough for Kyoko to decide to try to make a friend of the new girl. They could share the misery at least.

During lunch break she approached her and was greeted with a wide, toothy grin.

“Friends? Sure, why not? Haven't had one for ages.”

That came out in an odd mix of Japanese and English, but Kyoko thought she understood most of it. Especially the part of not having a friend. With looks like theirs friends didn't come easy.

“What do you want me to call you?” Kyoko asked.

“Chri-chan,” Ageruman-san said.

“Kuri-chan?” Kyoko said, tasting the alien sounding nickname.

“Kuri-chan is fine. And you?”

“I'm Kyoko.” It wasn't more than fair to offer her first name.

“Then you'll be Ko-chan. I knew a Kyoko a long time ago, and I don't want to mix you two up.”

Maybe her last year in middle school wouldn't be so bad after all. “Friends, Kuri-chan?”

“Friends, Ko-chan.”

“Want to do anything after school?”

Kuri-chan lit up in a spectacular grin that for a moment hid how ugly she was. “Yeah, we'll go swimming.”


They did.

As the months passed by they went swimming several times a week. It was as if Kuri-chan knew something in advance, because she had an air of confidence belying her looks. She behaved as if she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and after a while some of that ridiculous confidence stuck to Kyoko as well.

And they kept swimming. Eventually they swam several hundred metres every time. Kuri-chan added slender muscles to her skinny body and Kyoko slowly lost weight as most of her fat was replaced by muscles of her own. She stayed a bit rounder, but when autumn grew cold neither of them could honestly say they were the ugliest girls in class.

When Kyoko eventually had to drop their swimming sessions Kuri-chan kept going. There were stupid rumours about how she spent hour after hour in the water when Kyoko no longer went to the pool with her, but their friendship survived that as well.

It lasted through midterms, finals and entrance exams. It lasted through her parents peculiar view of foreigners, accepted as well as refused valentines chocolate and confessions or the lack thereof.

When Kuri-chan grew into a stunning beauty and Kyoko was seen as the tag-along it was as if nobody remembered the ugly comedy pair from their early days, but their friendship lasted through that as well.

They played one last, naughty joke on their class. Rather than the prestigious Irishima High both of them chose the more obscure Himekaizen Academy. Kuri-chan with a letter of recommendation Kyoko was clueless how she could possibly have received, and she herself by means of accepting her place in the less expensive of the two schools. The more proper to her station as he parents would have had it, even though Kyoko never doubted that they would have paid for her attending Irishima High had she chosen to.

There never was a choice. Kuri-chan went to Himekaizen, and as Kyoko had learned to do the last year, she followed.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Midsummer's eve, dusk

Kyoko waited for Kuri-chan to return. With everyone gathered like memories tagged along as well, most but not all of them pleasant.

A few unpleasant enough to provoke lies, like when she lied about not knowing what had happened to Noriko during her last year in middle school. That had been a lie out of consideration, but there were other lies as well.

Midsummer's eve 2040 ran from sunny evening to blue dusk, and as the sun set on their party so did her memories. Her first year in high school had been when she came alive for real, but living hadn't been painless. But for the support of Yukio she wasn't sure she could have held on to what was important to her.

And Kuri-chan of course. Without Kuri-chan her life would have been a very different one. One were she survived rather than lived, just like her parents.

So Kyoko sat down and waited for the woman who had been her closest friend for so many years. There had been betrayals, but in the end none of them felt betrayed.

But in the beginning there had only been the strangest of friendships.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

End of book two

The epilogue concludes book two. While I've started writing book three updates will come more slowly from now on. Reality knocks on my door, and I can't keep up the pace.

Some of the writing I do will also be a refactoring of book one and two. Those updates won't go here, apart from the collection of full chapters. I'll post those to Wattpad and Inkspired.

Talking about Inkspired. It would seem that's the site where I currently have a solid readership. Arrivals, The Billion Dollar Empress and The Taleweaver are all in the top five popular reads there. Happy camper here.


Amaya closed her phone and looked at Principal Nakagawa.

You old goat, she thought. You got the kids hurt again.

It didn't matter that two of the kids were senior to her by twenty years. In this world they were still kids and her responsibility.

“There won't be any more assaults, at least for a while,” she said, “but there's a price to pay for that.” Once more Amaya felt disgusted with herself for what she was about to do.

“Yes?” Nakagawa asked?

“Our contacts in Red Rose will hamper their actions as much as possible, but they refuse to be flushed out in the open.”

Principal Nakagawa grimaced. “Bloody cowards! That's why I despise the other faction.” Then he locked eyes with her. “The price. Spit it out!”

Amaya looked down at her lap. She hated it. “I'll have to hurt them both. In return for the Wakayamas to stay safe they want us to make sure the arrivals don't cooperate.” There were tears in her eyes now. “Arrivals! It's my little Urufu they're talking about, and Kuritina is just as sweet a girl.”

Nakagawa rounded the desk, and Amaya felt his hand on her shoulder. “What did they ask you to do?”

“I have to...” The tears ran down her face freely now. “I was told to ask you to help me break them up.”

The hand on her shoulder tightened. “And if I refuse?”

Amaya looked up at the older man. His face was all blurry through her tears. “If we refuse they'll target Kyoko-chan and Noriko-chan again.” There was no stopping her sobs any longer. “They said they'll make sure the arrivals won't be assaulted, but any friends of them are valid targets.”

Nakagawa sat down on his feet beside her like a man several decades younger than his age. It had to hurt. “What should we do?”

She knew what they had to do. Urufu would never accept any other way. “We hurt the children we love. We destroy their love. What else can we do?”

Monday, 24 August 2015

Chapter six (segment ten), 2016, September, Christina

This was a fight she had lost from the beginning. The moment she betrayed her best friend she lost, and for Christina there was no way of undoing it.

Ko-chan wasn't badly hurt, but their friendship was strained to the point where Ko-chan refused to attend school until Yukio left hospital and they could go to school together.

It's my fault Yukio got hurt. Knowing more of what had occurred didn't help at all. Ulf called Yukio to warn him at the same time I refused Ko-chan's call. Damn, there was someone stalking her in the dark and I told her to hang up. I'm rotten!

Christina went through he usual routine of checking that nothing dangerous had been hidden in her her clothes, got her baggy set on and left the studio. Outside a bodyguard her handle had forced onto her stood waiting. It echoed eerily of her previous life, but at least it was something she had been used to.

“Where to?” he asked.

“Home,” she answered and watched him pull out his bike. He looked like an idiot with his earpiece, dark suit and grandmother bike. His entire being shouted: 'I don't belong here and I look really funny and out of place.'

She didn't care in the least. If she had a bodyguard shoved down her throat he made a lot more sense if he stood out like a clown on a funeral. At least he was professional to understand that any normal thugs would stay away from anyone with an overdressed bully tailing her on pedals.

It helped that he avoided conversations as well, but she still preferred the thought of Ulf on his bike beside her. According to some overblown rumours he knew how to fight as well.

Christina plugged her headset to her ears and dialled him before she brought her bike to speed. Behind her the bodyguard frantically tried to keep up speed on his inadequate cycle.


Her heart jumped at his voice. It always did, and more so now when they had so little time to see each other. Especially after her betrayal of Ko-chan.

I'm losing him. Can he forgive me? She coughed away the lump in her throat. “U-kun?”

“Finished for today?”

“Yes. I'm on my way home.” She'd rather be on her way to Haven Café where she knew most of their club had retreated when school closed down for the evening. “What are you up to?”

“Just back from a walking talking session,” he said. “Right now we're running workshops on presentations. The kids don't even know how to work with standard software.”

So typical of her Ulf. Two hours of intensive mind gymnastics followed by even more schooling. “How are they doing?” Talking about the club was safer than the other, darker topic.

She rounded a corner and stopped for a red-light. Behind her the bodyguard finally caught up with her as she waited for the light to turn green.

She heard Ulf calling out instructions to the club members over the phone. “Learning slowly,” he said. “Christina, we need to talk.”

No! Please call me Ina! “Yes?” She felt panic rising in her.

The light turned green and she numbly pushed down a pedal and crossed the street. Is he going to break up?

“It's about Noriko. I don't want Kyoko to know.”

Huh, Noriko? “OK, when and where?”

“It's going to be long. Look… eh...”

Ulf, I can hear you blushing on the phone. What's up? “I'm still here,” she said when he remained silent.

“Look, I've spoken with Amaya. She says it's OK if you're fine with it.”

What on earth are you talking about. Amaya allowed you to exactly what? Oh. Oh! “I don't understand,” Christina said, but she was bubbling with joy. There was only one reason for Ulf to sound that uncomfortable.

“Eh, I won't be able to see you and get home. It's too late.”

She wanted to tell him to spit it out, but it was kinda cute the way he avoided the topic. And I'm not going to suggest a taxi. “Want to meet somewhere?” she teased.

She could picture him fidgeting with his phone as she made her way uphill. If he didn't say anything she'd lead him on when she rolled downhill after the crest.

“Is it OK… I mean… would you agree to me...”

You're really dense sometimes. Ulf, don't you understand I want to? “I can't hear you. Could you say again?”

“Can I come over to your place?”

Finally! Her heart took a giant jump and she had to clear her throat. “This late?” she asked, more to force a confirmation than anything else.

“Yeah,” he said. It sounded as if he was choking, “about that. I won't be able to go home, and… no, maybe it's better if I...”

Oh no, you don't! “Come home to me now!” Christina shouted. When she looked behind her the bodyguard stared at her from atop his bike. Thank all gods I spoke Swedish!

She could hear Ulf running, and there were muted shouts of surprise in the background. “I have to go,” she heard him saying to someone where he was. “I'm on my way,” he said to her in Swedish.

Real smooth Ulf. Just start talking in Swedish to make sure no one understands you're going to the only other Swede in school. Idiot! My precious idiot. Christina kicked up speed. Now she only wanted to get back to her apartment as fast as possible.

He's staying over! I can make this work again. I can make you stay by my side. Ulf, I love you!

With her heart filled with joy she pushed her bike to it's limit. She'd been given another chance at the love she valued so much it hurt her every evening she spent restarting the only career she knew she could master.

It was a strange feeling loving this strongly. It was stranger still that she managed to spend so much time apart from him, but tonight she would have him all to herself. A chance to give their relationship a transition and restart.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


“Sato Amaya.”

“Yes, that's my name. What do you want?”

She really wanted to know that. On a list of all disgusting orders she had ever received during her years in the police corps paying a visit to Red Rose Academy made very high scores.

Now she sat seated in the principal's office, but there was no principal there. Instead of him she faced two members of the board of directors.

“For the time being we seem to share an interest,” one of them said.

“Things are escalating out of control here, and we doubt that we can stop this school from taking action against all of you.”

All of them. That would include the Wakayama parents who also sat in the office. Amaya really had no wish to visit the school that had cost her Urufu so much, but Principal Nakagawa was adamant.

“Sato-san, how much do you know of Hamarugen Urufu's background.”

Amaya thought about the question. The way it was phrased those two already knew about the impossibility. “I know enough,” she said.

“You don't,” one of the two answered.

“And that is why we'll have you transferred from the police to the defence forces.”


“Starting immediately you're assigned the title of lieutenant colonel, and from September onwards you'll act as the handle for both Hamarugen Urufu and Ageruman Kuritina. I assume you're familiar with the latter?”

She was. Her Urufu was head over heels in love with the girl, and from what Amaya had just heard that girl was no girl at all.

“Now, Wakayama-san,” Amaya noted how the greeting pointedly wasn't directed to any one of the two present parents, “we'll agree to give you all the information you've required. We'll also respect that you want your children to believe they successfully managed to hide what happened here last year.”

“And in return?” Mrs Wakayama asked.

“You'll make certain both arrivals spend most of their summer break as far away from Tokyo as possible. While I have no reason to like Nakagawa-san I respect his judgement. We'll keep him supplied with information of whenever things get out of hand here.”

So the Wakayama parents were in the know as well for some reason. Amaya turned to her hosts. “Why did we have to meet here?”

“Because there are things you need to be here to understand. We'll tell you everything, and the Wakayamas will fill you in on anything I forget or point out any lies of mine. We can't afford distrust at this time. I'm afraid it'll be a long evening.”

It was, and when it was done Amaya was both more disgusted and scared than she had ever been before in her life.

And another strange insert.

From reader input I've come to understand that a clearer hand-off between book and book two is a wish. Hence I'm posting a short epilogue to book one as the next post.

Chapter six (segment nine), 2016, September, Noriko

There were rumours about their club. A few months earlier those rumours would have been about 3:1, but Noriko didn't care.

Urufu ran the planning for both of their events until Kuri returned to school a few days later. Kyoko and Yukio were still absent though. An accident they were told by their teacher, but in the eyes of Urufu she could read that something disgusting had happened. Especially as he refused to return her looks.

It didn't take a genius to understand that it was all connected to his war with Red Rose though. That scared her, but worse it hurt. It hurt that he didn't trust her, and it hurt that the boy she still loved didn't want to look at her even as a friend.

Planning and working with the cultural festival was supposed to be fun, but with Urufu at the helm it turned into work. He was efficient, and the club members got a lot more individual responsibility than the members of any other club, but it wasn't fun. Not once did his face flash into that wolfish grin that made her heart lurch.

Whenever she wondered if she wasn't imagining things she only had to watch Urufu's face reflected in Ryu's to know it wasn't just a bad dream. Her brother knew something, but he refused to share with her, and In Yukio's absence he turned into Urufu's wingman without a single thought of his own status.

Idiot bro, I don't want to see you grow into a man this way, she once thought, and she evens started to miss his inane antics. The brother she had learned to love to hate rapidly vanished and was replaced by someone harder, and with nowhere to turn Noriko silently assumed Kyoko's duty as Kuri's wingman.

It wasn't lost on anyone in the club.

Where she had assumed summer's break to be the end of something the start of their autumn term signalled a more important end. One she refused to accept. When they started school in April she was the most mature of the six of them, but now she wondered if she wasn't the only child remaining.

She overheard a whispered conversation between Kuri and Urufu and learned how Kuri had been attacked at her own home. Knowing that four of the six of them were being dragged back into her old nightmare made her sick with fear.

Then a final insanity occurred that made her force the issue. There were transfers. A small class of transfers. Three weeks into the term class 9:1 suddenly came into existence. Twenty five new students and all from Red Rose Academy. Another ten were rumoured to still be in the process of transferring.

Still, there were rumours about their club. Of the transferees half a dozen immediately applied for membership and were accepted within minutes after Kuri entered their club room. Not a single one was of Japanese origin and all of them wore silent faces telling tales of a school they despised.

With close to thirty members in the club Noriko finally had a reason to go to the student council. Formally to apply for an increased budget, but in reality she was hell-bent on finding out what was going on.

She stormed into the office and was surprised to find the entire student council there in a conversation with Principal Nakagawa and a third year student she only vaguely recognised.

“We'll increase security, but you'll have to report any outsiders on school grounds.”

“Yes sensei.”

Principal Nakagawa looked in her direction as the door slid shut behind her. “I'm aware that… Girl, we knock before we enter. Oh, it's you.”

There were several more pairs of eyes turned in her direction now.

“Did you need anything?” the council president asked.

Noriko looked back at her. She could just as well have said: 'Please leave'. “I'll need increased funding with six more embers joining the club,” Noriko said, stating her official errand.

“We'll handle that later.”

This time Noriko turned directly to Principal Nakagawa. “I'll also need directives concerning how the club is to handle the current confrontation with Red Rose Academy,” she said.

Principal Nakagawa frowned back at her, but he didn't say anything.

“I have one member hospitalised and another who won't come to school. Our president was assaulted at her own home. That counts as a problem for me.”

“Girl, this is none of your business,” Principal Nakagawa said.

Noriko hadn't expected to see him here, but it made things a lot easier for her. She would force his hand by dropping a bomb. “My club members being targeted by the same people who paid for raping me isn't my problem?”


Well, that got the attention of the student council. Try to keep the lid down on this one old goat!

“My office, now!”

Noriko followed her principal through the corridor. She tried to look properly abashed, but this was a fight she had already won. She'd be scolded and there would be some kind of punishment, but the real battle was won.

She knew that not all battles would be this easy. There were grown-ups involved in some kind of power game, and she had neither the experience nor the clout to fight them toe to toe. But she could help Urufu and Kuri with the fight. They did have the experience if not the ability to pull rank.

I just can't figure out how to help them, but I'm good at figuring things out sooner or later. Bro got all the charms, but brains is my department.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Chapter six (segment eight), 2016, September, Ulf

After he had given Yukio a heads-up and a warning over the phone Ulf returned to Christina and Amaya. She was all police now.

A few minutes into her interrogation Christina's phone came alive and he saw her walk outdoors to take the call. She came back shortly after.

“Anything important?” Ulf asked.

Christina shook her head. “Nothing that couldn't wait.”

Amaya took up her questions from where she left off when Christina got her call.

Ulf sighed with relief. Good. Yukio should have caught up with Kyoko by now and then he can get her home. And it looked like the corporate credit cards would come in handy now. Ulf guessed he'd have the taxi fare for having Yukio safely home again written up as travel expenditures. And I'll bash your bloody head in if you try so save me money and walk home.


“Yes?” She turned to him and interrupted her interrogation of Christina.

“The old geezer warned us about this.”

The smile he got in return told him everything he needed to know about what she thought of Principal Nakagawa.

“Is that a proper way to address the old goat?” And her answer only verified it.

Christina looked at them both with wide eyes. “I thought… in Japan and all...”

“He put my little boy in danger!”

“Little boy.” She laughed so hard she had to curl up in a ball. “You two! He calls you his daughter and you call him your little boy.”

“Is that so, Urufu?”

“Amaya, I'm technically twenty years older, and...” Ulf started in panic.

“It's mother dear.”

“But Amaya...”

“Did you hear me, son?”

“Yes mother dear,” Ulf answered defeated.

Christina looked at them again. “Damn, she really is your guardian. Damn! I like you a lot more now. Keeping that inflated ego of his down and...”

“I'm not finished with you yet girl!”

Ulf stared in astonishment at how Christina went from threatening volcano to deflated balloon in seconds.

“Yes Sato-sensei,” she said meekly. She even cast down her eyes and stared at the floor like an obedient girl.

“Now Urufu, you were saying something earlier.”

“Yes mother dear,” he hadn't forgotten he wasn't on her good side yet, “it's Red Rose again. We're caught up in something bad.”

“Continue,” Amaya said and opened a new note in her tablet.

Ulf was halfway through a lengthy explanation when Christina's phone blared again.

“Crap! I asked her to wait until tomorrow. Excuse me, I'll make it short.” Christina took the call.

Ulf could see her preparing to cut it short when she suddenly paled and dropped her phone the floor.

“Fuck!” she said. “They attacked Ko-chan and I told her she shouldn't disturb me. What have I done?”

Ulf snatched up the phone. “Kyoko, what the hell happened?” he shouted into it.

He listened for a short while rage flare into life within him as Kyoko described what had happened.

“Make sure he gets to hospital and stay with him!”

There was a reply.

“I don't give a damn about what your dad's saying. If he doesn't agree he'll answer to me.” Then an idea came to him. “No, he'll answer to mother dear. Give him the phone!”

Ulf handed the phone to Amaya. “They hurt my friends. Mother dear, please I beg you!”

He only got to the 'hurt my friends' part before Amaya's face screwed up in an ugly grimace and she reached out with a hand and ripped the phone from him.”

“Sato Amaya here.”

Ulf saw her frown as she listened to Kyoko's father on the other end.

“You are to have Matsumoto Yukio transferred to hospital immediately. Takeida Kyoko will accompany him.”

Amaya listened and then she removed the phone from her ear and stared at it as if she didn't believe what she had heard. Something cold glimmered in her eyes and she put the phone back to the side of her face.

“That's Lieutenant Colonel Sato for you. This is not a request. It's a direct police order. If you fail to comply I'll have a patrol fetch both you and your daughter, is that understood?”

That's a military title? But she's in police uniform? What the bloody hell is going on?

Amaya hung up the call and handed back the phone to Christina. “Well, now that's taken care of.”

“Cool,” Christina said.

“Amaya, mother dear, what's happening?” Ulf stared at his guardian.

She looked back at him. “I told him to to obey.”

“Don't pull that crap on me!” Ulf didn't care if he got his face chewed off later or not. “What's with the military?”

“Military? I'm in the police.”

“Yeah, and Sweden didn't run me through fifteen months of conscript service when I was nineteen. I know military officer grades are different from the police.”

“This is not Sweden.”

“Amaya, please, just stop it! I am, or was, a conscript captain before the system was abolished some years ago.”


Ulf sighed. He hadn't told anyone since his arrival, and he had hoped he never would. “Look, with my high school grades I was assigned to the translator unit. It's effectively an interrogation unit. I still haven't forgotten my Russian.” He stared out the windows before he continued. “We might look like a naive and backwater nation to you, but we were taught methods on the darker side of grey when it came to interrogation.” Ulf gave Christina an unhappy look. “It's called torture. I had to know just about everything about military grades to know how valuable a prisoner was. It's nothing I'm proud about, OK?”

“Ah I understand.” The glare he got from his guardian was anything but friendly. “During your summer break I was transferred from the police. I'm going to be your handle from October onwards. For both of you.” She sent a glare Christina's way as well.

Ulf heard Christina gasp. Of course she had a handle as well. It was a part of the sham around their false identities. One part prison guard and two parts horribly powerful contact if things really went down the drain. Ulf's handle had made his management consulting possible, and Christina's should have made her life easier as well if she hadn't been so frantic about her independence.

“Amaya, how much do you know?”

“More than you,” she said. “Enough to know you're both better protected and less protected than what's decent. I know about the surveillance you set up. I even had parts of it extended here.”

“Crap!” Ulf said. Then his thoughts returned to Yukio, and his frustration at not being able to prevent what had happened flared to life. “Christina. Next time Kyoko calls you bloody well take that call! She was all alone and scared and you told your best friend to wait a day. Fine friend you are!”

All of a sudden he regretted his words. Christina looked as if struck. “Yes,” she whispered. “I will.” Then she broke down in tears.


“Ko-chan is hurt as well. She didn't say, but I could hear her breathing.”

It only took a few minutes to get them all into Amaya's car, and during the ride to the hospital Ulf had all the time he needed to wish he could take back his words. Christina lay in his lap whispering that she was disgusting and had betrayed her friend. Nothing he said would change her mind and another wedge crept in between them.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Chapter six (segment seven), 2016, September, Kyoko

They parted ways just after the mall. It was getting late and Kyoko wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Without Yukio the streets felt darker.

Soon she came up on the road winding between the small houses where she lived. Just as she passed the playground two blocks from home she heard voices.

“Nice boobs.”

That was not what she wanted to hear right now. She increased her steps and redialled the last number she had used. Fiddling with the cord she managed to plug in her headset and waited for Kuri to pick up.

“Christina Agerman. Oh, Ko-chan, what's up?”

“Kuri-chan, I just want to talk for a while.”

It felt safer to hear her voice, and it was only a couple of minutes before she was home.

“Sorry, I have Ulf and Sato-sensei here. Can it wait until tomorrow?”

Urufu's with Kuri-chan? With Sato-sensei? But she really wanted someone to talk with. “If it's not too much trouble,” Kyoko said.

“Ulf's here, and something bad kinda happened. I'd really want to chat later, OK?”

“OK.” But it wasn't OK at all. Reluctantly Kyoko hung up and continued walking. You could just have talked with me for a while longer you know.

Behind her steps were catching up and Kyoko decided pretending she hadn't noticed was no longer a good idea. She ran.

The steps ran after her.

Around her houses loomed empty and unwelcoming. There were lights on, but they weren't her home. Panic gave her some extra speed, but she wasn't a match for whoever followed her. A few seconds later the running steps were very close and then someone grabbed her from behind.

“Talking with your boyfriend?”

Kyoko twisted, but the one grabbing her was too strong. “Let me go!”

He groped her, hard. It hurt, and then a second assailant came up behind her and locked her body in his arms. She could feel large hands grabbing her breasts, and she screamed.

From further down the street another set of feet came running.

“Let her go you bastards!”

Yukio? Kyoko tried to free herself again. Please let it be Yukio!

She heard her phone clattering to the street and the hands that had held her arms let go. She was still held from behind, but the first man turned to meet whoever came to her rescue.

“Let her go I said!”

It was Yukio.

He came flying trying to tackle his way through to her, but the man who had turned simply sidestepped and tripped him.

“Boyfriend to the rescue. Pathetic!”

Kyoko saw how Yukio received two vicious kicks lying down and all sense of fear left her. She grabbed one of the hands squeezing her breasts and pulled it up. She bit down on it hard and chewed with all her strength.

A pained yell later she was free.

Yukio got kicked again and then she was climbing the back of his assaulter. She never had a chance, but at least he stopped kicking Yukio. Something slammed into the side of her head and she fell to the ground. Too groggy to see what happened she tried to get up on her feet, but a fist to her abdomen forced all air from her lungs and she rolled on the ground writhing in agony.

And then it was over as suddenly as it had started. In the distance someone was yelling for police and her assailants ran down the street.

Her entire body hurt when she crawled over to where Yukio lay on the street. She could see blood on his face.

“Yukio, please what did he do to you?”

“Hurts,” he said. “Are you OK?”

You came for me. You tried to save me. “I'm fine.” She sat up and caressed his hair. “Thank you!”

A hand landed on her shoulder, and she twisted away as fast as she could.

“It's me. Are you OK?”


“It's me. Let's get you home,” he said and dragged her up.

Kyoko stared at her father. “He's hurt. We need to help him!”

“Leave him. The police can handle that trash.”

“No!” For the first time in her life she disobeyed her father openly and tore herself lose. “He's not trash. He's my boyfriend and I love him,” she said and sat down beside Yukio again.

“Kyoko! Stop that nonsense at once. I saw him. He's just a violent thug.”

Kyoko looked over her shoulder and glared at her father. “He tried to save me you idiot!”

The slap stung, but it didn't hurt nearly as bad as watching Yukio prone on the street. Kyoko lifted her arm to protect herself from another one and bent over his body. She'd protect him even from her father if need be.

“Honey, he's badly hurt. We can't leave him like this.” That was her mother's voice. She must have arrived shortly after her father.

“Whatever. Call an ambulance and get him off the street.”

“Boy, can you stand?” Her mother's voice was filled with concern, and she showed a lot more of common sense than her father.

Beneath her Yukio's face darkened in the lamplight. More blood? No. Oh, he's blushing!

“I can stand. Matsumoto Yukio, pleased to meet you,” he added and got up on his knees.

Kyoko could see how much it pained him doing so. “Here, let me help you.”

He staggered a little, but with her help he got on his feet. Kyoko's stomach still hurt, but she tried pretend it was nothing and together they took a few tentative steps toward her home.

“Honey, behave like a man and help the poor boy!”

“Whatever.” But he did give Yukio an arm to rest on.

“Matsumoto Yukio? Yukio-kun then? Kyoko's boyfriend you say?”

Kyoko sighed. He hadn't said anything of the sorts. She had, but when her mother went into interrogation mode there was no stopping her. It was going to be a long night.

She looked at her father and waved her phone. When he nodded approval she punched Kuri-chan's number again.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Chapter six (segment six), 2016, September, Christina

The evening shot was dragging out. This time she wasn't about to replicate her stupid mistake. Christina asked for a short break, fired up her phone and sent Ulf a short email saying she was going to be late.

She didn't have time to wait for a reply, but at least she didn't just vanish like she had done that time. He still hadn't forgiven her entirely. And it promised to be a fun date to boot. She'd make up for that one as soon as she had time. If she could. Ulf was always the better one at planning their few dates. He had this uncanny ability to draw up new plans with but a moments notice and act on them. Whatever he was doing for a living he was very, very good at it.

I almost never see him any longer. Different classes, her modelling job and now the culture festival planning kept her from their own club room. On top of that her own little secret. A cram school where she concentrated on learning Japanese. She couldn't afford another set of disastrous exams like the last finals, and as with Ulf her Japanese was the worst impediment.

All in all it meant she only saw him during short breaks and possibly when they arrived at school. It was driving her mad.

Those thoughts cost her another set of shots that had to be retaken. Kinoshita-sensei growled and she meekly accepted his admonitions. That last set had been anything but professional. Another fifteen minutes delay and she had effectively burned half an hour. There would be no meeting him tonight neither.

Christina made a renewed effort to focus on her job, and the next hour passed without any major mishaps. There were snide comments though. She rose in fame much faster than anyone else, and with her own photographer this shortly in her career resentment grew all around her.

I don't need this crap. First those idiot seniors at school and now the same treatment here. But it wouldn't go away. She knew from her previous life how lonely this job was. Only the second tier models made good friends, and those came later in their careers when they made safe money but weren't seen as a threat any longer.

After the shot finished she changed clothes. She made sure to check her clothes for needles or anything else that a jealous model could have planted there before she put them on. She sniffed everything she used for removing her make-up for the same reason. Now wasn't a good time to end up with blisters in her face because of some perverted idea of a prank.

When she started out on this road for the first time the dangerous pranks, which were really not pranks, had scared her. This time she took them for granted. Scarring a model's face opened up a chance for someone else.

They might look beautiful, but fashion was an ugly business, and she knew that better than almost anyone else.

She left the studio and entered a late summer's evening. Japan wasn't Sweden. Summer dragged on much longer here. Outside her bike waited with flattened tires, so she brought out the compact pump she always carried with her. At least no one had come up with the idea to slice them open and a couple of minutes pumping was a low price to pay for the career she had ahead of her. After checking that her brakes still worked she pedalled away.

Nothing short of a physical assault scared her much, but since the episode in the locker room that scared her a lot, and now there wouldn't be an Urufu to come to her rescue. That made her treasure his birthday present to her doubly.

But I still want to spend more time with him, she sulked as she took a corner and came up on the streets taking her home. Damn, I shouldn't have stood him up on that date! One way or another it would cost her. She didn't know how, and she didn't know when, but sooner or later there would be a price to pay.

When she came home she fished up her phone. There were three messages. Two from Ulf and one from Ko-chan.

The first was a reply to her earlier email where he hoped she wouldn't be too late and that he'd call her later. The second from Ko-chan asked if it was OK to transfer some of her planning work to Ulf.

The third made her heart jolt. Ulf was coming over and could she please wait for him until she heard him at the door?

Christina dropped her phone to the tatami mats and got out of her baggy clothes faster than she would have thought possible. Seconds later she tore through her wardrobe. He's coming here! Ulf's coming here!

Something nice for him. Not too overdone, but still something to tell him how much she had longed for him.

She had donned a top she knew emphasised her curves and was looking for a skirt to go with it when she heard knocking on the door. She gave that skirt a moments thought before she giggled and ran for the door in her panties.

Just as she opened it her phone rang from where she had dropped it earlier. Funny, that's Ulf's signal, she thought as she opened the door. Who? That's not Ulf.

Two hands pushed her inside and when she fell on her back she heard a roar from outside. Someone was sprinting up the stairs, and the stranger who had pushed her vanished.

What's going on? A head showed in the door opening. “Ulf?”

“Did he hurt you?”


Ulf rushed inside and she found herself caught in a bear hug. “I told you not to open the door before I was here!”

“Is she OK,” another voice said from behind Ulf's back.

What's happening? “Ulf what's going on?”

“Amaya, thanks. We got here in time.”

“Ulf! Tell me what's happening!”