Christina heard voices in the hallway and then the door slammed. He had gone. She had let him go.
Why did I do do that? thought Christina. I am so stupid. Why didn’t I just take the flowers and say thank you, and we could have carried on from where we left off. She always seemed to do the same. Tell him the opposite of what she really thought. Well, not always, but often when it mattered.
When Paul woke up and told her Jan was here, her heart started thumping. She’d wanted to jump out of bed and rush to him and fling her arms round him. But then she’d remembered Paul was there and she didn’t want him to see her doing that. And then she hadn’t had a shower yet and she might be a bit smelly. Let alone the state of her hair.
And a little voice inside her had said she should not give in to him too easily, that she should make him suffer a bit for the way she’d suffered when he’d been away.
Oh, and she’d missed him so much. There was so much to tell him. That they’d got her medication right now, and she probably wouldn’t have any more fits. That she’d done well in the IB mocks. Why couldn’t she just have accepted the flowers? And she did really know that he had to go to the bikers’ convention.
Christina groaned. She pulled herself up off the bed. She ran a hand through the wild hair and then started attacking with the brush. Then, she got herself quickly through the shower. Paul was in the kitchen when she got there, reading his latest computer magazine.
‘There’s some coffee,’ he said.
She poured a cup. It was too hot to drink yet. She sat and thought about Jan while it cooled down a bit.
‘It’ll be cold if you don’t drink it soon,’ said Paul.
‘Oh dear!’ said Christina. She took a sip. It was cold. It was disgusting.
‘Why did you have to be like that with him?’ asked Paul. ‘Don’t know what he was thinking, bringing you flowers. That early in the morning. ’
‘What do you know about it?’ snapped Christina ‘Leave me alone.’
‘All right, all right,’ said Paul. ‘Anyway, I think Van Bredow’s got your flowers. I saw him leave and he hadn’t got them anymore. She was just coming in.’
She would phone him. Then she would go and rescue the flowers.
She tried the landline and then his mobile. No reply to either.
‘It’s useless,’ she said to Paul. ‘He won’t take my calls.’
‘Don’t’ be daft,’ said Paul. ‘He won’t be back yet.’
‘I suppose,’ said Christina, knowing that the time was going to drag now. She bit her lip and started kicking the leg of the kitchen table. Not hard. Just as something to do with her leg. Paul looked up and frowned.
‘Why don’t you go and get your flowers back from Van Bredow, then when you do speak to him, you can thank him properly. You’ll know what they look like then,’ Paul suggested.
Christina wasn’t sure that she wanted to go and listen to one of their elderly neighbour’s lectures. On the other hand, it was better than having Paul being so smug.
A few moments later she was tentatively ringing the doorbell of the apartment which shared their entrance hall.
‘Ah, Christina,’ said the funny little woman. ‘You have come for your flowers, I expect. They are so beautiful. That is a lovely young man you have there. Come one in, come on in.’
Mrs Van Bredow’s apartment was dark inside. She had the blinds shut and it was overfilled with dark old-fashioned furniture. But there in the centre of the room, on the large square coffee table, was a vase of bright yellow and red flowers. They seemed to fill the room with light and energy.
‘You can take the vase home with you,’ said Mrs Van Bredow. ‘After all, it is not as if nice young men buy me flowers any more. And it suits these ones so much.’
Christina couldn’t speak. She just stared at the flowers. Jan had got it so right.
‘Well,’ said Mrs Von Bredow. ‘Are you going to take them? Are you going to phone him?’ She went to pick up the vase, but her hand cramped up. She winced with the pain.
That must really hurt, thought Christina.
‘Well, have you?’ Mrs Von Bredow asked again. ‘That boy deserves to know where he stands. Don’t be so haughty, Missy.’
‘I’ve tried,’ said Christina. ‘But he’s not answering.’
‘Might not have got back yet,’ replied the old lady. ‘Anyway, you should go and see him. It’s better if you talk face to face.’
Christina knew she was right. God, why was she such a mop-head? Why hadn’t she just been glad he’s turned up?
‘Okay, Mrs Van B., ‘said Christina. ‘You are right of course.’
‘Try once more before you go,’ said Mrs Van Bredow. She handed Christina the phone. Her fingers cramped up again around the handset. She caught her breath.
Christina punched Jan’s number into the phone. It seemed an age before it started to ring. She counted ten tones, and then waited a few more seconds. Nothing. Oh, she did want to hear his voice again, now.
‘You’d better go then,’ said Mrs Van Bredow.
‘I will,’ replied Christina. ‘Thank you Mrs Van Bredow. Will you look after my flowers for me until I get back?’ She hugged the little old lady.
‘Of course. Get on then,’ replied Mrs Van Bredow.
Minutes later, Christina was by the tram stop. She was going to have to change twice and get off right outside Jan’s door, or change just once and have a ten minute walk. She couldn’t decide which to do, and in the end opted for seeing which tram came first. A number five: so, ten minutes on foot at the end. That wouldn’t hurt. A good brisk walk might calm her down a bit.
It was such a cheerful sunny day already. It was going to be all right.
It took a while to load the tram. So many people were getting on here and the driver was carefully checking everybody’s ticket. But then she was really lucky. She even managed to get a seat. A tall girl with a headscarf wrapped tightly round her head and a veil draped across her face sat down next to her. The girl nodded.
That’s so weird, thought Christina. Why do they do that?
The girl took a book out of her bag and started to read. Christina recognised it as one of her IB text books.
She must be about the same age as me then, thought Christina. Even weirder.
She didn’t think any more about the girl, though, until it was time to get off the tram. She was too busy thinking about what it would be like to be with Jan again. She was looking forward to his dancing eyes, and hearing his funny stories – he always made them sound funny, even if they really weren’t – from his biker trip. And perhaps he’d kiss her. She loved it when he got just a little bit carried away. And it was so sweet, the way he held back then.
‘Excuse me please,’ she said in her best Dutch.
The girl with the veil jumped slightly. She must have found the IB geography text book so much more fascinating than Christina did. Then her eyes crinkled up and Christina could tell that she was smiling. It was odd. So odd. She could tell that the girl was smiling, even though she couldn’t see her lips.
She was lucky again. The number nine tram came almost immediately. Another five minutes on the tram, and then that quick walk. She had to stand this time but she didn’t really mind. She didn’t think she would be able to sit still anyway. Concentrating on keeping her balance and not falling into other people was a good distraction.
It did only take the usual five minutes. The trams were never held up by other traffic. But the time couldn’t go quickly enough for Christina.
As soon as it stopped, she pushed her way out through the crowd and was soon marching smartly along the wide avenue past the park near where Jan lived. Her heartbeat got faster and faster, partly from the walking but mainly at the thought of seeing him. At one point she almost turned round and went back. It was getting a bit much. And suppose he was mad with her now?
She turned into the narrow street which ran alongside the canal. Yes! She could see his motorbike parked outside his flat. She walked faster and faster, almost running.
Then he came out of the flat. Oh no! He was going to go out.
‘Jan!’ she called, running now. ‘Jan! Wait!’
He had the spare helmet with him, the one she normally wore when she rode with him. Perhaps he was going to see her. But wait. Why wasn’t he putting it into the luggage compartment?
Then Susanne Richards come out of the front door. Dressed like a tart. She got on the bike, behind Jan. He said something to Susanne. He revved the engine and the bike set off. Seconds later, they were coming towards Christina.
She quickly ducked into a doorway. No, this couldn’t be happening. This was a nightmare.
They passed just a couple of metres in front of her. She couldn’t see their faces because of the helmets. She felt sick. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands and bit her lip hard to try and stop herself crying.
That was it then, wasn’t it? It was over. And there was nothing she could do about it.