Alexander stared after Rika, the way he had done a little bit too often the last months.
She was in N3B and he in N3A, which had them circling around each other a little too often for comfort, and not often enough for him to get to know her. Which didn’t stop him from falling hopelessly for her at all.
It wasn’t that she was an exceptional beauty, or that he had a thing for Asian girls. It was more, well, more like an accident.
More like two accidents.
The first, mid autumn last year when her bike got caught in the tram rails, and she literally flew into his arms, and the second when he teased her about it during the second years’ annual show almost two months later.
How she blushed red from neck to hairline fixated her face in his mind, and that he had remembered the incident made him realise she had been part of his thoughts ever since.
That was how his one sided crush on her began, and now, late Mars, he had less than three months to do something about it, because after that they both graduated, and unless fate dumped them in the same university that would probably be the last he ever saw of her.
Alexander knew he was something of a romantic, but he was in no way disconnected from reality. He’d forget her, and she’d never learn how he felt, and that would be it. But then there was that part of him being a romantic. Even if she rejected him, at least she would know. At least if he could summon up the courage to approach her.
So he sat on a bench in the park where students gathered during lunch break now when temperatures finally left freezing and the sun made pathetic attempts to spread some warmth over the Gothenburg spring.
As usual Rika took no notice of him, because she really didn’t know him at all, and he could only watch as she chatted away with Jenny who clung to her boyfriend like an infatuated girl despite having been an item with him for half a year.
Theirs was a story in itself, and Alexander was dimly aware of Jun chasing her all the way from Japan if the rumours were true.
Alexander stared after the trio as they left the park, Rika and Jenny in jeans and pullovers, and Jun in something strangely reminiscent of a manga style Japanese school uniform. Always the three of them, and always the same style of clothing.
Today’s chance had passed him by, as had yesterday’s and every other day, and Alexander made ready to rise from his bench and spend the last half of his lunch break somewhere else where he could curse his lack of guts on his own.
But today turned out not to be just like every other day, because suddenly one of the girls from N3B sat down beside him.
“Have a moment?” she said.
Alexander silently swore at her since she stole the last seconds he could watch Rika’s backside before it vanished down the street.
“Yes, why?” he said and turned to look at who had made him company.
She met his gaze and grimaced. “There’s something I need to say.”
He looked at her but said nothing. Cute, but not someone he’d give a second look. A classic Swedish blonde who’d blossom into a real beauty a few years down the line, and then that beauty would follow her for another ten before it slowly faded.
A bit cold hearted. But there was no denying he knew. Both his parents worked with cosmetics, so he grew up on a menu of assessing looks and how to alter them.
“Emma Andersson, nice to meet you.”
Alexander took the outstretched hand. “Alexander...”
“Carlsson, I know,” she said before he had time to offer her his last name.
“You know me?”
She nodded. “I know you, and I know you like Rika.”
Eh? Where did that come from? Alexander fidgeted but kept his gaze locked with hers. “And if I do?”
“So I know it’s no good, but I have to.”
“You have to what?”
Emma didn’t answer his question. Instead she used her free hand to clasp his that was still firmly stuck in the handshake. “You know, it’s a bit embarrassing, but I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Wow! “You what?”
“Fell in love with you.”
Alexander stared at the girl. He even forgot to pull back his hand which lay in her lap enveloped by her smaller ones.
“Surprised?” she said.
Alexander nodded numbly.
There was something sad over her eyes, but she still managed a smile. “You know, mumbling and staring isn’t very polite when someone is declaring her love to you. Not even if you don’t plan to take her up on it.”
“Sorry,” Alexander said and this time he remembered to pull back his hand. Her disappointment didn’t pass him by. “It’s just that it’s never happened to me before. Someone loving me that is.”
This time her smile reached almost all the way to her eyes. “I think it did, but maybe this is the first time someone told you.”
Alexander gave her a good look. At least she deserved him trying to find out exactly what kind of girl it was who wanted to be his girlfriend. What he saw didn’t increase his interest. Not now at least. Kind eyes and lips framed by shoulder length hair that had already started to pale in the spring sun. She wouldn’t need any make-up the coming ten years.
“You know I’m crushing on Rika,” he said. “You said so yourself.”
Emma said nothing. Instead she bent forward and grabbed a bag she must have kicked under the bench when she sat down beside him. She opened it and brought out a thermos.
“Go on,” she said and opened it.
Alexander dared a look at her. She had just done what he lacked the bravery to do for months now. Unfair, because she wouldn’t receive any happy news.
“You know, I do like Rika. I really don’t have a reason to, but I do.” He paused.
“Continue. I knew from the beginning.”
“So I don’t like you.” That sounds horrible. “Well, I don’t dislike you, but I don’t know you at all and I don’t have any feelings like that for you.”
“Thank you,” came the answer.
“For being so straightforward. You’re exactly how I thought you’d be.”
Alexander didn’t say anything. What was he supposed to say?
Emma kept her silence as well. Instead she twisted her thermos and poured a cup of coffee for herself. It made her look oddly like an old woman, a rather beautiful one, but still.
“Aren’t you going after them,” she said after sipping her coffee. “If you don’t hurry that table of yours will be taken.”
There was a tinge of irritation in her voice, but just as Alexander was about to rise and follow the trio as he usually did he understood she wasn’t irritated with him.
“Look, if there’s something...”
“Emma, I can’t give you what you want, but if you want to talk I’ll stay.”
There was a glimmer of a tear in her eyes. “Talk?”
“Well, yeah.” He wasn’t certain how to continue. “Damn, this is so stupid. I kind of know how you feel, and I’d love someone to talk with me about it.” And that sounded just retarded. Alexander regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth.
A biting wisp of a wind reminded him it was still Mars and really not warm at all. In a flash of insight he understood the thermos, but rather than say anything he just sat on the bench glancing at Emma as she drunk some more.
That’s just too lonely. You came here to be rejected and then freeze your butt off here with my words in your head?
“You want some?” she said when it was clear to them both that he wasn’t leaving.
He nodded and accepted the cup when she swung her arm around.
“It’s not very hot any longer.”
“I’m fine,” he said and drank a little. It wasn’t, but it was still drinkable. “You know, I never made very many friends.”
“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. Would you mind being my friend?”
She took the cup right out of his hand and screwed it back on the thermos before she slid a bit away from him on the bench.
“You can’t play that game with me. I know where your heart lies, and you can’t keep me in reserve like that.”
Shit! I didn’t mean. “No, no!” he protested. “I’m in love with Rika and no one else. You say you love me, but I don’t love you back, OK?”
“OK?” Emma didn’t look as angry any longer.
“I meant it. I’d like a friend who’s a girl. Not a girlfriend but a girl as a friend.” Did that even make any sense?
Emma smirked, but a smile stole into her expression. “I would have a hard time not trying to make you mine in more ways than as a friend,” she said.
“You’d learn I’m not all that fancy as boyfriend material long before that,” Alexander said. “You’ll get over me just like I’ll get over Rika, but I’d still like to have the friendship. Those tend to last longer than teenage love,” he added, paraphrasing something his mother told him just weeks earlier.
Emma stretched her legs before bending to pick up her thermos again. As she screwed it open something thoughtful spread over her face.
“On one condition,” she said. “I’ll help you to get one good opportunity to talk with Rika, and you promise me you’ll use it.”
This time it was Alexander’s turn to smirk. “So that I’ll understand I was rejected even under the best of circumstances?”
“So that you’ll understand exactly that,” Emma said and grinned.
Alexander accepted the next offer of coffee and mulled over her suggestion. “You don’t know if she already has someone in her mind?” he asked between sips.
Emma shook her head. “She’s Jenny’s best friend. I know Rika pretty well, but she’s never talked about boys that way. I’ve heard her father is pretty strict.”
Well, Rika was Japanese after all. They probably did things differently over there, and maybe they kept doing it differently despite living in Sweden for years.
Surreal, the entire situation was surreal. A girl with a crush on him was going to help him to express his feelings for the girl he had a crush on.
“Only if I don’t hurt you,” Alexander said.
“You already did. You won’t hurt me more,” came the answer.
He wasn’t so certain about that, but to a degree Emma was responsible for whom she chose to associate with.
“OK, deal,” he said and took another sip.
“Deal,” Emma responded. Then she grabbed the cup from his hand and hoisted it into the air. “For broken hearts!”
Alexander almost spat out the coffee still in his mouth. Then the deeper meaning of what she had said registered in his mind. Maybe no love, but a friend.
He grabbed after the cup she held, and he had to grapple a little for it before he finally wrested it from her hand.
With an aluminium cup high over his head he shouted: “For broken hearts!”
For the first time her face was all smiles.