“Yes Jun, I'm transferring there in September and I want you acquainted with a new culture before I move.”
Jun groaned. If his father said they were spending a prolonged vacation in a backwater country on the outside of the known world, then they would do so, and the last summer break in high school would go with it.
He'd miss the last field trip with the club and a lot of stupid fun with his other friends as well.
At least he didn't have to worry about a girlfriend any longer. She dumped him after she found him ogling the foreign beauty in 3:1. He really had no right to complain. He did the ogling, she did the dumping. Fair and square. To be honest their relationship hadn't really worked out from the start.
To be honest he wasn't all that good at relationships to begin with. They scared him, and he was genuinely happy with the arrival of this year's freshmen. Especially with that Wakayama boy attracting so much attention among the girls. That combined with Jun dating Kaneko-chan made him more invisible. He never tried to be popular with the girls, but he disliked being impolite to them as well and somehow he ended up being the centre of female attention in his class.
“Ah, yes father. When do we leave?” He didn't have to ask that question, but it was the respectful thing to do.
“As soon as your finals are over. Don't fail any exams.”
He wouldn't. Jun wasn't a top student by any means, but he also wasn't anywhere close to failing an exam. He'd take his entrance exams later that year, and he'd enter a decent university in Tokyo. Not Tokyo university, but one with a pretty good reputation.
Well above average, but never exceptional. That was Jun. Studies, sports, looks and popularity. It was all the same. Ran in the family, he guessed. Well to do but not exactly rich. His father a ranking government official, but not a high ranking one, and his mother working as a university teacher, which was more than most women could hope for in Japan. He even had a younger sister attending Irishima High with better than middling grades.
He looked at his father. “Two weeks from now then,” he said to confirm both that he had understood and that he wouldn't fail any exams.
The lorry trudged through, but Jun stared at the greenery behind it. This city is so small, he thought. They hadn't even gone to the capital of the small country, but to an even smaller city on the west coast. Gothenburg, with more trees than streets. It was more of a large town than a city.
His first impression was a strange place. It looked distinctly European but with an abundance of space and parks everywhere. For sheer size it could only compete with some no-name city outside the top twenty in Japan. In Sweden it was the second in size, and for that reason it behaved like a much larger city.
And the people were tall. For once he found himself in a situation where he wasn't well above average. In fact he was probably shorter than the average here. Even the girls were tall, and a lot of them taller than he was, and they all looked like foreigners to him.
Jun smiled. He was the foreigner here. Most of the conversations around him ran in a strange sing song language he was told was the native Swedish, but a fair amount were held in English. There were a lot of tourists; looking like those living here but foreigners just like him.
After arriving here his father handed him a primitive cash card phone and for the third day since arrival Jun found himself abandoned in a café. Or rather outside a café. Everyone in this strange city seemed to sit outdoors. The entire city was littered with open-air restaurants, beer gardens and pavement cafés. They lined almost every street, and he wondered if the entire population sat outdoors bundled up in layers and layers of clothes during winter.
This day, like the two previous ones, he'd watched a funny local custom played out by his table. Literally by his table. He'd made a habit of coming here and sit down by a four chair table, and inevitably someone came over to him asking if a chair was free. That would have been understandable as the place was pretty crowded, but to his initial surprise they always grabbed the chair and walked over to another table, turning his into a three chair one, and another to a five chair one. Eventually he always ended up sitting on the only chair left.
Today was no different. First a boy collected a chair and then a girl. They seemed to belong to the same group of friends.
“Is this chair free?”
Jun looked up from his book. And here goes the last one. “Sure, go ahead,” he said and plunged his face to the pages again.
There was a sudden sound as the chair scraped against the wooden floor. And then there was a second sound as it scraped against it again.
Now that's different. He looked up.
A girl maybe his own age, it was hard to guess the age of the locals, sat across the table looking straight at him with large green eyes. She smiled.
“You look like a fun one,” she said.
He stared back at her. She had blond, cropped hair as short as his but no bangs. It revealed her lines in a very flattering way. She was beautiful in a strange, foreign way; not the classic photo model beauty of the Ageruman freshman girl he'd ogled back in school but rather a kind of tomboy style he'd always found alluring. It was the kind of look that invited a stupid joke.
“Medium, above average or exceptionally fun?” he said and grinned back at her.
She made a large 'O' with her mouth, and from the table where his other two chairs had been taken he heard amused giggles.
So it's a dare game they're playing. Guess I'll play along.
She tilted her head sideways and studied him. Her smile had vanished and she looked like she really was thinking his question through. “I guess above average,” she said.
Damn, and here we go again. The absurdity of the situation combined with her pinpoint accuracy caught him by surprise and he laughed until it hurt.
“Sorry,” he said when he got enough air back in his lungs to talk. I'm attracting too much attention, and in public to boot.
He opened his eyes that his laughter had forced shut. A lot of the guests were staring at him, but right now most were staring at that other table where the group of six friends had erupted in laughter as loud as his own just moments earlier.
The girl remained across the table, and right now she was staring at him with those large eyes of hers. An uncertain smile played over her lips.
“Do you find me that amusing?” she asked.
Jun couldn't help it. “Exceptionally fun, I'd say.” He knew it was pushing an already poor joke much too far.
One of the boys at the other table shouted something encouraging to her in Swedish. Jun didn't understand a word of it, but he guessed it had something to do with their dare game.
“What did he say?” Jun asked when he saw her turn around.
“I said that we're treating her. Sorry about playing that joke on you man,” the one who had shouted in Swedish answered.
“I don't mind. Was boring here anyway,” Jun said. The episode had broken the monotony of waiting all day for his father to finish his working vacation.
He watched the boy wave the green eyed girl over to their table.
To his surprise she pouted and shook her head. “No,” she shouted back in English, “he's fun.” She looked back at him over the table that separated them. “Above average fun, was it?” She looked back over her shoulder. “I'll stay here and chat for a while.”
She's not afraid of strangers. That's for certain. But it was more than a little bit amusing, and he could do with the company. “Please do,” Jun said. Maybe the day wouldn't be a boring waste after all.
“Cool!” Then a hand reached out over the table. “Jenny,” she said.
Jun was familiar enough with western customs not to be too taken aback by her offering him her first name. “Jun,” he replied. She wasn't being impolite, just different from what he was used to.
“Cool!” she repeated. “Same first letter.”
Oh, yes that's correct. “An above average uncommon coincidence?” he said.
She caught his eyes with her own. “Yeah, I guess it's not so impossible.” Then she wiped non-existent bangs from her forehead. “Still fun though. So, what are you doing here?”
Jun smiled back and emptied his mug with coffee. It was cold by now and tasted awful. “Vacation with my father.”
“Where you from?”
She sure was an inquisitive girl. “Japan. Tokyo to be more exact.”
“Wow! I've always wanted to go there. I'm from here. My last summer's break. What's it like there?”
Jun laughed again. She didn't even try to stick to one topic at a time. And it seemed he had guessed right as well. She was too old to be a middle schooler, so a senior like himself then. Then he remembered how most countries started their school year late August or early September. Well, we're the same age anyway.
He looked at her when she fell silent. Damn, those eyes! She's looking at me like we already knew each other. I guess I should try to answer. “It's hot this time of the year, and the air isn't as clear as here.” That was true. He hadn't thought of it before, but the skies were really crisp here. “And it's bigger,” he added when he felt she had fooled him into comparing this town favourably to Tokyo.
“I want to go there one day.” She sighed. “Oh well, I'll have to do with the Skype calls until I make a lot of money.”
“Skype calls?” Jun asked without thinking.
“Yeah we have this really cool club together with one in Tokyo. The Himekaizen high school. Maybe you heard about it. No, I guess not. Tokyo is real big after all.”
Jun just stared at her. No way! He coughed weakly. “Maybe I have,” he said and the laughter bubbled up in him again. Ogling a girl at school apparently meant she stalked him indirectly all the way from Tokyo to Gothenburg. “It's my school.”
Jenny stared at him. “No way!” She looked over her shoulder. “Wow! Guys, he's from our sister school in Tokyo!” Jenny stood up from her chair before she finished the sentence. Now she was frantically waving both her hands to the table where the rest of her friends sat.
That day he learned the names of not one but seven Swedish high schoolers.
Jun checked the map again. Am I lost? No it was the correct street, but there was no school there. He'd crossed the small park and this was the only street that terminated only one block away.
'We can't go inside,' she had said, and by that he assumed they weren't allowed onto the school grounds. Now he faced a bigger problem, because there were no school grounds.
He looked over his shoulder and saw her – there was no mistaking that haircut even if he couldn't see her eyes standing with the low sun in her back as she was. She wasn't tall, not even by Japanese standards, but standing alone in the middle of the street behind him she dominated the entire view of the park.
Damn, she's cute! “Jenny I can't find your school.”
She walked up beside him and pointed ahead of them, slightly to the left. “Right there. Follow me!” And with that she was running.
Jun watched her feet slamming against the tarmac and shook his head in disbelief. From behind she looked just like a middle school boy in her khaki shorts and T-shirt. She not only looked like one, she moved like one as well.
Sure is a tomboy. He stood there admiring her until she turned and waved at him with both arms. And you said that I was the fun one. With a grin that threatened to rip his face apart he started walking to where she stood.
It was what the people here called a hot summer's day, which compared to a pleasant September day back in Tokyo.
Walking to her he couldn't help but wave back which only made her swing her arms more wildly.
“Over here,” she shouted.
So full of life! Something stirred in him and Jun recognised the feelings. A mild crush on a girl he really didn't know all that well. He didn't mind.
Sakura in April and summer breaks had brought those feelings to him more than once during the years. He had only acted upon them once, and that one time ended with both of them realising they didn't fit, his ogling another girl and Kaneko-chan dumping him.
He continued walking and admired her all the way. Those feelings would pass he knew. If not before, then at least after he returned to Japan. But for the moment Jun enjoyed being alone with Jenny.
'A date?' he asked the day before when she said she'd show him her school. 'Definitely not!' she said. 'I'm just showing you around,' she adamantly continued. Which was exactly what a date was about back home, but perhaps they did things differently here.
Jun stopped when he came up to his date who wasn't a date. The thought forced yet another grin to his face. Maybe he was enjoying himself a little bit too much.
He must have stared at her for too long, because she stopped waving and dropped her arms to her sides and gave him a look full of questions.
Those eyes! He never knew eyes could be that green.
“Where...” he cleared his throat. “Where is your school?”
Jenny slowly lifted one of her hands and pointed at a door from her hips. She didn't even look at it. “Do you think I'm silly?” she asked in a hurt voice. “If I'm a bother maybe we should split up. I don't want to give a bad impression.”
By reflex Jun bowed deeply. “I apologise if I offended you. I don't find you silly at all.”
He heard her laughter bubbling up. “You do that for real?”
Rising back up he looked at her. “Do what?”
“That bowing thing,” she said and waved with her hand up and down and up again.
He felt confused for a few seconds. “How do you apologise here?” he asked when he couldn't come up with an answer himself.
Jenny tilted her way the same way she had done at the café the previous day. “We just say I'm sorry I guess.” Then her face lit up in a brilliant smile. “But you don't have to, really. As long as you don't think I'm stupid I'm fine.”
I could watch that smile all day. Do you know how beautiful you are? Suddenly embarrassed Jun glanced at the door she had pointed at. It looked nothing like a school, but then pretty much nothing in this town looked like Tokyo. “We can't go in?” he asked.
He still didn't dare to look at her face.
“No, it's locked for summer. All teachers are on vacation, so there's no one there. Just wanted to show you the place.”
So he'd come here only to look at a locked door. It still didn't matter as long as he got to spend some time with this strange girl. “And now?” he asked. Suddenly he was afraid that this was it and that she'd walk out on him.
“I don't know,” she said. “Anything you want to see?”
That question more or less forced him to meet her eyes. “Surprise me,” Jun suggested, and with a boldness that surprised himself he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Anything with you is fine.”
Jenny looked at his hand and then she shot him another smile. “Super! Today we'll tram around the city. You have a tram card?”
He had. His father bought him a one month pass when they arrived, so Jun nodded.
They rode trams; old trams and new trams, and once a tram so old they had to pay extra money to ride it. When they were done he had if possible even less an idea of what the town, or the city as Jenny called it, looked like. But it had been fun.
A week went by and he spent more than half of it in her company. Some days his presence was required by his father, but exchanging phone numbers with Jenny made keeping contact easy. He didn't even need his email as they used some kind of text message system here that was keyed to the phone itself.
One day they spent together with her friends in an amusement park that for some strange reason lay almost in the middle of the city. It was surprisingly large as well and fun in its own way. More focused on thrill rides than anything else. The usual dating rides from back home seemed to be used by small kids and their parents instead.
When he suggested they end the day with the larger of the two ferris wheels they gave him strange looks, but seemingly out of politeness they agreed. Then they all packed themselves into a single basket, and Jun realised that the ferris wheel ride here lacked any of the associations it had in Japan.
He shared an evening with Jenny and what he guessed was her best friend going to a cinema. Apparently it was an evening only thing in Sweden, but looking at the other people he saw that it at least was a proper dating event. The film, though, didn't make much of an impression on him.
There was a wonderful day lazying around in a large botanic garden and another one in the huge park just across the highway.
When the week was over he had to join his father for a one week trip to Stockholm, and three days into that trip he admitted he couldn't enjoy the infinitely more beautiful capital of Sweden. He walked in a postcard and didn't see it. It was a proper city bustling with people and he felt alone.
He missed her.
Somehow things had grown beyond just a mild crush. This was a bad one, and he'd only felt this way a couple of times before in his life.
It'll pass, he promised himself and hated another day in Stockholm. It's just a stupid crush, he thought and looked at the trains leaving west. It's not for real, he lied to himself and flicked open his phone in hopes of a new message. I'm falling for you, he accepted when he finally got one.
'Archipelago day after tomorrow,' it said.
Jun waited but he couldn't keep calm. He needed to keep calm. If she saw what he felt she'd break off spending her summer holidays with him, and he didn't want that. It didn't matter that she'd most likely forget they had ever met shortly after he returned to Tokyo. There were still more than two weeks left for him in Gothenburg and that had to be enough for now.
He waited by a marina just as ridiculously centrally located as the amusement park had been.
His phone vibrated and Jun saw he had received a message.
Don't tell me she can't make it. I really want to see her today. He opened his phone, almost not daring to read the message. 'Behind you,' it said.
Jun turned so fast he almost lost his balance; and something caught in his throat. He stared. So beautiful! Gods this is way beyond a crush. I'm falling so hard. Bad, bad, bad!
She'd dressed up in a short, red one-piece that hugged her body and showed off every alluring curve. It displayed a very generous amount of well-formed legs.
Smiling she waved with two tickets in her hand and to his absolute shock she walked up to him and hugged him. Jun hugged her back hard until he felt how she tried to get out of the embrace.
I'm an arse, he thought. People greet each other this way here. It was just a casual hug. Damn this is embarrassing.
In front of him Jenny gave him a long look with lots and lots of questions in it. He couldn't return that look, so instead he stared out over the river harbour trying as hard as possible not to look at her. Damn my chest is hurting. So this is falling in love with someone? I never thought it would hurt this way.
“What do you think?” Jenny said and broke the silence.
He had to assume she meant her clothes. “You look stunning!”
“Aww, how cute! The other guys are never so nice with words.”
So there are other guys. I should have known. It was stupid of him feeling jealous, but he couldn't help it.
“I bought two tickets, so we should get aboard.”
You bought two tickets? “Shouldn't I have bought those?”
Jenny laughed. “Why? I wanted this trip, so it's my treat. Look, if it makes you feel bad you can buy me food later, OK?” She walked past him and boarded one of the boats.
With sinking feelings Jun followed her. He really should have known. With her looks she could pick and choose among the boys.
“What's up? You look glum,” she said. “Don't you want to go by boat?”
Been silent for too long. She picks up on that real fast. “No, it's not that. I'd love a boat trip with you. Looking forward to it. Promise!” And he really did.
Jun knew he had no right to feel so downtrodden. He'd made up his mind to forget it all as soon as he got back home anyway. It wasn't like it would lead anywhere in the first place.
They walked straight to the aft and Jenny led him up to a sun-deck from where they could enjoy the trip outdoors.
It really was a nice trip. Islets were replaced by islands and then by islets again. A glimmering necklace of rocky pearls hugging the coast in bright sunlight. Around them people on vacation bobbed around in boats of different sizes, and the sheer amount of them was breathtaking. It seemed like everyone in this strange nation spent their summers on the sea.
On their way north the passed rocky beach after rocky beach, and Jun started to understand that the locals were used to the sea in a way that was unimaginable for most Japanese.
Best of all, Jenny soon went back to her reckless bantering, and Jun found himself absolutely helpless against it. After a very short time he was caught up in verbal fencing with her and they laughed like little kids sharing one stupid joke after another.
In a way that was a sobering thought. He wasn't merely falling in love with this strange girl, but he also thoroughly enjoyed her company as a friend. You're a fun one, just like you called me, but you're really the fun one. I'll try to match you.
Much later they arrived at the their destination, a small island town named Marstrand with a marina crammed with boats. Jun recognized a rich kid playground when he saw one.
A little afraid this was where Jenny wanted to spend the rest of the day he stared with apprehension at the mass of small boats, but to his relief she dunked his back and pointed inland.
He followed her through a maze of narrow streets until they ended up beneath a fortification of some kind. Jenny went inside and Jun followed her.
“I just want to look at the sea from the top,” she said and led him on.
Jun didn't say anything. He just stared at the small hand that had grabbed his. Easy boy. They're a lot more physical here. It doesn't mean anything.
When they reached the summit Jenny sat down on the rock and patted a spot beside her. “Come sit Jun. I never tire of this view.”
He could only agree. This was a place he would gladly have visited even without her company. The sea was brilliant and the air crystal clear. A small infinity of rocky islets glittered with absolute clarity in the sunshine. From below the hill he heard laughs and shrill shouts from the local beach, because of course this island had one as well. Everything was perfect. Even the wind drifting in caressed him gently.
Jun sighed with pleasure in the sunlight and leaned back on his hands.
“Missed me in Stockholm?” Jenny said suddenly.
Jun was so occupied with enjoying the view that he answered her long before he gave his words a thought. “Yeah, every day without you was pure misery.” Then what he had just said struck him and he looked at her aghast at the thought of her reaction.
“I'm happy,” Jenny said. She gave him a very long and very green look. “That makes me very happy,” she said again with a much smaller voice this time.
He didn't have much time to react when she suddenly leaned closer and kissed him open mouthed.
That can't be casual, he thought, but after that he was too occupied with returning her kiss to think much more. The kiss felt like an eternity, but even so it had to end.
Jenny turned and leaned into him. “Just hold me, please.”
At a loss for words Jun did as she asked. She was soft in his arms, but he was almost too surprised to enjoy the feeling of her. You're really supposed to say 'I like you, please go out with me' first, then go on a date, then hold hands and after that kiss. This was pretty much the opposite, because she still hadn't said a word about liking him. Everything is backwards here, but in an enjoyable way.
“Thinking?” she whispered. Jenny's voice was so throaty that he dared hope she did indeed share at least some of his feelings for her.
“I'm thinking I like being here. I'm thinking I'm falling in love with you.”
Jenny tore herself lose from him. “Whoa, not so fast!”
“I enjoy your company. A lot. I truly do, but love is a great commitment.”
Yeah, backwards. It was too late to make those words unsaid. “Do you mind if I feel this way? I don't expect you to return those feelings, but may I have them on my own?” He'd settle for a summer fling. It still was far more than he could have hoped for. And it would hurt like mad when he came home again, but that couldn't be helped.
She never let go of his eyes. He watched her green as she studied him, thought hard and made her mind up. The smile he finally received filled him with joy.
“OK, your feelings are yours. Thank you! You couldn't flatter me more. Being loved must be the ultimate acceptance.” And with those words she fell silent and nestled as close to him as she could.
They spent he didn't know how long time on that hill. None of them spoke and he kept caressing her hair and face, feeling and loving every line and strand under his fingers. Sometimes she purred almost like a cat, sometimes they lay staring into each other's eyes and occasionally they shared another kiss. It was bliss even when the sun slowly set and the winds grew cooler.
By that time his backside hurt. Jenny was soft and wonderful to hold close, but the rock under them sure wasn't.
With more than a little regret he asked her if it wasn't time to return, and with what he hoped was an equal amount of regret in her voice she agreed.
When they walked back down to the town he tried holding her hand, but she crept closer to him and he ended up with his arm around her shoulder instead. It was a lot different from his recent relationship back home, but Jun was rather certain he preferred the way Jenny burrowed herself as close to him as she could under his arm.
Strange girl. She doesn't want to use the word love but she frenched me without hesitation. Strange girl, or strange customs.
That mattered not at all to him. He felt her affection through the arm she used to hug his waist closer to her and the fingers she intertwined with his over her chest.
It wasn't as if she was shameless, rather that she followed a different code of conduct. Maybe it made perfect sense for her not to frivolously throw the word love around and still glue herself to him in public. Maybe he was the peculiar one who expected spoken words of love from a stranger who then had to be kept on a distance while the dating game proceeded.
Maybe, and maybe didn't matter either. The only thing that mattered as they rode the small ferry and walked to the bus-stop was how close she was, how she silently let him know what she felt and that the only thing she said was how much she wanted to spend the rest of his stay together with him.
On the bus ride back to Gothenburg she slept in his arms. He listened to her breathing while he cradled her. She's so trusting. Jenny, do you know how beautiful you are? Two more weeks together. I'll make them the best two weeks. Jun finally felt how tired he was, and he leaned over her and fell asleep.
The first of those two weeks it rained. As in it rained every day. Jun was a bit taken aback by how cold the rain was. Water coming down from the skies in August was supposed to be warm.
Jenny had to work during the days, but as she stood behind a counter in a café Jun just changed his favourite hangout to where she worked. It was a bit too expensive for him, and he soon got tired of coffee and pastries, but at least he was able to spend the days close to her.
She didn't seem to mind, and occasionally she came over to his table and swept a couple of small fingers teasingly across his cheek or neck.
The two other girls working there giggled at first, but soon they took his presence for granted. One of them took upon her to flirt outrageously with him to Jenny's consternation, but Jun made it clear where his interest lay. It didn't change a thing. The girl continued flirting, Jenny kept pouting and Jun had to say how much he preferred Jenny's company every day. At the end of the day the two girls laughed together, he shook hands with the flirtatious one, she warned Jenny that she'd steal him away if Jenny didn't play nice and Jun rose stammering and blushing from his table. He enjoyed the pretend jealousy, but most of all he enjoyed how Jenny openly defended what she considered her territory.
They spent the evenings together. Going to a cinema, eating out twice, taking a long walk upstream by the river and talking, always a lot of talking. And they touched.
Sometime during that week she let her guard down a bit. She liked him, or liked him a lot or wanted to stay together with him. It wasn't the love word, but it was progress. And then the week ended.
'Wait for me outside my school,' she had said the last evening, and so he found himself once more on that short street. This time it was more obvious that there was a school. Groups of teenagers arrived and entered the door that had been locked the previous time he was here.
Jun hugged his jacket closer to him. Gothenburg sported autumn temperatures despite the fact that almost half of August remained. He hadn't expected it and was poorly dressed.
He turned and saw Jenny's short hair bobbing up and down. She was jumping and then a bundle of legs and arms came running at him.
“Hello Jenny, glad to see me?” he teased.
She didn't say anything but jumped him and hugged him close instead. With her face in his jacket she murmured something he couldn't hear.
Around them students arrived and entered the school. Most didn't as much as glance at them, a few smiled and most of those were couples who arrived as close to each other as Jun and Jenny. None of them wore a school uniform, which was strange considering that this was supposed to some kind of elite high school. Jun chalked it down to different customs. Maybe they didn't wear school uniforms in Sweden.
“Jun, tag along. I'll show you my school for real this time.”
He looked down and offered his hand. For once she took it and they went inside.
Just as they entered the hallway she dragged him left. Jun hardly had time to notice the lack of shoe lockers before he was inside a cramped office area.
“Principal, this is Jun, a… friend of mine.”
Principal? But she's a woman? And I'm not even supposed to be here. Jun looked sideways at Jenny. You're adorable when you blush like that! “Jun,” he said in the western way of greeting and accepted the outstretched hand.
“So what's the occasion?” the principal asked.
“We're friends,” Jun answered and felt himself colouring a bit. “I'm from Himekaizen academy and she promised to show me our sister school in Sweden.”
The principal frowned for a while, but then her face lit up in a smile. “Himekaizen, yes! The cultural exchange club. Welcome, welcome. Of course I'll allow you to visit the school.”
Jun felt a little awkward at the overwhelming welcome, but at least he wasn't an intruder any more.
Now what? Jun looked over his shoulder to see whom Jenny was greeting so enthusiastically. He stared into a pair of dark brown eyes surrounded by a mass of perfectly kept long black hair.
She looked back at him and then she gave his clothes a cursory look as well. “You're not from here. You're from back home,” she said in Japanese.
“You know him?” Jenny asked her friend in English. Jun was grateful for how she made certain he wouldn't feel left out.
“I don't, but anyone with that poor taste in clothes has to come from Japan,” the girl said.
“Rika! You're not supposed to say that!”
But you're supposed to think it? For the first time Jun wondered what he looked like to these Swedish people.
“Look, Jenny, I don't live there any longer. It's nice to visit and all that but I don't plan on going back to where you can't state your mind.”
Jenny stared at her feet. Apparently it took a Japanese migrant to speak so bluntly, because she said nothing.
“Jenny,” Jun started, “it's not like you're going to hurt my feelings or anything.” He grinned at her, because she looked so downcast that he just wanted to hug her to him.
She smiled back weakly to him. Here in school she was more subdued than the Jenny he had gotten to know and love the last weeks.
All through their silent communication the Rika girl studied them both. “How close are you really?” she eventually asked.
Jun faced her. “I've confessed and we're dating. She hasn't given me an answer though. That's from my Tokyo point of view. I really don't know how it works here.” He could be just as blunt as her if that was how she wanted to play.
“I'm... I'm… interested in him. I guess he's kind of my boyfriend for now.” She had to have exceptionally interesting shoes, because Jenny's face never once turned upwards.
Rika glared at him. “Idiot girl! He's from Japan. He's not going to stay with you. He's not worth falling in love with.”
That was harsh, but it was also true. Still, falling in love? He was, Jun knew that. He'd hurt later, a lot. But was Jenny?
“I can't help it,” Jenny murmured.
Rika rolled her eyes. “Idiot girl!” She glared once more at Jun. “It's your fault. Why are you here and how do you know her?”
Jun met her glare. “We got to know each other by accident. I heard something about an exchange club and spilled that I was from Himekaizen.” This was a game he knew how to play. They played by the same rules.
Jun switched to Japanese. He didn't want to keep Jenny out of what was happening, but he saw no reason to expose her to the other students here. “I'm falling in love with her. I can't do anything about it. We're dating. What's it to you?”
“She's my classmate. If you hurt her I'll make you pay.”
Jun could hear that she wasn't all that used to speaking Japanese any more. She must have spent years in Sweden, and years here meant they no longer played by the same rules after all.
“Don't come here from back home and give her problems. You'll be fine just bedding a girl and getting out of it without a thought. She won't.”
Bedding a girl. What's she talking about? “I've never as much as thought...”
“I understand that, but she sure has. You idiot!”
“What are you talking...”
“You're going home, aren't you?”
“She'll want a memory, and it'll only hurt her more. You're not in Japan now. It's… it's different here. It's too easy too….”
Startled Jun began to understand a couple of things. First that the dating game apparently played out a lot differently here and second that Rika must have been hurt herself some time in the past.
“I'm not going to...” Jun began silently.
He never got any further because Jenny rushed in between them and hugged him. Looking over her shoulder she stared at Rika.
“Don't yell at him. Rika, really don't. I invited him. I want him to feel welcome. It's important to me.”
Jun felt awkward with this small girl who so fervently tried to defend him from her own classmate, but at the other hand he loved feeling her so close. She smelled wonderful, and he revelled in how hard she held him, as if she needed to tell everyone else that he belonged to her.
He didn't mind belonging. He wanted it. Damn, I've got it bad. I really do love this girl.
The crowd around them slowly dispersed. The open conflict was too visible to hide. It didn't matter that most of the exchange had taken place in Japanese. Add Jenny's blatantly siding with him, and the reason for the quarrel was easy to see, even if it could be misunderstood in only one way.
In the end he only got a cursory look at the school when all the students were called to their respective classes. Jun made some small talk with parts of the teaching staff and got a slightly better understanding of the exchange clubs, but he missed Jenny's smiling green eyes throughout all of it.
Worst of all he suspected Rika was right in a way. He would go home, and he'd hurt both Jenny and himself. What had started as a fun summer fling had gone much too far.
Home tomorrow. A month wasn't enough now when he was about to depart.
The last week flew by in a frenzy where they desperately clung to each other. Each day their jokes grew more strained as they tasted the feeling of loss in advance.
He saw even more of the city together with Jenny. Fun things and boring things. She went as far as declining the company of her friends, and once he saw them giving her compassionate glances before they waved goodbye.
Caring friends. Friends who only wanted her happiness and left her alone with him. Jun was grateful to them for that, but being alone with Jenny gave them all that much more time to handle his looming flight back home to Japan.
In the end Rika was proven right. Yesterday they slept with each other. It wasn't lovemaking as he had imagined it. Two scared kids on the verge of adulthood fumbling in desperation. Jun never understood why he agreed to it. It wasn't the way things were done back home, but he was about to lose her and he needed to share as much as possible in the short time they had left.
They cried a lot and made a lot of promises, and when morning came he heard the words he had longed for. 'I love you. I love you Jun.'
Now he walked listlessly to the café where they had first met. They wouldn't be able to share a late evening with him having to pack his luggage in the hotel room he and his father shared. Come morning they would take a taxi to the airport and the next morning Japanese time they'd land at Narita.
He looked at the pavement café but neither Jenny nor her friends were anywhere to be seen. Strange. They had promised to meet here at six. Then he saw her through the windows together with Rika and the girl Jenny had named her best friend.
Jun was about to open the door and go inside when something made him look closer at Jenny. She was a broken wreck. Her shoulders shook and even from outside he could see the tears running down her face. Her best friend sat beside her hugging her all the time, and across the table he saw Rika, mouth opening and closing in frantic talk.
One part of his mind tugged at him to just leave and walk back to his hotel, but he had promised, and he wanted to be close to her even if it hurt.
He opened the door and went inside.
The evening was a disaster. They pleaded and promised, and just before Rika left together with Jenny's friend she promised she'd make him pay.
Should they break up? None of them wanted it and after the last lingering kiss they promised each other a long distance relationship both knew was doomed.
Jenny hadn't turned up at the airport. A part of him was disappointed and another grateful. They had made their farewells.
Jun twisted and turned in his chair. Beside him his father had fallen asleep, or at least pretended to.
“You know,” Jun said, half hoping that his father wasn't listening. “I fell in love in Sweden. For real I guess.”
There was no response.
“I've always stayed well above average, and whatever I did was above average.” He stared into the dimmed darkness in the cabin. “For once I feel something that's not just above average. It's exceptional, and she's exceptional, and I don't want to lose her.”
“So what do you plan to do about it?” his father asked. He hadn't fallen asleep after all, and he must have known all along.
Jun had never asked for any great favours from his parents, but now he understood he would ask for an exceptional one, because if he was to deserve Jenny he had to become exceptional himself.
“Dad, I need your help.”
He opened the last door. The building was a maze with stairs, corridors and classrooms mixed together seemingly in random. To get here he had to walk through one classroom filled with students in session.
Some of them grinned at him and one even shot him an ironic salute in recognition.
In the next classroom the students seated at the back turned at the sound of him opening the door behind them. One of them stared at him with mouth agape.
“Jun Hasegawa,” he announced. “Is this class N3B?”
He heard a choking sound from one of the front rows.
“Jun? Jun!” Jenny rose so fast in her bench that it overturned and slammed into the chair in front of her.
“I'm back,” he said.
She stared at him in disbelief. “For how long?” she whispered.
Jun stared back at her over the heads of students watching them both in fascination. By the blackboard the teacher smiled at him, but she made no attempt to stop him disturbing the class.
“I have to ask,” he said. Emotions welled up in him and it was all he could do to face the teacher smiling at him across the classroom. “Teacher, which bench is mine?”
Both the classroom he had walked though and the one he just entered erupted in cheers. He could hear a few students from the classroom behind him rising from their benches and peeking through the door at the spectacle.
Jun waited for the cheers to die down. “I'm transferring here from Himekaizen Academy in Tokyo. I hope to make a lot of friends during my last year in high school.” The words were directed at the entire class, but he only had eyes for Jenny.
“Jun!” She climbed the bench behind her and came running for him from bench to bench. Her eyes were the greenest of green.