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Old 06-28-2015, 03:06 AM   #1
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Default Available in all Sizes - by agouderia (~FFA, ~BHM, Drama)

~FFA, ~BHM, Drama - A pushy FFA and a inhibited BHM are unable to synchronize their intentions in the fashion world

Available in all Sizes
by agouderia

Part 1 – Arts-Loi/Kunst-Wet

Antonia briskly changed metro lines at Arts-Loi/Kunst-Wet on her regular way to the office in Brussels, her mind on the tumultuous business developments at ‘signC’, an American up market fashion brand that had lately merged with two British brands and was struggling to establish itself on the European continent.

Checking her blackberry for news, she turned the corner only to have somebody bump into her - the next thing she realized was that her new Italian suit had coffee all over it: “Merde!” to only get a stream of expletives in British English as a response: “Bl**** f***ing hell! F***, f***, f***!”

In the last second before some very snide remarks left the tip of her tongue, Antonia cut them off as she took a closer look at the offender: He was roughly her own age with an adorably plump face, a mop of soft brown hair and honestly almost green eyes. As he raised himself, she noticed he was quite tall, broad with a nice round belly pushing out of his coat. Instantly melting, this was exactly her kind of guy, Antonia automatically switched to flirt mode, saying in mock reproach: “Now, now … those are 4-letter words. Good boys don’t use them, especially not in front of ladies!”

He blushed dark red, but asked with a microscopic grin. “How do you know I’m a good boy?”

“You definitely look more like a good boy than a bad boy – trust me, I’ve learned to tell the difference! Right now you’re only being naughty, spilling coffee on strange ladies and using 4-letter words!” Antonia winked.

“Oh f***, no sorry, you speak American English, I have to watch my language,” he went on. “I’m so clumsy, I ruined your nice suit, my sincere apologies. I’ll reimburse you for the damage – be it dry cleaning or a new suit. I don’t have my new business cards yet – so please take a picture of my passport to confirm my identity? I’ll give you my mobile number so we can solve everything.”

Antonia looked at him in surprise, but actually did take a picture with her blackberry: “Oh, a true British gentleman! Why do you think you have to watch your language because I speak American English …. Mr. … - double checking the name on the passport - Watherwood?”

“Please … Philip is fine. You’re…?”

“Antonia …. Antonia Langley. Nice meeting you Philip – even though it would have been nicer over coffee that had stayed in its cups. Here’s my card. Now about the language … you still haven’t answered my question…”

“Well, you Yankees are known to be prudish as far as that’s concerned …” Philip showed a reluctant grin blushing even deeper.

“We can discuss more in depth how prudish I am when we get together to deal with the damages,” Antonia winked at him. “By the way, I’m only half American – the other half is probably even worse in your British eyes! But now I have to run, otherwise I’ll be too late for an important meeting. See you soon!”

“With pleasure. Again, please accept my apologies!” Philip smiled shyly at her.

At least her suit had been ruined by a guy who was worth bumping into, Antonia thought, giving her a good reason for getting back in touch with him. Now she needed a new, clean outfit from Saskia at “signC”; maybe it was even better if she wore their own design when being introduced to the new CEO and his team. But she would have to hurry to get that done.

Dumping everything on her desk, she hurried over to Saskia Wissemaar, their young Dutch designer who was busy re-vamping the women’s clothing line for the European market. “Saskia cherie, quick – I need a clean, cutting-edge outfit for meeting our new CEO. A cute Brit poured coffee all over me at Arts-Loi!”

Very slim, almost mousy and exceedingly shy, Saskia emerged from behind a few clothes racks with some fabric samples in her hands. “Let’s go over to the presentation salon – I have two new outfits ready that would be great for you. Very forward thinking of you to insist we have a sample of all sizes we offer from US 0/UK 4 to US 16/UK20 at hand.”

“I’m not going to apologize for being 5’9’/1.75 and wearing a size US 10/UK14 – that’s totally normal for someone my height!” Antonia said pulling off her jacket. “This fully stocked presentation salon is bringing so much interest and business – I know of 7 contracts so far we got because either the buyers or their spouses could actually try on some of our designs in their size, see how good they feel in the great work you do – even take them home with them,” she smiled at Saskia, who blushed hiding behind her curtain of limp blonde hair. “I was actually interested in trying that dress belonging to the 3 piece of suit& dress in grey with purple and pine green threads; that would match the gray pumps I’m wearing …”

“Here it is,” Saskia pulled it off the rack. “You shouldn’t wear it with the matching jacket, that’s a bit too conservative. I have this short dull purple leather jacket as a new design sample… that would upgrade the entire outfit.”

“Ooooh, gorgeous Saskia! You know how I love purple! Too bad … I have the perfect matching purple high heels at home for this outfit,” Antonia slipped on the cloths in delight.

“Purple brings out your grey eyes beautifully,” Saskia surveyed her plucking everything in place, as Jan, ‘signC’ spokesperson and Antonia’s deputy stuck her head through the door: “Here you are! Hurry up you two– Craig has arrived!”

Antonia sped by her office, brushed her hair, applied more lip gloss then assembled with all her colleagues down in the small lobby. She was dying of curiosity what the new CEO was going to be like – his predecessor had been a true disaster: Angel Perdoso, a Latin male as attractive as his name insinuated, but the business brains of a pea as well as a knack for disastrous office politics constantly letting his turbulent bi-sexual love life interfere with business decisions. His only noteworthy, half-way useful talent had been holding motivating, witty public speeches; in the end he had been fired for going over budget and putting a number of oddities on expenses.

The meeting room door opened, out stepped Craig Richardson, ‘signC’s lanky, relaxed and perpetually ill-fittingly dressed CEO of global operations followed by a slight, elder grey-haired man and a younger, taller, seriously broad man in a dark, conservative suit – Antonia felt her jaw drop as she recognized Philip Watherwood, now without overcoat and coffee cup. He looked around the circle of people searchingly, saw Antonia locked eyes giving her a small, rueful smile.

“So, meet the team of ‘signC’ Europe,” Craig Richardson said. “May I introduce our new CEO, Philip Watherwood. So far he has headed the finance department of our main shareholder, Green*Star investments. Now he will make sure our entry into the continental European market proceeds much more smoothly than it has so far. He will be assisted by Jean-Luc Perreau who is in charge of HR as well as distribution and production.
Now Philip, Jean-Luc let me introduce you to everybody: First Franck Gordon, our head designer with his team, notably Saskia Wissemaar who is responsible for the women’s line.”

Antonia saw Franck smirk and role his eyes as he shook hands with Philip Watherwood, while Saskia immediately hid behind Jan again after she had barely touched his hand.

“Baas Geerts who is in charge of finances,” Craig continued, “Antonia Langley, marketing and communications. We merged the two departments since Antonia not only is a communications specialist, but also a true expert on the entrails of the Single European Market and the various country specifics. It doesn’t do any harm that she’s fluent in the EU’s four big languages. Having good, hard-headed American common sense on top of that is an extra bonus, as you will notice. You’ll also find a lot of the latter in Jan Davenport, her deputy and our spokeswoman. You can rely on both of them.”

Antonia blushed lightly. “Thank you so much Craig. Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Watherwood,” she smilingly stretched out her hand.

Philip smiled too and shook her hand. “Highly improved circumstances for meeting you, Antonia Langley …. Ms. Davenport.”

As customary, Philip gave a short introductory speech concentrating on the importance of meeting their business objectives; not as entertaining as Angel Perdoso’s Spanglish, but it showed he had a lot of business sense and already had put some work into familiarizing himself with ‘signC’. Antonia noticed he used her as his point of reference in the audience so she happily complied, smiling reassuringly or giving him short nods since this allowed her to leisurely give him a thorough once over.

He was a big guy, a little over average height, around 1.86m/6’1’ in a dark, well tailored suit obviously aiming at visually minimizing his size: Antonia could make out powerful shoulders, around his middle there was a substantial belly defying some of the camouflaging efforts as well as probably a backside nicely balancing it out in size, making him overall heavy and well proportioned. Philip’s very regular facial features formed a rather stark contrast to his massive physique – his round face was boyish with rosy cheeks, a little double-chin, the soft, wavy, slightly tousled hair and those startling, light green eyes with very long lashes, giving him an innocent appeal, making him look much more vulnerable than his powerful bulk suggested.

A polite round of applause told Antonia that Philip had finished and she had to end her visual appraisal. “Thank you everybody for welcoming Philip Watherwood,” Craig ended the introductory session, “Will the heads of department please meet in 10 minutes in our main meeting room.”

“Do I really have to come?” Saskia asked Antonia uneasily.

“Since Craig explicitly said only heads of department, that technically means only Franck, Baas, this Jean-Luc guy, me and probably Jan as spokeswoman,” Antonia looked thoughtful. “If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t need to come. But give me your updated presentation materials – just in case I have to make sure Franck doesn’t go around telling a lot of bull-shit about your work!”

She picked up some her own files before heading to the meeting room with Jan, where Franck, his design assistant Guy, and Baas from finances with his accountant Urs had already assembled. Franck, a vain, megalomaniac, self-styled Scotsman with French roots – though Antonia suspected he really was from some dead-boring industrial dump just south of the Scottish border – was openly bitching against the new management. “I can’t believe it! What the bl***y hell is our investor thinking? Replacing someone as truly angelic as Angel, who was the epitome of a fashion company CEO with this 30 stone whale?”

A powerful sting of acrimony made Antonia immediately shoot back at him, “Discovered a new species now, have you? A stone whale? That’s definitely not on the CITES list!”

Franck’s assistant Guy snickered. “It’s not a new breed of whale – it’s a whale that weighs 30 Imperial stone!”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me you people once had an empire,” Antonia replied sarcastically, “and for using a unit of measure I choose to ignore since it makes medieval bazaar dealings look progressive. Please enlighten those of us who have undergone some civilisatory evolution since Stonehenge was built what 30stone would translate to in a 21st century unit of measurement?”

Guy looked at her dumbfounded so Jan said. “One stone equals 7 kilogram.”

“So 30 stone would be 210 kilograms (465 lbs.),” Antonia groaned rolling her eyes. “Christ Franck, no wonder your fashion samples never fit anyone! That estimate of yours is way too high - it’s about 40% off!”

Franck airily huffed it off. “Whatever, Watherwood is way too fat to represent fashion! How embarrassing will it be to have him open one of our flagship stores? It’ll look like we’re a tent manufacturer!”

Antonia retorted heavy with irony. “I always thought you insisted on opening all stores yourself? Give Philip Watherwood a chance, his business ideas sounded very well thought out…”

Just then the sliding doors to the small guest office opened, Craig Richardson and Philip Watherwood stepped in; it was obvious from their look that they had heard the essence of the previous exchange – Craig’s brows were thunderous while Philip’s chubby cheeks were bright pink and his expression was frozen.

Antonia flushed in embarrassment as Craig said quietly authoritative. “This meeting is for heads of department only,” making Urs leave immediately and Guy after some grumbling follow him. Craig chaired the meeting, asking for a short report on current developments from all departments while Antonia was baffled that Philip did not say anything, ask any questions but just took notes in stony-faced silence while Franck was completely unabashed by his gaffe going on endlessly in a vain presentation of some random new design ideas.

After the meeting Jan joined Antonia in her office with two coffees smirking. “So, you think our new boss weighs 130 kg (285 lbs)? What’s your take on him otherwise?”

Antonia hid her face in putting some files away. “I never said that.”

“Well, that’s the result of your setting Franck’s estimate right!” Jan giggled. “I know you’re an expert on big boy calculations. He’s honestly good looking in a sort of teddy bear way, too.”

“At least he seems to know a lot more about calculations than Angel did – after today Franck will clearly not have his ear, that’s good news,” Antonia tried to give the issue a different spin as Saskia entered with Antonia’s soiled suit. “Antonia – I’m giving this to our specialized dry cleaner in Antwerp, okay? If they can’t get the coffee stains out, I think I have a solution of camouflaging it with some weaving embroidery I’m experimenting with.”

“Oh, now tell me about the guy who spilled coffee all over you this morning,” Jan instantly went for this diversion. “Are you going to call him or wait till he calls? Do you want to meet him again?”

“Thanks a million Saskia that sounds great!” Antonia sighed, “I’ve already met him again - it’s Philip Watherwood.”

Antonia spent all evening musing how she felt about Philip Watherwood being her new boss. Sure, his considerable plumpness strongly appealed to her; he seemed nice, had common sense and she was pretty sure they would be able to work well together. On the other hand, she had initially thought of him, just from the visuals and his reactions to her flirting as maybe potential friend- or relationship material – that could be difficult to reconcile with office politics. The Angel, Franck, Guy, Baas on-off rectangle had wrecked enough havoc in every respect.

Nevertheless, she looked forward to going to the office the next day more than ever taking special care to dress nicely. To her disappointment, she did not see much of him for the next two days because he was constantly in meetings with the investors or other finance people. It was not until Philip’s Watherwood’s third day at ‘signC’ that his assistant, calm, efficient Czech-Belgian Joanna came to Antonia’s office with a small tray featuring a large cappuccino and an envelope.

“What’s that? I never say no to a cappuccino, why are you bringing it, Joanna? What’s in the envelope? Am I fired?” Antonia asked, eyeing the envelope.

“With best greetings from Mr. Watherwood,” Joanna replied. “I don’t know what’s in the envelope, but from what I’ve heard from Watherwood and Richardson, you would be the last one they would fire!”

Antonia opened the envelope in wide-eyed amazement looking at a gift certificate for “1 business suit” from the Italian boutique her suit had been from. “Is Mr. Watherwood available?” she asked.

“He’s in a phone conference right now, but you can come over in 20 minutes,” Joanna looked at Antonia in curiosity. “What was in the envelope?”

“Uumm …. something about return shipments,” Antonia mumbled, still staring at the gift certificate in awe, completely at a loss of how to react. To check on the actual damage, she went over to Saskia, who confirmed that a few small coffee stains had remained but she was doing a cover up design to hide them making the suit as good as new.

Antonia was nervous as she was shown into Philip Watherwood’s office; he was still on the phone but waved her to sit down on the sofa. Looking around, she noticed major changes to Angel Perdoso’s previous styling who had lavishly decorated the office with many pictures of himself and some celebrities, a pricy liquor cabinet, elaborate flower bouquets, expensive giveaways, silk pillows and seating duvets - all in all amounting to a rather ostentatious display. Now nothing in the room told anything about Philip Watherwood’s personal style or preferences, not a single picture, only a battered case of color pencils on the desk. The only piece of furniture he had exchanged was his chair, where he had replaced Angel’s slim, cool Spanish designer steel one with a sturdy, wide old-fashioned CEO chair fitting his big frame nicely.

“Antonia, what can I do for you?” Watherwood addressed her after finishing his phone call, only to blush and correct himself. “Sorry, I mean Ms. Langley – it’s continental style here, Monsieur and Madame, but since we met beforehand, I somehow ….” trailing off looking slightly embarrassed.

“Please, I’d be happy if you call me Antonia, most people around here do,” she smiled warmly putting the envelope before him. “I came to thank you for your generosity, Mr. Watherwood, and to return this. It‘s way too much and absolutely not necessary. Saskia will make my suit as good as new.”

“If I may call you Antonia, I’d greatly appreciate it if you call me Philip – we had originally agreed on that,” he smiled shyly. “Those are just the damages I owe you from our first encounter – after all I ruined your suit.”

“But it is honestly too much, Saskia will find…”

“I double-checked with Saskia – she is just artistically camouflaging the done damage,” Philip smirked. “As new CEO I find it is my duty to fully know what is going on around here. So you still need a new, clean suit – it’s on my insurance anyway. Besides…” - he added softly, “… you honestly deserve it for reacting so very nicely, thoughtfully to my clumsiness.”

“It was an accident, it was only fair not to overreact,” Antonia was surprised, she hadn’t expected sincere gratitude for simple flirty friendliness. “But if you insist, I’ll gratefully accept the certificate and promise to obtain a new suit which will be a credit to ‘signC’s’ professional approach.”

As Antonia left Philip’s office, she had trouble hiding her delighted smile and the feeling that she was totally smitten by her new boss.
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:09 AM   #2
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Part 2 – On planet office

There were a few raised eyebrows as the staff at ‘signC’ noticed that Philip and Antonia called each other by their first names, despite Philip being exceedingly continental formal with everyone else, strictly sticking to the Mr./Ms plus surname. But since the new CEO’s insistence on reassessing, in part overhauling the entire market entry strategy made everybody work long hours very little capacity was left for idle gossip.

Antonia also found out she could work well with Jean-Luc Perreau, a very experienced French business man with mild manners behind which he hid quiet resolve and quick decision making. He seemed to have known Philip for a long time, because he once mentioned having mentored him during business school.

They bonded over their joint enmity against Franck Gordon and his circle when Antonia caught Jean-Luc writing cynical comments in French to one of Franck’s presentations on a napkin during a session. Playfully, she spilled a little bit of water and pushed her own napkin with a few added comments of her own over which he acknowledged with a minuscule smirk. After the session he asked Antonia: « Alors, vous pourriez aussi travailler en Français? »

« Le Français c’est ma troisième langue, mais je suis assez bien à l’aise en l’utilisant dans un cadre professionnel. »

After that, Jean-Luc communicated with Antonia mainly in French, a bit to Jan’s dismay. “Keeping up with you and Jean-Luc is really difficult for me; you know my Italian is a lot better than my French!”

“Don’t worry, just let me know what you didn’t understand – I’m absolutely not hiding anything from you. I’ll be happy to translate whatever you need,” Antonia reassured her.

Philip also noticed because one evening as they were going through the data of a new market survey he commented smirking. “You really are an expert in good communications – very foresighted of you to work with Jean-Luc in French.”

“Well, he seems to appreciate it … and for me it’s easy enough as well as good practice.”

“The communication skills must be your Yankee side, not the Kraut one. That’s the part of your identity you seem to have been trying to hide from me,” Philip teased, reddening slightly.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been purposely trying to hide it,” Antonia was caught by surprise. “But how do you know, we haven’t talked …. Sorry stupid question, of course you know, you’ve seen all our HR dossiers, which show I work here as an EU citizen. Anyway,” she winked, “your stereotype is wrong in my case – the communication skills come from my Kraut side. My mother is German and a professional interpreter, while my father is American and your typical bookish, quiet historian.”

“That’s pretty hard evidence that Krauts might exist who have some communication skills to offer,” Philip laughed, adding in a more serious tone. “I didn’t mean to offend you- there is nothing wrong with being part German. I’m not partial to the ridiculously outdated Kraut & Hun-bashing of British tabloids. With respect to our job here, you knowing Germany and the German market is a valuable asset – after all it’s the largest one on the continent. But I totally agree, maybe we should talk more.”

“Thank you, I expected nothing but a reasonable, international approach from you,” Antonia smiled, grasping the opportunity. “Speaking of talking more, why don’t we finish these charts quickly and then go for dinner. I’m really hungry.”

Philip shifted uncomfortably in his chair, leafed through papers before mumbling. “Perhaps another time. I have to finish a few things. But maybe we can have some coffee, now, to make it a little nicer?”

As well as she got along with him, over the weeks Antonia was first puzzled then stunned to observe that there seemed to be two versions of Philip operating at ‘signC’ – it was almost like watching a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experiment: First there was business Philip, confident, forceful, sure of his facts and numbers, full of ideas, at ease with his leadership and in enforcing the necessary measures. Second there was personal Philip, absurdly shy, insecure, quickly retreating into his shell like a tortoise and seeming to freeze, non-responsively evading people and issues.

It was Saskia, painfully shy herself, who brought up the full extent of this phenomenon after a session with Franck and Philip about which designs to produce and market. Antonia dropped in at the very end on return from a short business trip, to find Franck pushing his issue of only selling sizes US 0/UK4 to US 10/UK14 in their own flagship stores. Seeing Antonia, Franck quickly ended the session saying, “Thank you Mr. Watherwood for your support of my concept, it’s the perfect approach for our brand profile” – before leaving the room.

Philip got up and wordlessly left too, giving Antonia a curt nod; in passing she briefly caught his eye, astounded by his extremely wounded expression.

“That can’t be the final decision,” Saskia said despairingly to Antonia. “I don’t understand why Philip let Franck get away with it, he didn’t respond at all. I couldn’t do anything -you know I’m unable to speak up to Franck.”

Antonia was bewildered by the situation. “I know Franck is an asshole to boot – but calm down, tell me exactly what happened. Come into my office so we can talk in peace and quiet.”

Over a pot of tea, Antonia extracted from upset Saskia what exactly had happened – surprised to learn that Franck had very obviously been arranging meetings with Philip when she was not able to attend so she couldn’t interfere.

“What exactly happens during those meetings?” Antonia asked Saskia.

“It’s not easy to describe,” Saskia shook her head. “Do you know what I mean if I say Franck and Philip speak different languages?” – seeing Antonia hesitantly nod she went on – “Philip talks numbers, while Franck can’t tell a number from a Christmas tree. On the other hand Franck talks Franck and fashion, whereas as Philip goes mute when he has to talk about Philip and fashion …”

“I sort of understand what you’re getting at…. how exactly does that go?”

“Mostly Philip starts out with an overview of the latest figures he has – budget lines, production planning, orders, order projections and the like. As always, Franck hasn’t prepared any of the details, even though I have my lists ready for the women’s lines and put them in front of them. I don’t think Guy has done anything meaningful for the men’s section.”

“Shit no,” Antonia rolled her eyes. “Don’t ask me how terrible his offer calculations were for some retailers who were actually interested in taking in the men’s line – I had no chance of selling that! But sorry, I interrupted you … how do the meetings with Philip and Franck continue?”

“Then Philip starts asking Franck about his non-existing details, which numbers he can meet, where cuts in production might be made … naturally, Franck can’t answer any of these questions. When Philip starts getting demanding, tries to get him to commit to deadlines or changes, Franck shifts the topic. He’ll talk about random details of the style, design, presentation of the men’s line, lacing them with small barbs against Philip’s … um .. well, size, you know…”

“Do you mean to tell me Franck makes fun of Philip’s weight to his face?”
Saskia nodded. “How does he do that? What does he say?”

“Well … one time he started out about adding a line of belts to the accessories, going on about necessary belt length in reference to waist size, off-handedly adding that for waist sizes like Philip’s you needed longer extensions. ‘50” probably is not enough, I would say 54”, even though it’s difficult for me to tell since our line goes only up to 36”, that’s my daily point of reference,’” Saskia mimicked Franck’s affected tone of speech.

“You can’t be serious! That’s horribly mean and totally out of line, Philip is his boss!” Antonia was deeply upset. “How does Philip respond?”

“Not at all, that’s the problem,” Saskia sighed. “Sometimes he blushes, he always looks very uncomfortable, he sort of freezes and doesn’t say anything… it’s like, I don’t know…”

“… like having a tortoise which has retreated into its shell sitting at the table. The more you prod it, the less it reacts.”

“Exactly, that’s the perfect comparison Antonia,” Saskia went on. “I understand how he feels, I hate it to when people say something about me as a person, I can’t respond either. Today was particularly awful – Franck needled Philip with the importance of appearance to be convincing in fashion, talked about his own nose and chin job and asked Philip whether he had ever considered lipo-suction.”

Antonia was shaking her head in disbelief and disgust, cringing at the thought of how Philip must suffer from this. From what she had observed, he seemed to be extremely sensitive about his weight, far more than she had ever experienced with her own previous, big boyfriends. Still it surprised her he was not willing or able to play the professional card of his higher status and competence to shut Franck up. “This is total disaster – for our business prospects and for Philip personally. We’re behind schedule anyway. This has to stop!”

“But how Antonia?”

“Very simple – I will join you in all these meetings. I know how to deal with Franck’s crap,” Antonia was determined. “Come to think of it, I have a hunch he has been scheduling meetings when I’m not available on purpose, to bypass my opinion, get Philip to somehow consent to his idiotic ideas. Now, I want you to tell me whenever such a meeting is scheduled again. And I’ll talk to Joanna; give her my schedule so she can keep an eye on this too. Thank you for being so honest Saskia, that was incredibly helpful for me.”

“Telling you was the only thing I could think of, I’m counting on you to rein in Franck,” Saskia gave her a small smile.

Joanna nodded in grim understanding as Antonia told her about double checking on the scheduling of Philip’s meetings with Franck and how important it was to include her as head of marketing. Only three days later, she informed Antonia a meeting had been arranged on short notice for that afternoon.

On entering the meeting room, the first thing Antonia saw was Philip’s backside, for once without the camouflaging suit coat. What a luscious sight, she thought to herself, beautifully rounded, well-fleshed, perfect in proportion to his thick thighs, reminding her so much of the adorably cuddly behind of her favorite childhood teddy bear. Leaning against the wall for support, she appraised how above his belt, Philip sported the ideal tire-like love handles and as he turned side-ways, she saw his full belly in profile hanging heavily over his belt-line, ever so lightly jiggling with his movements.

Philip suddenly noticed her, his face freezing as he hastily snatched his suit coat, quickly pulled it on and buttoned it up. “Antonia, … how, what are … you … want … doing here? Aren’t you at a new client’s?” he stammered.

“The meeting was postponed,” Antonia noticed with shock that her voice was hardly more than a hoarse whisper, so turned on was she. “I was admiring your sense of style – the combination of different shades of gray of your suit, shirt and tie with the touch of dusty turquoise in shirt and tie is cutting edge. For a numbers guy you do a fabulous impersonation of a fashion expert,” she winked at him. Seeing him freeze even more, she continued smiling. “Joanna told me you were having this meeting with Franck and his team about the different production and order schemes for the various markets. Since that very directly concerns my department, I would like to join you if I may. Are those the new budget lines you have calculated? Could you maybe explain them to me?”

As expected, the business twist paid off – Philip immediately relaxed nodding. “Why certainly, maybe you’re right, it might be useful to have you here. Now here you can see….,” launching into a detailed explanation of his charts, letting Antonia lean close to him, smell his cool, spicy aftershave and feel the warmth he radiated, allowing a few lusty tingles.

Franck pulled a disgusted face as he entered the meeting room and saw Antonia sitting next to Philip. “Why Antonia, I’m sorry you must be misinformed. We’re not ready yet to discuss the details of our designs for marketing yet, so attending our meeting is a waste of your precious time.”

“Don’t worry Franck, my time management needn’t be your concern.”

“Now that everybody is here, we can start. And I sincerely hope we will get a big step closer to finalizing the time-line for order, production and marketing of both the women’s and the men’s line,” Philip started handing out a few spread sheets. “I’ve gotten headquarters to extend our time and budget lines a little, but we need to decide which sizes, color variations and design samples as such we want use for our market introduction,” before going into some details of the figures.

“If I may make a suggestion, I would like to suggest we start first by determining the size ranges and percentiles we will offer in the individual markets before moving on to the details of the designs. This will give us more accurate guidelines of which leeway we have in the other questions.”

As Antonia had expected, Philip nodded and Franck immediately took the bait. “Oh Antonia, we don’t need to talk about the sizes, we already decided on that last time. Didn’t you get our minutes to serve as the base for the marketing?”

“Indeed, I got those minutes. And as your head of marketing, I am vetoing your suggestion, which was no definite decision,” Antonia countered. “One pre-determined element in our business plan always was that we would offer the standard size ranges in the individual markets, cut to the standard height. Meaning we’ll for instance offer sizes US 6-16/UK 10-20 cut to 170-172cm/5’7’-5’8’ for the German and Benelux markets, but US 2-12/UK 6-16 for height 161-165cm/5’3’-5’5’ for the French and Portuguese markets. Considering the current discussions in the fashion world about realistic sizing and catering to a wider range of body types, it would be absurd to seriously discuss down scaling the size range offered.”

“I know where you’re coming from Antonia; I understand it’s difficult in our industry not being able to wear model sizes.” Franck tried to sound soothing. “But we have an image of cutting edge fashion to establish in Europe, we won’t achieve that with plus sizes…”

“The only thing you’re convincing me of right now is that you are not up to scratch as far as current debates in fashion and customer expectations are concerned,” Antonia interrupted him. “My own size is a non-issue in this equation. If you can’t accept the decision in the business plan, you can try and convince the board to change it – but I’ll make sure they read and understand my market surveys beforehand, so they won’t believe your nonsense. Can we now please move on to the men’s line, where we do need to take a decision on the size ranges for the different markets, since they are much less conventionally established? Please excuse me Philip; I didn’t want to take over the course of the decision making.”

Philip gave a shrug and a hint of a smile. “No, its fine – the men’s line needs to be decided on. Mr. Gordon, as you can see, Antonia gave an overview of the male size ranges in the various markets some time ago, could we please have your suggestion of how you think we can proceed, which average height range we should cater to and which types of designs might match?”

Franck was slightly flustered and quickly looked through the paper Philip indicated at only to say. “Hmmm, I don’t know if I can agree with these findings. My suggestion would be to offer XS-M/L or 26’-34’ in most markets, maybe going up to an ‘L’ in some.”

“Okay – but that’s pretty far off the market survey suggestions,” Philip looked through the charts taking a deep breath. “They mostly suggest doing S-XL as standard, in some markets even going up to XXL. Which reasons do you have from deviating so far from the recommendation?”

“Mr. Watherwood, you’re new to the industry,” Franck started. “It’s particularly difficult for you seeing you have less personal exposure to normal fashion shopping than most ordinary customers … since the well, specialized clothing range offers little comparison to the regular market….”

Seeing Philip grit his teeth and his jaw tighten under his chubby cheek, Antonia was seething and didn’t care at all whether she was being rude. “For heaven’s sake Franck, this is not about personal experience! Market surveys are solid socio-economic research. They tell you about the objective size of markets, not your personal, subjective micro-census. Analyze them, adapt to them … and then sell successfully!”

“Fashion is a very personal business – I always try to envision what I would wear to fit as a source of creativity ….”

“That is not a professional approach Franck. We do mass market quality wear, not haute couture. It’s time you get that! Now I will double-check with the size ranges for men in the various markets, let you know the most realistic options and you can give us a final selection of production samples for the men’s line in… which time line would you suggest Philip?”

Exhaling Philip looked through his charts. “Two weeks, maximum. Or better make that Monday next. Antonia, maybe you can do a first draft selection with Saskia of the women’s designs in the meantime? From what I understood we’ve already gotten much further in that segment. Since we have nothing more to really decide on yet, I suggest we adjourn the meeting.” Quickly gathering his papers, he left.

Franck shot Antonia a look of pure loathing, Saskia hid a tiny pleased smile behind her curtain of hair and Antonia gave Franck a questioning raise of her eyebrows to hide her pleasure before she went off into Philip’s office.

“Philip – quick question, tonight is AmChamEU’s dinner for the US Congress delegation to which all US companies in town are invited. Are you coming?”

“Umm … do I have to? I’m not American. Can’t you go? At least you’re half American, nobody can tell the difference anyway. Take Jan instead of me, that’ll make 1.5 Americans and be more convincing for your audience there. And Antonia – thank you for your expertise in this discussion just now. That simplified the proceedings considerably.”

“Thank you. Off the record – Franck is awfully annoying to work with. It’s best to shut up his ramblings before he really gets going. Too bad you’re not coming tonight, it’s a lovely location.”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:10 AM   #3
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It soon became pretty clear to Antonia that Philip avoided eating in front of others: He never went to lunch with anybody from the office. He rejected all her attempts to have dinner with him during their long evening work sessions. He abstained from touching food served in meetings – even if she sometimes could hear his stomach growl hungrily when she was sitting next to him. He only went to business lunches and dinners, often taking her along, if there was no way around it; there he ordered a salad if there was no set menu. Although talking about food, wine, dining and chocolate was probably the top small talk subject in Brussels – next to the awful weather or the disintegration of Belgium - he made sure to switch topics or stayed quiet throughout those discussions.

Still, Antonia’s fondly observing eyes noticed he was clearly gaining weight: his face became rounder, his double chin was more pronounced, his delightfully plump backside looked even more inviting, his belly bulged more and hung further over the waistband, his thighs thickened …. his camouflaging clothes got visibly tighter until he started exchanging them for bigger, more covering ones.

Unfortunately, Franck’s sneering entourage also noticed making Guy cattily remark one day. “I think all we need is a little more patience – soon Watherwood will be too fat to fit through the front door, then we’re rid of him.”

Some laughed, some shook their heads but to Antonia’s ears this cutting remark felt like a slap in the face.

“If you and Franck continue designing such unmarketable crap and not controlling the manufacturing process, we indeed will not need him anymore because we’ll file for bankruptcy!” she snapped at Guy, tossing him the latest list of trial run manufacturing errors and returns. “Take care of this immediately!”

During the long hours they worked, Antonia needed a bite to eat every once in a while. At first she was reluctant to help herself to anything in Philip’s presence but gave up since they often got to a point when she couldn’t concentrate anymore because she was hungry– and no longer productive. So she switched tactics, tried her best to get Philip to eat something too, which was easiest in cases when his stomach growled audibly. To be prepared, she made sure she always had really healthy snack options at hand during long work sessions – yet was naughty enough to also introduce him to the best chocolates in town.

Sitting late over some spread sheets together, she would eventually get out the box of her favorite Marcolini specialties, putting then seductively on the table, elaborating their virtues, or she would add a Marcolini dark chocolate croustillante to Philip’s coffee or ask his opinion on a new chocolate flavor she discovered and wanted to give away as a present. They had to finish a report one Saturday coinciding with Philip being with ‘signC’ for 100 days, so Antonia bought a medium-sized “bombe au chocolat’ at Pain Quotidien for their coffee table.

Philip eyed it with an endearing mixture of guilt and greed, asking, “What’s that supposed to be?”

“Beware … it’s a bomb!” Antonia giggled. “Since we have to work on a Saturday, and we have a small anniversary to celebrate I opted for one of the best celebratory cakes in town: bombe au chocolate! I’m pretty sure you’ll love it – it’s on my international top 10 list of European chocolate cakes.”

“What exactly are we celebrating?”

“Your 100 days anniversary here at ‘signC’ – congratulations!”

“I don’t know whether that really calls for a celebration,” Philip sighed. “Also I don’t remember asking you for a European chocolate cake market survey.”

“Oh – as Craig told you I’m into all types of research on the European Single Market,” Antonia replied, trying to keep the tone light, weaken his resistance of accepting the cake, cutting a piece, setting it in front of him with a cup of coffee. “I can gladly update you on my findings concerning yoghurt, face cream, car defrost as well as – more related to our line of products – hosiery, shoes and handbags.”

Philip laughed taking a bite of the ‘bombe au chocolate’ only to blissfully role his eyes. “I really shouldn’t be participating in your market survey, but it’s divine!”

“Well, I do my best to come up with quality market analysis,” Antonia grinned, happy to see he quickly finished his first piece to automatically cut himself a second.

Working as hard as she was, with endless hours overtime, many of them spent with Philip, Antonia’s social life and contacts with friends went notably downhill. But she felt guilty about it, even as wound up as she currently was, she missed them. So she did jump on the opportunity on the first sunny Friday afternoon when Heather called suggesting. “No more work as an excuse – meet me in 45 minutes at Grand Sablon for coffee in the sun!”

Laughing, Antonia answered. “I’m coming – boss is in a meeting, I more than deserve such a tiny break!”

Walking across the sunny, slightly chaotic but charming cobble stoned Place du Grand Sablon, Antonia saw Heather sitting at the edge of a table in front of Pain Quotidien with the twin buggy parked in front of it, feeding some biscuits to Aurelia and Alexandra, her two-year old twins, to whom Antonia was god-mother.

In many respects, Heather was Antonia’s soul sister, both of them had spent most of their lives moving back and forth across the Atlantic and felt equally at home in both worlds, creating a very strong bond. Heather had now permanently settled in Brussels, being married to Benedict, a lovably clumsy, but sweet-tempered Austro-French Eurocrat and having 4 children. As if that wasn’t enough, she taught part-time as a lecturer in American studies.

Delighted to see them all, Antonia hugged first Heather, then the twins settling Alexandra on her knee, amusing her with playing a folding game with her napkin while she drank her coffee and caught up with Heather.

“Girl, you’re working too hard. Look at how pale you are – you’re probably down to a size US 8/UK 12 by now, am I right?”

“Sort of…. work really is challenging, but for the first time I have the feeling we are getting somewhere, we have a fair chance to be successful on the European market. I can work well with my new boss, he’s got business smarts,” Antonia answered rather primly, grateful her eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses.

“But you’re definitely not working next weekend!” Heather sounded determined.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because we’re doing a girl’s weekend!” Heather deftly caught the glass Aurelia was threatening to throw on the sidewalk. “We’re going to Antwerp on Saturday- I need to buy an outfit for a posh wedding we have to attend in Austria. You know how hopeless I am with fashion, how difficult it is to find something in my size. On Sunday we’ll drive out to the beach to see how the sea has fared over the winter, go for a nice long walk…”

Antonia smiled. “Sounds like a wonderful plan. I’ll make sure it’ll really be a weekend for me – I deserve it by now. Don’t worry about you’re size, you look beautiful, we’ll find you a great outfit!” eyeing her fondly.

At 5’5’ (165cm) Heather was comfortably settled at exactly 100kg (220 lbs) making her altogether round, apple-shaped; her baby-like little blond curls framing her pink cheeks and intensely blue eyes giving her a classical cherubic look. She had battled her weight for all her life, three pregnancies in five years not making things easier. After the birth of the twins, she had weighed 112kg (245 lbs.) and had been intensely pressured by her doctor to diet, despite Benedicts loving reassurances. After losing only 2 kgs in 2 months of strenuous dieting, Heather had given up, only to have her weight naturally drop to the 100kg which seemed to be her set point with which she was comfortable. Admitting to her own lack of fashion sense, she always resorted to Antonia for cloths advice.

“Come to think of it – Saskia just sampled two lovely outfits, borderline business elegant/cocktail, one dusky rose, the other deep royal blue, which would be great on you… why don’t we give that a try?”

Heather rolled her eyes. “You know I wear a UK 22-24/US 18-20, ‘signC’ doesn’t cater to that!”

“Not right now, but if you ask me, we should expand our regular sizing to a UK22/US18 … I’m working on that; there is the market in many European countries.” Antonia wrinkled her brow. “But Saskia would certainly be happy to upsize her design for you, tailor-make it so to say. It would cost you the fabric plus the hours for the seamstress – not more expensive than the Italian plus-size chic we would otherwise go for!”

Antonia looked up as a broad shadow fell over their table, only to see Philip loaded with a stylishly cool black Marcolini bag full of chocolate in one hand and a big “bombe au chocolat” box in the other indecisively looking at her before turning to hurry away.

“Bon soir, Philip – I’m happy to see you are working on our Belgian chocolate survey!” Antonia smiled at him till he flushed. “May I introduce you to Heather, my best friend and soul-sister here in Brussels; these adorable two little devil-ettes are my god-daughters Aurelia and Alexandra.”

Heather smilingly got up, stretched out a hand in greeting to Philip looking at him in avid curiosity. “Philip, may I say Philip – or do you prefer the continental ‘Monsieur’… whatever?” – seeing him shake his head, she went on – “Pleasure to meet you! Antonia has been telling great things about your competence …. even though we are a bit mad at you for chaining her down in the office all the time” – winking at him. “Would you like to join us for a cup of coffee?”

Philip shook his head, half sputtered a response, but Heather had already relieved him of his parcels, took the twins play things off the chair shoving it towards him, beckoning him to sit. “Okay, a quick espresso would be nice.”

Heather quizzed Philip unabashedly and Antonia found out more about him in the 20 minutes of coffee than she had in all the weeks before at the office: That he was an only child, he had been to boarding school and hated it, he had studied at the College d’Europe in Bruges – delighting Heather, since her Benedict had been there too – he loved going to concerts, he had a cat named Chopin.

Keeping her sunglasses on despite the setting sun, Antonia could discreetly observe his first tense then more and more open interaction with Heather, asking her about having twins, teaching American studies to Europeans, the inner workings of Eurocracy. Heather’s own visible roundness seemed to make him lose some of his inhibitions, for he even opened his waxed outdoors jacket offering a glimpse at his shirt encased belly underneath, jiggling merrily as he laughed at Heather’s stories of the twins pranks, making Antonia feel all warm and fuzzy just watching.

After a good twenty minutes, he got up, smiling. “Lovely meeting you Heather. Antonia, have a nice weekend, see you on Monday.”

As soon as he was out of earshot, Heather burst out laughing, shooting Antonia a very wicked grin. “God girl, no wonder you’re working so much overtime! He’s totally your type ….. he would fit perfectly into your teddy bear collection!”

“I don’t know what you mean, he’s my boss!” Antonia responded defensively. “I have an absolute moratorium regarding my teddy bear collection. With all in all 93 teddy bears – if you include the ones as mugs – my apartment is seriously overpopulated – I’m getting in trouble with animal welfare!”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:11 AM   #4
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Part 3 – Antwerp

“Wow, oh wow…. I’ve never had a dress I looked this good in before!” a delighted Heather twirled and preened in front of the wall sized mirror in the design studio, for the first fitting of the up-sized elegant dusky rose dress Saskia had made for her. “Let alone one that fit this well! Antonia was right, your work is wonderful!” she beamed at a blushing Saskia.

“Thank you, it was a real pleasure for me,” Saskia said slightly breathlessly. “It also helped me improve the design. To perfectly show of your curves, I raised the waist a bit, let the square neck-line run a bit into a V-shape and did more of a drape over the hips. This works much better for all sizes US 10-18/UK 14-22; I just let the 2 smallest sizes the way they were.”

“You’re very sweet Saskia, but it’s more that the cut does a good job in insinuating my bulges might be curves,” Heather grinned. “Now I can’t wait to try on the blue one.”

“Heather – no more bogus remarks! But she’s right Saskia, you’ve done an excellent job –and it’s very sweet of you to have helped out,” Antonia smiled.

“Look, oh look – I think this blue one is even more flattering. For the first time ever I don’t know which one to wear because both our so lovely,” Heather came out in the off the shoulder dull royal blue wrap shift which beautifully framed her creamy shoulders.

“Very simple – you’re wearing the rose one during the day and the blue one in the evening. And somewhere down the line the bride will kick you out because you’re outshining her by far!”

“You might actually have a point there, Antonia” Heather giggled. “The bride has hideous taste; we’re friends with the groom.”

“So you are still here Antonia, I thought I heard your voice,” Philip stuck his head through the door, looking surprised. “Why good evening Heather, what are you doing here?”

Saskia immediately retreated behind the curtain of the fitting area while Antonia bit her lip, feeling a bit guilty of not having informed Philip that she had enlisted Saskia and her team for a private matter, albeit covering the costs.

Only Heather smiled gleefully at Philip and sashayed in front of him, showing off her dress. “Salut Philip. Saskia has been an absolute darling to upsize these two dresses for me as outfits for a wedding. Isn’t it lovely? But just so you know – I’m paying for the material and the work from the seamstress, so it’s no strain on ‘signC’s’ budget. I hope you don’t mind too much.”

“Uh no, that’s okay,” Philip showed a small smile. “The dress suits you beautifully.”

“It would be so great if ‘signC’ extended their size range to at least US 18/UK22 - Antonia said she is working on a survey.” Heather continued smiling playfully at Philip. “Speaking as a potential enthusiastic customer – may I be so bold to petition you as CEO to offer an additional size or two? You can probably understand my clothes shopping problems pretty well yourself.”

Antonia held her breath while Philip blushed bright pink and froze, even Saskia peered out from behind her curtain in curiosity. Not getting a response, Heather looked at Philip in bewilderment then at Antonia with a questioning shrug.

Without answering, Philip gave a short nod and turned to leave. At the door, he halted and said in quiet bitterness: “Correct observation Heather, I understand all too well. And that is why I cannot say nor do anything about it.”

Looking after him in astonishment, Heather asked Antonia, “What was that all about? Was my question so out of line? I thought coming from me it should be okay, more empathizing than offensive.”

Antonia exchanged a knowing look with Saskia. “By Philip’s standards, that actually was a complete and almost constructive response to the issue. Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong, your remark was absolutely in line under normal circumstances.”

“Unbelievable,” Heather shook her head. “He’s as bad about his weight issues as I was as an insecure fifteen year old girl. And that with working in the appearance fixated fashion industry. How awful must that be?”

After Philip having been unavailable for her all through Monday, Antonia was slightly apprehensive as she knocked on his office door in the early evening, wondering if he was seriously angry at her because of the Heather incident.

“Philip, do you maybe have twenty minutes?”

“Um … yes… of course. Sit down, let me finish reading these charts,” Antonia watched Philip methodically go through the numbers, high-lighting and structuring them with his colored pencils, before he turned to her. “So, which new impending disaster would you like to talk to me about today?”

“It’s not that bad,” Antonia smirked a bit uncomfortably. “First of all I wanted to sincerely apologize to you for not asking you before I offered Heather to use Saskia’s resources to solve her clothing issues. Also, it was not Heather’s intention to interfere with your executive decisions regarding our sales policy. She was just voicing an unfiltered consumer opinion. I’m very sorry for the entire incident – and, well, I would fully understand if you entered an official reprimand into my HR file.”

Philip looked at her in surprise and laughed. “Don’t be absurd Antonia. If it didn’t cost ‘signC’ anything, it doesn’t matter to me. Since you are the only one Saskia feels comfortable working with, she will have been happy to help. If I also get your American marketing approaches correctly, aren’t we supposed to be in constant dialogue with our consumer target groups? So forget it. Now which other real problems might we have?”

“Thank you very much. It won’t happen again. I’m very grateful for your generosity and understanding.” Antonia once again marveled how confident and easygoing Philip was long as it was purely about business as she laid the two large silver gray elegant invitations on his desk. “We have two invitations for the annual reception of the Fashion Department of the Belgian Royal Academy of the Arts in Antwerp. They’ve started including all foreign fashion companies with European headquarters in the country to promote Belgium as a fashion location, so we’re on the list. It’s a great event, a bit gala reception, a small exhibition, a fashion show with something like a ball.”

“Umm yes, and why should I know about this?”

“Well, because you as CEO are more or less obliged to go. The normal and expected person for you to take along would be Franck as our head designer,” Antonia couldn’t help a very wicked grin as she saw Philip’s appalled expression.

“You’re not serious are you? You can go with Franck if somebody has to go!” Philip snapped with a small shudder. “Sorry – that was unprofessional.”

“Philip, I feel exactly the same way as you do at the prospect of going there with Franck,” Antonia quickly responded. “To be very honest with you, currently I would like us to avoid public statements and appearances of Franck as far as possible. Jan and I have recently had enough trouble trying to streamline or rectify some major interview gaffes of his. Since ‘signC’ really should be represented well there, you should go – and it probably would be a professionally sensible idea if you allowed me to accompany you.”

Philip played with his pencils, let out a deep sigh then looked up at her with an almost imperceptible sly grin, “Okay, attending with you is slightly less disagreeable an idea than taking Franck along.”

Antonia tried to keep her smile from getting too big as Philip studied the invitation in detail and his face fell. “Umm, I don’t know, is a dinner jacket obligatory?”

“Dinner jacket? You mean a tuxedo, right?”

Philip nodded, playing with his pencils, then stammered, looking totally embarrassed. “Ummm, well, I don’t know… so short notice, can’t find … don’t think I have… probably not possible…”

Instinctively, Antonia realized what the problem might be – Philip’s recent so cute to watch expansion most likely had made him outgrow his tuxedo; so right now he probably was worried not to find a rental one that fit or have a new one made in so few days. “Oh no, this is continental Europe, people here are generally more relaxed or less educated, whichever way you want to see it, regarding formal wear. You’ll see everything from next-to-nothing over rags masquerading as fashion up to ball gown with tiara there. Why don’t you wear your, I think it’s Italian, black suit? That’s a very stylish look, maybe with an elegant to eccentric shirt & tie combination?”

“Will that honestly do?”

“Absolutely,” Philip’s skeptical look in his green eyes gave her an idea. “Actually, come to think of it – I think I might know the perfect option! You’ll find it on your desk on Friday when you get back from London in time to get ready!”

Happily humming, Antonia was arranging everything to dress for the Royal Academy reception on her bed – after a Friday afternoon of having indulged herself with a massage and an elegant evening hairdo – as her mobile rang. “Hello?”

“Antonia, what is this?” Philip sounded tired and frustrated. “Why is there a dress shirt and bow tie in this box? What were you thinking? This can’t … oh f***, I don’t need this!”

“’This’ is Saskia’s and my official suggestion for dressing you up as the perfect image of a ‘signC’ CEO,” Antonia cooed playfully to not get wound up in an argument. “It’ll look great with your suit, I’m 120% sure of that. Now hurry up and change, the shuttle service is coming at 18h45 to your place. I don’t have time now to talk, still have to do my make-up. See you at 19h00 here – we can talk then. Bye!” hanging up on him.

As Antonia descended the stairs in front of her house, Philip was already waiting for her, his face relaxing a bit as he saw her in one of her vintage all time favorite, deep blue-green, beaded bare shouldered slim evening dresses with classic 40’s movie stars waves to her shoulders. “You look wonderful.”

“Thank you, so do you,” surveying Philip with a pleased look, for the emerald green bow-tie with the white dress-shirt, with silver grey pin-stripes and the matching emerald green Chinese silk-knot buttons looked as good as she had imagined. “I owe you an explanation. Saskia had made a series of lovely bow ties with wonderful Indian silk some time ago for a presentation. I remembered this one, thought it would be perfect on you. Saskia volunteered to make a matching shirt, coming up with this fabulous design. You make the result look even better than my wildest dreams.” Antonia squeezed his fleshy upper arm in delight.

“It is very nice and stylish, thank you for the idea. It’s much better for the occasion than anything I had,” Philip helped her into the car with her high heels and long dress before squeezing in himself. Not looking at her, he murmured uneasily. “How could you find the right fit?”

“Guilty as charged. I have to confess I stole the spare shirt you keep in the closet of your office as a sample. Saskia transferred the pattern and made it to measure. Now you have one more reason to officially reprimand me,” Antonia winked at Philip who went pale.

“The shirt was made at ‘signC’?”

Immediately seeing his dread of maybe Franck having found out his exact measurements, Antonia vigorously shook her head, sending her styled waves bouncing. “No. As I said, the shirt is a private favor of Saskia’s. She took the pattern from your shirt quickly at ‘signC’ but did everything else personally at home. You can totally trust her, Saskia loathes Franck finding out about this even more than you or I do.”

Philip exhaled slightly. “When you have an idea you are convinced of, you certainly go for it, don’t you? I wonder whether that is your brash Yankee side which never thinks about collateral damage – or maybe more the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ approach?”

“That’s supposed to be a joke, or isn’t it?” Antonia was dismayed at the analogy. “I meant well, I wanted to spare you the trouble of finding something to wear, thought this would look real good on you. I’m sorry if I didn’t meet your tastes.”

“No, the result is very stylish, thank you. It did save me time and trouble,” Philip replied softly. “I was trying to joke about your very determined approach, hope you’re not offended,” to then remain quiet and tense for the rest of the drive.

Entering the grand reception, Antonia showed Philip around to the small exhibition, introduced him to a various representatives of the Belgian and European fashion industry, sat in at two short fashion shows before Princess Astrid gave the official address, making Philip whisper wickedly into Antonia’s year. “There seems to be some law of nature that royal addresses must be dead-boring and beside the point. The one’s I’ve heard back home from Princess Anne are no better. Vive la République!” making Antonia start to giggle in spite of herself.

After having mingled for some time, Philip suggested to sit at a small table around the bar area where a live act was scheduled to start shortly, ordering a full bottle of champagne for them, while Antonia made sure to get another now large plate of the delicious tidbits. “Cheers Antonia, this event is indeed not as bad as anticipated. If they have some good music now, it might even be nice.”

“Good to hear that, I think you also made a good impression on a number of interesting people. So cheers, to a fashionable evening,” Antonia smiled, finding it enticing how Philip’s bulk was half spilling out of the tight little chair.

Instead of the music starting, there was a commotion around the stage, an upset woman in a skimpy sequined dress ran back and forth until Antonia saw Wouter Dehaenen, spokesperson of the Royal Academy’s fashion department walk by angrily speaking Flemish into his mobile. Since they were quite well acquainted from several other programs, she waved him over. “What’s wrong?”

“Bon soir Antonia, sorry I’m in a hurry, our piano man seems to have a drug problem, is not fit to play …. now I have to find someone to fill in quickly.”

“What kind of music needs to be played?” Philip surprised Antonia by asking.

“Oh sorry, let me introduce you: Philip Watherwood, our new CEO at ‘signC’ - Wouter Dehaenen, spokesperson of the Royal Academy’s fashion department.”

“Pleasure, excuse me for not being able to talk right now. I need to find a pianist who can do regular, sort of jazzy bar music and songs, nothing special.”

“If you don’t find anyone else, I can give it a try. I’ve played quite a lot, also in bars,” Philip offered almost eagerly.

“Would you? Could you? I’ll immediately take you up on that offer,” Wouter’s eyes lit up. “Because so far we haven’t even come close to any other solution. Could you come talk to Leila, our singer? See if maybe it would work?”

“Sure. Antonia, you don’t mind, do you?” Philip unsqueezed himself and ambled after Wouter as a stunned Antonia sat there shaking her head. Over the next half hour, her astonishment mounted seeing Philip not only talk animatedly to the singer, then disappear behind stage to come back 10 minutes later to settle himself at the piano and start playing. Leila gushingly announced her set, introduced Philip with profuse thanks and started singing, while Antonia focused on watching Philip, who seemed totally relaxed as he sat there concentrating on playing.

“Apart from the fact that he’s an excellent piano player and saved my evening - your new boss really is a tubby cutie,” Wouter Dehaenen settled next to Antonia who was still watching Philip play the piano in awe. “Those eyes, that hair and especially that delicious round ass…”

“Wouter, I have to object in all form against the use of such language in reference to our CEO….” Antonia smacked him in mock reproach with her clutch while he cheek kissed her now in a formal greeting. “Anyway, I always thought Angel was more down your line…”

“As far as sexual orientation goes, yes … but otherwise no, too vain, too dumb, not meaty enough…” Wouter grimaced. “But I’m pretty sure this delightful butterball here is straight – or is he not?”

“98% sure … my gay-dar has been totally irresponsive..”

“Lucky you that leaves him for you to chase…”

“You’re impossible Wouter, he’s my boss,” Antonia protested.

“So what? You even dressed each other up to match – your dress and his tie, very becoming shades of emerald-blue-green for both of you” Wouter grinned at her shamelessly. “Also, I’ve been watching you eying him lustily the past few minutes … most obvious.”

Antonia turned dark red. “Caught! I did change my own dress plans for tonight after we had chosen the tie for Philip, wore this dress instead of the red one. But it’s news to me you have a ‘faible’ for the chubbies.”

“Admittedly, your plump Philip is a bit bigger than my usual preferences. But he’s got a great broad shouldered frame and his hair totally does it for me, that’s my weak point,” Wouter patted his own bald plate. “But the attraction seems to be reciprocal. He keeps looking over at you and by now is positively glowering at me for flirting with you.”

“Wouter, that’s absurd. He is doing no such thing!”

“No use denying it, Antonia. You two would make a great couple, and from the signals I get, you both want it. Anyway – I’m curious how this works out. Not only with you and your CEO, but also ‘signC’s’ market entry – it’ll be interesting to see if your approach of adapting things to the European market will pay off. Even though if I were you, I would get rid of Franck for that endeavor. So keep me posted – and have fun with the conquest of that chubby hottie! He’ll definitely be worth it, trust my word, piano players are great with their hands!”

After Leila had ended singing, Philip took a short break, talked a while with her then settled back at the piano and continued playing, giving Antonia only a short wave. As some people got up to dance on the small dance floor, she re-filled her own and Philip’s champagne glasses and took them up to join him at the piano.

“Is it allowed to speak to the piano man?” seeing Philip smile and nod,

Antonia continued. “Are you trying to shock me out of my wits with your hidden brilliance? Where did you learn to play like this?”

Philip laughed softly. “I never tried to hide this from you – but how much piano playing do you normally do in the office. It’s my favorite form of relaxation; I’ve played since I was six. As far as quality goes, I’d say I’m a pretty advanced amateur. Now what about you, shall I play something for you so you can sing?”

“Sing? No way!” Antonia shuddered. “Unfortunately I’m a totally non-musical person, I’m tone-deaf. The tiny amount of musicality I might have is strictly limited to phonetics.”

“… at which you are really good, though. I’m always really impressed how you go back and forth between all those languages, never mess anything up.”

“I’ve done it all my life, it’s nothing special. Would you maybe like a sip of champagne – I brought your glass?”

Seeing Philip nod again, she held his glass to his lips, her hand softly resting against his chubby chin so there were no drops, feeling an electrical jolt as her hand touched his soft skin. Looking down, she admired how his well fleshed thighs were pushed comfortably apart, his round belly supported by them. Philip saw her glance and immediately with one hand tugged his coat over it, fastening the top button.

Leaning over the grand piano, so he could see her cleavage, Antonia teased: “From the look of it, you seem to have spent many a party hidden behind the piano playing away. Don’t you know many women have a thing for the piano man, can’t wait for him to finish and come out?”

Blushing deeply, Philip played on a while before he murmured. “Well observed. I like playing; it’s often the best, most appreciated thing for me to do at a party. And it does often get me a very nice audience …”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:12 AM   #5
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Part 4 -In the Board Room

“Here are the latest updated charts of the market research we have done,” Antonia came into Philip’s office with the print outs in one hand, her USB stick with the files in the other shortly before he was to hold his first presentation on most recent progress to the board of investor’s. “Shall we give them a quick run through so you are comfortable with presenting them?”

Philip, pale, looking exhausted after several night shifts, rubbed his eyes saying. “A brief look probably is not a bad idea,” sinking heavily onto his chair, only for the straining top button of his suit coat to half pop off, leaving a small tear in the fabric. Philip’s face froze in instant mortification: “Bl***y utter f***ing utter shit!” he swore helplessly under his breath not looking at Antonia.

Antonia’s heart melted at his distress as she looked at her watch, only 50 minutes before the start of the meeting – definitely too little time for him to go home change or buy a new suit. Thinking rapidly, she softly put her hand on his upper arm. “Stay right here. I have a good idea; I’ll be right back, just wait!”

She literally ran over to Saskia’s studio collected needles, pins, various threads, a small collection of patches and samples before she went back to Philip’s office, who was still sitting there his face buried in his hands.

“Philip, if you will please hand me your coat,” Antonia said gently, placing her sewing utensils in front of her on his desk.

“Forget it, it’s no use. It’s ruined, I’m just too bl***y …” Philip mumbled.

“I know how to fix that, believe me,” Antonia insisted. “Now give me that coat, please, we only have 45 minutes to the meeting!”

“It’s hopeless, I’ll have to embarrass myself…. thank you for trying…”

On the verge of losing her patience with his self-pitying obstinacy Antonia said very directly: “Look Philip, you always say we need solutions. I’ve got a solution -don’t be so stubborn, at least let me try it. Give me your coat!”

Philip looked up at her in surprise, reluctantly took off his suit coat, and handed it to her, giving her a brief full view of his round body, before he quickly sat back down, his elbows on his knees, pulling in behind his desk half hiding from her view, making himself as small as possible.

Antonia sighed but set to work: Measured all three buttons as close to the seam as possible -adding a good 3 cm /1.5’ in width – and quickly sewed them on tightly with a double thread. Then she chose three tiny leather patches, stitching them over the small tear and in corresponding position next to as well as across from the other buttons, making it look intentional before she smoothed her work, checked whether it buttoned correctly, handing it back to Philip. “There you go that should do the job!”

With unbelieving eyes, Philip took the coat half hid behind his tall chair, tried it on, easily buttoning it up over his expansive midsection, looking down on himself in amazement. “Antonia, you’re a genius, a total genius! Where did you learn that? You could work as one of the cloths designers – you just saved my life!”

“It’s nothing, I’m glad you finally let me help,” Antonia shrugged. “Those are old-fashioned feminine skills – knowing how to sew. My grandparents had a tailor store, so I learned a bit there. Now you have to go to the meeting…”

“Could you please come too? Assist me with the presentation do some of the market survey figures yourself? I’d really appreciate that,” Philip looked at her with puppy dog eyes, exhaustion and relief written all over his plump face. “You don’t have to convince me you’re a good woman, I’m known that from the first day I came here,” with a small shy, but slightly wicked grin.

“I’d be more than happy to, thank you for the honor of presenting to the board,” Antonia smiled. “I’ll just run over and dress the part, meet you in 10 minutes over in the board room.”

Getting the most conservative charcoal pin-stripe suit from Saskia along with a white wrap blouse and a scarf in berry shades to match her lipstick, Antonia joined Philip, who had set up everything in the board room and was making small talk to some of the board members, nervously introducing her to those she didn’t already know.

Philip started his presentation by going through the time line for ‘signC’s’ market entry in continental Europe along with the most recent budget adjustments and cost cutting measures, easily answering questions, countering objections before he ended the first part. “So far, my predecessor has not familiarized you with the details of the markets conditions or our strategy to meet them. I would like to hand over to Antonia Langley, our marketing &communications director, to give you some insights on the specifics of the various country markets.”

“Thank you for the introduction Mr. Watherwood,” Antonia had barely started as the door opened and Franck came in, followed by Guy pulling a platform trolley with several dummies showing designs she had never – with the exception of one dress and coat – seen before.

“Gentlemen, allow me to give you a more vivid, more fashionable impression of how we plan to conquer the European market,” Franck said unabashedly. “Here you see a cross-section of our most cutting-edge design samples… plus the ones myself, Guy here… and oh yes, Antonia is wearing one too, even though she doesn’t quite convey the desired styling. Mr. Watherwood – why didn’t you at least wear the tie I sent you? It must have fit – size isn’t all that much of an issue with that accessory….”

Antonia groaned inwardly, sensing this barb would be the final straw to ruin Philip’s nerve after the suit incident. Sure enough, he reddened, froze and intently shuffled through his charts. Counting to five in her head, knowing a response from Philip was now going to be unlikely, she cut Franck off. “Gentlemen, for those of your who have not met him yet, our head designer Franck Gordon who is charge of the men’s line and is overseeing the design adaptation for the entire European market. Now I would like to first give you the details of these various markets, get a feeling for them before Mr. Gordon can then introduce you to some of his new suggestions.”

Ignoring Franck’s trying to get a word in, she went through her presentation asking for questions and elaborating as much as possible to give Philip the time to get his bearings back. But as the discussion wound down, Franck immediately took over, going into the details of his designs.

Suddenly, one of the board members from Green*Star interrupted him. “Sorry Philip, I’m confused. In the material you gave us I can a full pre-selection of the women’s line. But only one of the pieces Mr. Gordon is showing us is in the pre-selection, oh yeah, plus Ms. Langley’s suit. Have you already selected the designs and called for orders, yes or no? And what about the men’s line – there is nothing in here except the recommendation of which sizes to market? When are you finally going to decide on these things, time is running out?”

Briefly clenching his teeth, Philip spoke up. “The women’s pre-selection has been completed by Ms. Langley and Ms. Wissemaar, who mainly does the women’s designs. The calls for order have been placed and we expect final results in 10 days. Mr. Gordon would like to give an idea what else might have been possible. As for the men’s line, here a few more basic decisions need to be taken…”

“A general question for women’s and men’s line I think the board needs to deal with is the size range we intend to offer,” Franck used this deviation to evade any questions why his men’s pre-selection was not ready yet. “If ‘signC’ wants to establish itself on the European Market, it must boost the image of high style in all aspects. That means cater to true fashionistas by offering them chic, trendy and perfectly fitted clothing – which can only be done successfully in sample sizes, maybe one or two above that.”

“Mr. Gordon, the board has already decided on this question in passing the general investment plan– we offer the individual markets standard size ranges for the women’s line,” Antonia interrupted him and decided to take the discussion in her hands, knowing Philip was not going to, despite catching Craig Richardson’s astounded and slightly disapproving look. “It makes no sense whatsoever to try to sell size US 0/UK 4 on for instance the German or Dutch market, where your average woman is 5’8’/1.72m. Unless she is a delicately built model, only anorexics will fit into that – and that in turn is also an image we do not want to convey. Considering the market realities along with the current debate in fashion about being more accepting of various body types and catering to them, Mr. Gordon’s suggestion of down-scaling the size range for women’s clothing borders on absurdity. At any rate this discussion is a waste of the board’s precious time – and I would kindly ask you gentlemen to confirm your original decision for us so we can move on.”

Seeing the vast majority around the table nod, a few shrug their shoulders and no protest arise, Antonia heard Philip breathe a sigh of relief next to her and continued to finish the issue off. “Now to the men’s line. Here the problem is that you have several strongly diverging scales of measurement for establishing the sizes, not only across the individual markets, but also within them. We’ve researched the sales ratios of the sizes in the individual markets, compared them to the data available in the national sizing institutes. As a last step, we’ve had the Royal Academy’s tailoring class come up with a standardized median sizing which would fit across the board of the markets.”

Having pushed the issue so far, Antonia didn’t care anymore that Franck now found out she and Saskia had by-passed his competencies completely because she had been so convinced by Saskia’s idea. Franck shot her a look of pure hate, tried to speak up while even Philip looked at her in surprise; he seemed to have forgotten he had given her memo with the suggestion an ‘ok’. To make sure Franck could not get a word in, she turned to Craig Richardson. “Our suggestion now to the board is we use this adapted size scale for production of the men’s line, then trying to market the average size ranges in the various countries.”

Craig nodded. “Sounds like a sensible, well researched solution. Gentlemen, can be have your okay on this?”

A general murmur of assent went around the table, only the Green*Star representative who had spoken up earlier was critical: “If I look at all the problems adapting our products to the European markets is causing, why on earth don’t we just move in with a chain of stores, boost our production of the US and British designs we have anyway and sell them off? That’s a much cheaper and certainly better approach.”

“Even though this is a marketing question, I would like to hand over to the true expert we have among us – since it was Philip Watherwood who originally wrote the exploratory survey at Green*Star about why ‘signC’ should offer a European design for entering the local markets,” Antonia smiled encouragingly at Philip.

Taking a deep breath and shooting her a look of gratitude, Philip showed a small twisted smile. “Sure Jeremy, it is the better approach if you want ‘signC’ to make it onto the endless list of failures of US and British retailers trying to establish themselves on the continental European markets. This list of failures includes giants like Wal-Mart, GAP, Marks&Spencer’s down to more specialized ones like Land’s End, Eddie Baur or Liz Claiborne. The only ones who have been successful are the big sport’s wear companies like Nike – and for instance Levi’s. But guess what – the jeans Levi’s sells in Europe are designed and tailored in France, the match the fit and styling expectations of the customers here. Apart from some cultural differences, everyday fashion markets are much more national than you would expect. But also if you look at high-end fashion, European designers are much more successful on the US market than vice-versa. All that data told us that if we wanted ‘signC’ to expand to Europe, it meant looking at the markets, matching their needs and desires …. “

As the meeting ended, Craig Richardson said good-bye to Antonia, handing her several envelopes. As she looked into them at her desk, they were US marketing materials she had requested from her colleague Arthur, on one of them a small post-it saying. “Pick me up this evening, 8:30, Hotel Marriott Bourse”.

Antonia was puzzled, but nevertheless put on a casual chic dress and met Craig at the appointed hour. “So, what can I do for you, Craig?”

“I don’t need to tell you this meeting is confidential. How about going for the local specialty mussels&fries to that one place….?”

“You mean ‘Léon’?” Antonia tried to suppress a grimace. “Definitely the wrong place if you want our meeting to stay confidential.”

“… And from the look on your face, you don’t like mussels! Any alternatives?”

“I guess I’ll have to practice keeping a straight face. Near here, I know a good Thai restaurant and a very nice, chic Greek one. But whichever one we choose, we should drive. Brussels downtown has turned into a major European crime hotspot – you’re three times more likely to get mugged at gun point here than for instance in Rome.”

“Really? It’s Greek then for me, I don’t like European style Asian food!”

After they had ordered Antonia looked at Craig expectantly, waiting for him to start, but he inhaled his beer first. “Now tell me what the hell is going on here in Brussels? I don’t need to tell you the meeting was a disaster. It’s not your fault; you did an excellent job in bailing out Philip, finding a solution. But it’s not your job to bail out your boss in front of the board! What’s ailing Philip? Why is he putting up with that kind of crap from Franck?”

This turn of questioning was worse than Antonia had feared, immediately pushing all her protective instincts regarding Philip into alarm mode. “So far, Philip has been doing a good job in my opinion cutting costs, getting things back on track for the market introduction and focusing our efforts. He’s new to the fashion business, he needs some more time. You know working with Franck isn’t easy – he thinks he’s Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and John Galliano all wrapped into one …. Often forgetting we do mass market fashion.”

“Antonia, your loyalty to your immediate superior and to your project over here honors you. You already did an impressive showing of that today – together with your undeniable expertise. It’s no surprise Philip sings your praises. I was actually starting to wonder whether he has been developing a crush on you, but never mind. But – you’re also the resident American on the team; you owe headquarters some loyalty too. So – spit it out – what’s going wrong here?”

“As you saw for yourself, Philip and Franck live in different spheres which can’t really connect, making working together difficult,” Antonia tried to keep it vague. “But I think things are improving, together with Saskia we’ve got everything worked out for the women’s line…”

“Look, I know Philip is a good guy,” Craig interrupted her. “As I said no complaints about his work on the numbers. But he clearly isn’t the same guy I chose based on his performance at Green*Star. Franck’s scene today was blatant insubordination – down to him making fun of Philip’s size. So again … what’s the matter with him?”

Cringing, Antonia looked for a neutral phrasing: “If any industry is appearance fixated, it’s the fashion industry. But even by those standards, Franck is an extreme case with a totally bigoted outlook – he keeps telling me I’m too fat to be a convincing representative of a fashion company, too. Philip seems to be having a hard time adapting to this culture, where profit margins are less important than the inches of your waist-line…”

“That’s all total bull-shit! Philip is in charge of the profit margins, who gives a damn about his waistline?” Craig downed his third beer. “Jeez, I know all you people make fun behind my back for my total lack of fashion sense, that I can’t get my suits to fit right – so what? I do the business, not the designs. By the way, the last adjective that comes to mind when I think of you is fat … if I may say so.”

“Sure, I know that. I’m tall with a normal feminine build, that’s all. Franck is plain obnoxious, and worse, incompetent as a designer and managing a clothes line. Isn’t there anything you can do about it on behalf of headquarters or the board so we might actually get rid of him?”

“No chance – for two reasons. He had a three year contract – we’d have to pay the full sum, even if we fired him.” Craig dipped another small meatball into the tzatziki. “In addition, he has some fans on the board. It looks like he and his assistant Guy have won over several people by staging pretty steamy drinking parties in Amsterdam.”
Seeing Antonia’s disgusted grimace, he nodded. “Even if I agree with you, there is nothing I can do about it. What you have to do though, is get Philip back on track. I’ll have to tell him tomorrow morning he’s on probation now. He must meet all time-lines and not allow himself another showing like that in front of the board. That also means you filling in for him is not an option. Can I rely on you to take care of that?”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:14 AM   #6
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Part 5 – Lago di Como

“Oh shit!“ Antonia groaned dropping backwards on the bed after having gotten off the phone with Jan, informing her about Franck’s fourth attempt at suicide she could remember. By now she considered them to be more annoying than disturbing – Franck was such a drama queen. Quickly she debated whether she had to inform Philip, deciding there was no way around it: As CEO, he needed to know, especially since he could not yet assess how non-dramatic this incident was. She had hoped their first business trip together to Milan to negotiate new fabric contracts would not be ruined by this news. After the awful board meeting two weeks ago, Philip had been tense and withdrawn, working endlessly and worrying Antonia by looking pale and puffy.

She tried to call him on his mobile only to reach voice mail; his room phone was somehow disconnected, as the front desk informed her. Grumbling Antonia realized she had to get up and dress halfway presentably again - plain t-shirt dress, pony tail, glasses. As she reached the 7th floor, she knocked on the door of Philip’s room only to here a gruff. “Moment!”

“Philip, it’s only me, Antonia!” she said through the door. “I’m awfully sorry to disturb you ….” as the door was pulled open Antonia had to make sure her mouth didn’t drop open too. Philip half hid behind the door in an old, way too tight t-shirt and boxers which camouflaged none of his big body: the massive belly pushing out in front, about 4’’ of bare flesh showing at the bottom hanging over a tight waistband cutting into big love handles, thick man boobs featured prominently, wide shoulders and meaty upper arms straining out of the sleeves.

Simultaneously, Antonia and Philip blushed. “Philip, I have to ask forgiveness for intruding on your privacy so late. I couldn’t reach you by phone … I absolutely need to inform you; something has happened in Brussels. Since it’s confidential, I don’t want to do it standing in the hallway. I hate to ask, I know it’s inappropriate, but may I come in for a second?”

Philip blushed even deeper red if that was possible, opened the door fully to let her enter with a short grunt. It took Antonia only 5 seconds to realize she was indeed intruding deeply on his privacy: Throughout the room she saw the evidence of what either could be called a big dinner or, less politely, a bad case of binge eating – a two storey room service trolley full of empty dishes, wrappers of Swiss chocolate on the table, bags of chips and cookies on the couch, a can of nuts. How humiliated he must feel that she was witnessing this, Antonia thought to herself, instinctively feeling she would need to say or do something to make him feel at ease again, especially trust her discretion.

Turning to Philip, she saw he had hastily put on a way too small hotel bath robe into which he could barely fit his shoulders, gaping over his broad belly which he somehow tried to conceal by wrapping his arms in front of him.
“Again, my sincere apologies for barging in like this,” Antonia started. “But I have nuisance news from Brussels I think you should hear from me instead of from someone else: Jan just called – Franck tried to commit suicide again.”

“Franck? Suicide? Again?” Antonia could see Philip’s mind was immediately off the present embarrassing situation. “Is he alive? How bad is it?”

Antonia couldn’t help laughing a little, looking at Philip’s distressed round face. “He’s fine – this is just one of his usual small drama acts. Since I’ve been with ‘signC’ this is the fourth attempted suicide I’ve witnessed, all for pathetic excuses of a reason. That’s also why I wanted to inform you in person to give you the background to make the correct assessment of the situation.”

In this second, there was another knock on the door making Philip open; it was the maid with a stack of towels and bath robes, apologizing in rapid Italian for the delay and inconvenience, also presenting a complimentary bottle of wine.

Philip took the textiles, handed Antonia the bottle complimenting the maid back out. Leaning against the door, he sighed heavily. “Please excuse my being in such a state, today was really exhausting. Thank you for coming – that definitely was the right thing to do.”

“Do you have any more questions? Shall I prepare a small press release in case there are any leaks?” Antonia asked, making her way back to the door, desperately thinking of how to make amends. “Again, I didn’t want to disturb you, just make sure you were informed. Good night, I’m there if you need anything else, please let me know.”

She was already half way out the door when she heard Philip say in a small voice. “Antonia – thank you so much. You’re the only one I feel I can really rely on at ‘signC’. I’ve overheard you standing up to the others in favor of my credentials when they doubt I’m visually convincing as CEO for a fashion company – which is simply the truth. You most likely didn’t need tonight to find out gluttony is my chief vice; it’s obvious at first sight. Lately it’s gotten out of hand again …. I appreciate your discretion and understanding tremendously.”

Antonia smiled warmly. “My pleasure – I’m grateful I finally have a CEO I can respect, who is intellectually challenging to work for, whom I trust to get the job done. Thank you for your praise. Good night again.”

“Wait a second. To make up for this slightly disastrous evening - would you care to join me for some of this pretty decent looking Barolo?” Philip asked, blushing lightly but looking at her openly.

“That’s very kind, but I don’t want to intrude any longer.”

“You’re not intruding, I’d enjoy talking to you; you can tell me more about this suicide’s back story. Let me just make myself presentable, clear things up a little. Could you maybe in the meantime open the bottle, get some glasses? The mini bar is back there.”

Philip quickly emerged from the bathroom now swaddled from neck to ankle in what must be a truly tent-like white hotel bath robe because it covered him completely, wrapped far around his expansive middle, making him look a lot like a cuddly polar bear in Antonia’s opinion. Then he briskly swept all empty packs and wrappers into a bag, moved the room service trolley out the door. “I hope you’ll excuse the bath robe – at least this one fits,” he asked shyly.

“It’s the polar bear look,” Antonia blurted to her own embarrassment, instantly trying to give it a positive spin. “In these times of climate change, it’s a pronounced fashion statement that shows you care about environmental conservation by showing solidarity with an endangered species.”

“Here’s to my favorite communications director speaking,” Philip laughed, taking the glass of wine she handed him.

Despite ending the evening with Philip, wine and a nice, relaxed conversation, Antonia slept poorly that night because the scene in his room haunted her. As much as she loved the tingle of seeing Philip visibly expanding, she had always fantasized this to be the result of pleasurably indulging in fine food, at best in her company. Instead she was seriously worried about him as her boss and secret crush that he was leading such an unhealthy life by alternating between starving himself and binging, probably with a lot of unhealthy foods, clearly making himself miserable to worsen matters.

After much tossing and turning, she made up her mind: Since she now could be considered officially informed about his issues, she would deal openly, supportively with them- starting right the next morning. Putting together the updates from Brussels on Franck’s condition as well as a running list for the day’s negotiations, she sent Philip an SMS asking him to join her at 8h30 for breakfast to discuss these matters.

When she came down he was already there, as usual with only a cup of coffee. “Buon giorno – it’s always a surprise to see one of her Majesty’s subjects as such an avid Italian coffee drinker,” she smiled at him, setting the ingredients she had collected from the breakfast buffet on the table and starting to make a fresh Müsli; cutting banana and apple, mixing it with ricotta, honey, fresh orange juice and some of the Swiss cereal.

“I guess that’s one of my many attempts of distancing myself from my roots,” Philip half grinned. “Somehow it feels like I was drowned in tea the first 22 years of my life.”

Taking a large sip of her own cappuccino, Antonia divided her Müsli in two bowels placing the larger one in front of him saying, “Buon appetito – I’m sure this beats the ready-made breakfast cereals they have here.”

“Thank you, I’m not hungry, I never have breakfast …” Philip shoved away the bowl, but his stomach let out a tell-tale grumble. Antonia didn’t say anything, looked at him long and hard, pushed the bowl back putting a spoon in his hand; sighing, he started eating, mumbling. “Thank you, it tastes very good.”

Then they set to work, went to three meetings over the morning, before Antonia dropped into a small “Tavola Calda” she had been to several times before, got a plate of vegetable pasta for each of them along with an assortment of salads and started eating, eyeing Philip for so long critically until he too picked up his fork and ate everything in front of him. The afternoon was filled with an endless contract negotiation – ending with them having to work through drafts until late in the evening. Since they did this in the small meeting room attached to Philip’s suite, Antonia ordered room service - tuna casserole, baked vegetables, espresso granità - for dinner, stifling a weak protest of Philip’s with a very strict look.

The next day was not much different, Antonia feeding Philip tasty fresh Panini for lunch at a show before they had the final round of negotiations concerning their largest contract for ordering fabric. The talks with the Italians went surprisingly well – in these difficult times they were willing to make more compromises than expected if they received a longer term contract for high quality fabric – so they were finished early by 16h30. Nevertheless, Antonia was exhausted: She had topped the high work load and worrying about Philip with endless brooding over how to solve the wrought work situation at the Brussels office. She smiled mechanically saying good-bye to the Italians not noticing Philip tried to address her twice: “Antonia – do I need to speak Italian to get your attention?”

“Sorry Philip, just my low point in concentration of the day. What did you say?”

“I wanted to thank you again for excellent work, wish you a pleasant early evening. Take some time to relax.”

“Thank you, I’m glad I could help,” Antonia responded in reflex before her mind went back into focus, thinking how she could create the opportunity to talk to Philip in a more personal atmosphere over the ideas that had formed in her mind in the past 48 hours. “How are you spending the evening?”

“Not much, settle down with my computer, catch up on some paperwork,” then blushed, avoiding her eye after he caught her worried expression, probably reading her mind that she feared he would lock himself up again for the unhealthy and frustrating combination of working and binging.

“If you don’t mind, I have an alternative to suggest: We’ve been working so hard, that contract we signed is a major feat, we should celebrate a little. Seeing something else than Milan meeting rooms would do us good,” Antonia paused to think of how to sell her rather personal idea. “One of the best family Trattorie in Italy I know is on a lovely small terrace overlooking Lake Como. It’s only about a 45 minute drive, it’s a nice pre-spring evening. We haven’t had a decent meal yet today. Why don’t we drive there for dinner?”

Philip squirmed uncomfortably. “A nice suggestion, but how can we get there? The limousine service here is hideously expensive, in these times even I can’t put it on expenses ….”

“Who’s talking about limo service? You know I’m very cost conscious. No, I was thinking of simply renting a car out of our pool contract – that would be only €50 for the evening plus gas…”

“But who would drive? It’s dangerous, these Italians are crazy drivers, it’s the wrong side of the road, I haven’t done much driving on the continent…”

Antonia burst out laughing. “I’m driving of course; I know how to get there! I’ve driven a lot in Italy - it’s easy fun with a bit of a challenge … I look forward to being your ‘chauffeuse’! Is meeting at 19h30 fine with you? I’ll make the reservations for car and table.” Despite looking non-convinced, Philip nodded.

After a power nap and a quick change in dress, Antonia joined Philip at the front desk only to see his face fall even further as he saw her. She was dressed in casual Italian chic, pencil jeans skirt, high heels showing off the elegant curve of her calves, a turquoise tunica blouse high-lighting her grey eyes and cleavage. She giggled with delight as she saw what was waiting for her: A cute chubby guy all ready to go in front of a snappy sports car – perfect for an evening outing.

"Dispiace Signora, abbiamo solamente questa Alfa Brera per Lei; le macchine grandi sono già occupate." the hotel’s dispatch clerk tried to apologize.

C’è perfetto, Signor Alfredi, una bellissima sportiva macchina italiana. Grazie tanto!” Antonia accepted the keys smiling at Philip.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any casual clothing, I’ve nothing decent …” he started, still dressed in his suit with fresh shirt and tie.

“No problem, my mistake,” Antonia waved it off. “In my enthusiasm for getting out of town I overlooked we’re celebrating a business success. This way we’re going typical Italian style – ladies dressy casual, men in business suits,” she winked at him opening the car door with a flourish, only to notice the smallish, low slung sports seats were less than ideal for his build. Quickly she bent down, pulled the lever pushing the seat as far back as possible.

To give Philip the chance to settle himself without her staring, Antonia walked around the car, threw her coat and handbag into the back then slipped into the driver seat only to start fiddling around with buttons and levers to get everything in the perfect position for herself. Still she could feel Philip slightly struggling to fit his expanse into the small seat, puffing a bit in trying to fasten the seat belt, turning her on pretty badly so she breathed deeply to contain her excitement.

Seeing he wasn’t going to find the narrow slit for the seat belt hidden below the flesh roles on his side, Antonia grabbed its end forcefully fastening it. “The seat belt fastenings are awfully misplaced in these Alfas. I’m lucky I’m not wearing a jacket, otherwise I couldn’t find mine either.”

Philip was red in the face with a touch of perspiration on his brow now looking intensely uncomfortable; for an instant Antonia wondered whether she was doing the right thing, or if she was too overbearing again on him. But as she turned the ignition, kicked in first gear, took off, skidding through the first traffic light barely before it turned red, she felt very optimistic again.

The fast paced, pushy Italian way of driving, racing a BMW to the toll booth, flashing her head-lights to sweep slower cars out of the way was an exhilarating diversion from diplomatically negotiating fabric contracts or primly repressing lusty thoughts about her boss all day, making her spirits soar. Feeling Philip’s warm round bulk so close to her, even though he as usual made sure to cover himself up with his suit coat as far as possible, accidentally having to touch his fleshy thigh in shifting gears sent a wave of contentment through her.

On the short, flat boring stretch North of Saronno she tested how fast the Alfa could go, until Philip grumbled: “May I remind you that we do have a code of ethics at ‘signC’ committing our employees to obey laws such as speed limits?”

Antonia flashed him a wicked grin. “Don’t forget, I have a driver’s license from a country with no speed limit. We learn how to drive fast.”

Soon they reached Como, drove along the scenic lake with the Alps rising left and right, beautiful historic villas set in lush green parks along the narrow winding road with Antonia slightly slowing the pace for Philip to take a good look at the scenery. She pulled into the small car park above the restaurant’s terrace, got out, smilingly looked around at the spectacular view in the evening light while Philip heaved himself out, stretched, and straightened his crumpled suit, before giving her a small wink: “It’s infectious how much you are enjoying yourself. And it’s so beautiful here I think this is a good idea after all.”

“Wait till you taste the food!”

Not even thinking about asking Philip’s opinion, Antonia ordered the house Antipasti platter for 2, the specialty ravioli with squash-sage filling and grilled lake trout along with home grown white wine. As the wine and Antipasti came, Philip for once did not need to be prompted, but took a few quick bites before he raised his glass. “To a great deal, made possible by our wonderful marketing director, ‘signC’ and I owe her a lot.”

Antonia smiled. “To the best CEO ‘signC’ Europe can have – your number smarts and negotiating prowess made the day. Buon appetito!”

The wine along with the good food made Philip more laid back than Antonia had expected, he ate heartily, unapologetically and even finished her fish as she claimed she was full. Nevertheless she was hesitant to speak to him about her new ideas, since they were so far-reaching; in addition, she feared he might deduce protecting him from further uncomfortable dealings with Franck and his associates - who were clearly giving him a hard time personally, undermining his authority as CEO - as one of her main motives.

“This is a delicious dinner, Antonia, compliments for another great suggestion. But why do I constantly have the odd feeling you brought me out here to tell me something?” Philip looked at her, his green eyes warm and amused.

Antonia blushed lightly. “You unfortunately already know me pretty well. I’m still wondering how to phrase it, since it’s a strategic idea. I fear you might think I’m infringing on your competencies.”

Philip laughed out loud. “Let’s see: You’ve been navigating me through what is my job for the past 4 days in a language I don’t understand, you speeded me out here for dinner in spite of my protests, you’ve taken on the micro-management of my meals…. And suddenly you’re worried about infringing on my competencies as your boss? Pray specify what might be more of an infringement!”

Caught, Antonia bit her lip, but seeing him clearly stay amused, took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking about the situation with Franck – it’s not working. As you know, I’m critical of his professional performance: he doesn’t deliver the kind of style and quality ‘signC’ needs for the men’s line on the European market, his tailoring is poor, he simply doesn’t put the necessary effort into the quality control of the manufacturing process. His problematic social skills – to put it mildly – have negative effects on our entire office and reduce the efficiency of all other measures we are currently undertaking. On top, his constant tantrums, bouts of depression with these faked suicides make him unreliable.”

“I appreciate your – how do you Yankees call it - “straight talk”, Antonia. But those are not exactly news.”

“I’m getting to the news. Why don’t we order dessert first?”

Philip discreetly tugged at his waistband under the table mumbling: “No, that’s really not necessary, thank you.”

“You can’t celebrate without dessert!” Antonia expression was as innocent as possible. “You have to taste “Mamma’s” Tiramisu - it’s my favorite, not so creamy, more flavor, more espresso, more liquor. There’s a new orange panna cotta on the menu I’m dying to taste.”–waving the waiter over and ordering.

“Weren’t you just worried about infringing on my competencies?” Philip grinned at her, finishing off the last of the wine.

“Dessert is an integral part of dinner – so it can’t be an additional infringement,” Antonia grinned back. “Now to my suggestion: From what Jan told me, we have to count on Franck being hospitalized with a little bit of therapy for at least two weeks – right now in the crucial final stage before getting the men’s line ready for production. Guy can’t handle it on his own – he’s even more incompetent than Franck. Why don’t we postpone the launch of the men’s line for at least two seasons? Send Franck into a few months of rehab hoping he comes back more normal? He has a fixed three year contract so he has to be paid until the end of next year no matter what.”

“Phew … that is a radical solution!” Philip leaned back, rumpled his hair, his jacket falling open giving Antonia a rare glance at the full splendor of his big round belly, handsomely filled with dinner, rolling over a rather tight waistband – making her eyes sparkle in delight. “What about the costs of canceling production? The layout of the flagship stores? Orders from retailers? Have you thought about all that?”
Seeing Antonia look at his belly, he hastily covered himself up again but seemed reassured by her genuinely sweet smile.

“Yes, I have – by now I’m convinced we will not only save a lot of money, but also have a better chance of a successful market entry for our women’s line. It’s the women’s lines that bring the attention and media coverage in fashion, establish the major part of the brand image, not the men’s clothing.”

Dessert arrived, Antonia handed him the Tiramisu, taking the Panna cotta for herself, but dividing it in half. “We still have 17 days for opting out of the production contracts for the men’s line with only minimal fees. So far, we have only 3 retailers in all European countries who have signed up for the men’s line – in contrast to 47 who want to sell women’s wear. As far as our own stores go – most of them are too small to present both lines on the scale US headquarters expect. So we would actually have a much nicer, more spacious and appealing design for the stores, hopefully attracting more customers with just the women’s line. Saskia is doing a great job in adapting the designs from the US to the European market, creating some new ones to match local demand. Look at my blouse, for instance! Plus: it’ll be much easier for her - she’ll be more relaxed, even more productive if she no longer has Franck as her nominal superior annoying and inhibiting her.”

“Nice blouse indeed,” Philip eyed her cleavage, only to let out a small groan. “Shit, shit, shit, I’ve more or less eaten up the Tiramisu – we were supposed to share.” looking down at one small bite left on his plate in dismay.

“Okay, that’s mine then,” Antonia grinned, spooned up the last piece, slowly pushed it into her mouth before moving her plate still over half filled with orange Panna cotta over to Philip.

“No, thank you, I can’t….”

“You have to taste it, it’s sensational, every bit as delicious as our hosts promised,” Antonia spooned up a little to push it to Philip’s lips which opened up and swallowed, closing his eyes in pleasure. “Mmmm that is something. Orange, cream, some liquor ….” only to have Antonia feed him another spoonful.

“Now that is infringing on my competencies!” Philip gave her a look of mock reproach, took the spoon to finish the dessert, while Antonia was mortified as she realized how totally inappropriate spoon feeding her boss was.

“But I need to sleep over your idea, even though my instincts tell me it’s an excellent one,” Philip went on. “I hate to ask after this tiring week here in Italy – but would you be up for some extra work this weekend so we can re-design the strategy as you suggested for women’s wear only? Come up with a convincing sales pitch for the board?”

“That’s a goal I’m willing to put every waking minute into!” Antonia raised her glass smiling at the prospect of a weekend with Philip, thinking what she could cook for them.
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:16 AM   #7
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Part 6 - Warszawa

Stifling a yawn, Antonia carefully balanced the two heavy baskets on the hand rail of the elevator: It was 8:37 on a Saturday, she had already prepared two meals, was forty minutes late – and totally exhausted. In the past two weeks since coming back from Milan she and Philip had worked like crazy to come up with the revised business model of women’s wear only for ‘signC’ on the European market.

“There you are Antonia, I was starting to worry something might have happened,” Philip’s eager smile greeted her as the elevator doors opened. “Oh you brought our office picnic again, that’s even more work for you … but you always make such good things… let me take that for you…”

Yawning again, Antonia handed him one basket. “Here this is breakfast – take it to our meeting room, I’ll put lunch into the frig…”

While packing everything away, she could not stop marveling how Philip had changed since coming back from Milan. It was as if Franck’s absence and the decision to try to postpone the men’s wear line had liberated him: he worked tirelessly, confidently and in a good mood which translated to everyone except Guy and Baas. Dealing only with women’s wear seemed to put him much more at ease; he even suggested she should find a test market for extending ‘signC’s” size range by one or two sizes to her and Saskia’s endless astonishment. Just as surprising was that he enjoyed, even asked her to manage their meals. Mostly he uncomplainingly ate the three full meals with her she prepared, only once fussing over calories. To alleviate his fears in this direction, she made sure to prepare very healthy, filling dishes, off-handedly describing how she made them to reduce his inhibitions of finishing his fair share.

Seeing her yawn as he came back into the kitchenette, Philip immediately set a coffee cup under the machine and handed the cappuccino to Antonia. “You’re so tired… I’m sorry for working you so hard. Here, this might help a bit. I must say, this new Italian coffee machine is the best ‘signC’ investment so far!”

Following him into the meeting room, she could see he had spread out charts of the revised business plan on the tables which they went through for a final run, prioritizing the parts for the presentation to the board.

“Well… that looks seriously good,” Philip surveyed the final set of charts with obvious satisfaction while licking apricot fromage blanc from his spoon. “Is there anything left to take care of over here?”

“As far as I can tell only our internal design HR issues,” Antonia responded. “Franck needs to be told that his only chance of continuing his contract with ‘signC’ is to go into that 9 month rehab program we chose. That’s one good thing about these continental welfare systems – it might be more difficult to sack people, but within existing contracts you can put a lot more pressure on them. I would suggest Jean-Luc negotiates that with Franck. He isn’t thrilled but he has the cool to deal with it. And he can take Jan along as a native English speaker and semi-Brit for the local color…”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan. What about Saskia?”

“That’s a bit more problematic than it looks at first sight,” Antonia sighed. “She’s been doing excellent work, she’s totally thrilled to be rid of Franck as her superior and as comfortable as she can be with having to discuss and decide on things just with you and me. But … major but- she’s sort of in denial what taking on the full responsibilities of head designer would mean, like giving interviews, more public presentations, etc. She’s absurdly shy, not up to that right now…”

“Any ideas what we can do about that?”

“Saskia’s work is really good – and deep down, she knows that. She’s also more ambitious than it seems at first sight. I would suggest we send her to a therapy to overcome her shyness. Heather had a suggestion, a university colleague of hers from the psychology department, a French woman married to a Dutchman that should work for Saskia.”

“Sending everybody into therapy, sounds very American to me … were everybody has their personal, how do you say, shrink?”

“Now that’s a cliché!” Antonia giggled. “But don’t forget, Freud was a native German speaker – so I’m a bit like the personification of the two biggest psycho-analysis nations on earth.”

“Bl**** hell, what have I gotten myself into, if I don’t watch out you’ll send me into therapy next.” Philip laughed. “Anyway, talk to Saskia; she’s most likely to accept your advice. Now about how we will present this to the board next week in New York…”

“Were you thinking of taking me along?” Antonia’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Umm… of course, it was your idea. You’ve put so much work into it.”

Touched and pleased as she was by his suggestion, as well as eager to go on another business trip with him, Antonia could not blend out Craig’s warning which kept ringing from the back of her mind that Philip needed to fully redeem himself on his own in the eyes of the board. So it would probably not be a good idea if she came along and did part of the presentation. Not looking at him to hide her disappointment, Antonia shook her head. “Philip, that’s a great honor and I can’t tell you how much your praise means to me. I’d love to come to New York with you. But I don’t think it’s possible. I have too much to do here. We need to take care of the HR issues we just spoke about. Because of all the work we have put into the revision of our strategy, I’m totally behind schedule on all our marketing materials for the fall launch. I need to stay here and work on everything…”


Happily stirring her coffee, Antonia knocked on Jean-Luc’s office door to discuss the next steps with him after having received two SMS very late the night before: a simple ‘V!!!” from Philip, and a slightly more elaborate “good girl! Not what I had anticipated as solution, but definitely one that should work! Count yourself in for a bonus!” - from Craig.

Entering, she was surprised to see Saskia and Guy sitting across from Jean-Luc – Saskia looking as if she would like to hide under the carpet and Guy with pure hatred in his eyes.
Backing off, Antonia quickly said. “Sorry to interrupt, I’ll come back …” but got no further, because Guy got up, grabbed her coffee and poured it all over her.

“You bl*** f***ing Kraut slut! This is all your fault! Why didn’t you let Franck do his work? You’d do any disgusting thing to get ahead! Course a fat f*** like Watherwood will take any attention he can get, not much choice looking like a whale, ey? How many packs of Viagra did you need to feed him before he could get it up? Lucky you’re fat enough yourself, otherwise he’d have smothered you…” before he kicked his chair and stormed out.

Antonia stood there open-mouthed, not knowing what to say, realizing it was not necessary to say anything. Saskia got up, carefully stroked her arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Only covered in coffee and pretty disgusted.”

Alors- that takes care of the problem of integrating Guy into Mme Wissemaar’s new team,” Jean-Luc said with an air of smugness. “An unprompted physical attack in front of witnesses is enough to fire him.”

In that moment Baas came in looking agitated. “Is it true, Guy was just fired?”

“I wouldn’t say he was fired –it is more that he fired himself,” Jean-Luc’s comment had a cynical tone to it.

“Well then, I’m resigning too. If Franck is not coming back and Guy is going, I don’t know who I can work with here anymore. Mr. Watherwood has been by-passing my competencies for months, doing everything with Urs. You’ll find my notice on your desk this afternoon.”

“Wow, is this some sort of rotten office soap? Who wrote this script?” Antonia couldn’t help shaking her head. “I need to go change, the coffee is getting cold.”

Tant pis – it was not my intention to get rid of so many people so quickly,” Jean-Luc sighed. “What are we going to do about the CFO position? How can we inform headquarters about that?”

A happy grin spread over Antonia’s face. “Headquarters will be delighted! Baas himself already answered that question for you: Philip doesn’t need a CFO – he’s been doing the work with Urs all the time anyway. Saves a lot of money and increases efficiency!”

Jean-Luc tilted his head, raised his eyebrows then cupped Antonia’s face in his hands and gave her a small earnest kiss on the lips. “Merci cherie, your sang-froid really cut our Gordian knot here. Philip should do this, but he probably won’t dare, so my reverence in his name.”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:22 AM   #8
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‘Bleep, bleep’ – Antonia fumbled with her mobile to check an in-coming SMS: “Where are you right now, what are you doing?” Philip asked.

In Warsaw, at photo-shoot. Busy now, get back 2u later” she answered.

Two minutes later it bleeped again. “Know you’re in Warsaw! Want to know exactly where in Warsaw, what you are doing… sort of boring here…

No time now, call you later. Now at Wilanow Palace then Lazienki Park”, she typed in a hurry, only briefly acknowledging it was cute that he cared what she was up to. But she was too wound up talking to the photographer, helping Saskia select the models and accessories, checking with settings how they could match headlines to think more about it.

A little over half an hour later, Antonia’s mobile rang, seeing no caller ID, she picked it up. “So where are you now?” Philip asked.

“Philip, I’m still at Wilanow Palace, I’m sorry I didn’t get right back to you, but we’re really busy finishing off the shoot here… Can I call you back later?”

Oh come on, give me one of those great descriptions of yours so I know what everything looks like.”

“Philip, I really don’t have the time, what are you up to, trying to pin point us on Google Earth?”

Not exactly, I just want to get an idea how the photos might look …

"Oh okay, we’re finishing off the models in the light winter dresses, skirt combinations and coats on the main stairwell. And we found a really cute school class with two nuns who are willing to play along in exchange for a small donation to their next field trip. It looks real good – and admittedly everybody is having a good time…..”

“…sure looks like a good time…” Philip grinned bashfully at Antonia coming through the broad open baroque wing doors.

“What are you doing here? Is this some hidden camera mobile phone commercial?” in surprise, beaming at Philip who looked summery in a light gray suit and lavender pin stripe shirt, giving him a quick cheek kiss in greeting. “Oh I see, purple tie, dernier cri in male fashion, you want to model for us?”

Immediately Philip froze and half retreated, mumbling. “I’m sorry, surprises mostly go wrong, I don’t want to disturb….”

“Philip, it’s wonderful to have you here!” Antonia took his arm and squeezed it enthusiastically. “I was just joking, I’m so glad to see you – why did you come?”

“Well, umm…. it was a little boring all alone in the office in Brussels, nobody to talk to…,” Philip mumbled looking at his feet. “Anyway, I’ve always wanted to take a look at what a fashion photo-shoot is all about, thought that might be a good idea. Also, I’m curious to see how Warsaw works as a location after you had insisted on it, energetically vetoing Prague or Krakow for being too cliché..”

“That’s so sweet of you,” Antonia clung to his arm, feeling elated that he showed such interest in what she was doing. “As soon as we finish this series, I’ll introduce you to the crew and tell you more about our schedule.”

The models and photographers, even Saskia were all duly flustered to have the CEO watch them, so after moving on to the next location at Lazienki Park, Antonia sent Philip off to do a city tour. “Enjoy yourself a bit. You can join us again this evening over in Praga, on the other side of the river where we’ll be doing a bar night shoot.”

As Philip joined them in the evening, Antonia was busy with a new set up and he waved her to continue, settling at the bar for a beer. When she had finished, she wanted to join him there, only to notice he had left. Searching the bar, she found him sitting at the piano, playing away – realizing that she hadn’t even paid attention to the music starting.

“May I join you? How was your day?” she indicated at the piano bench wide enough for two.

“Sure,” Philip nodded, moving over a little and playing on. “Great day, a little hot, but very interesting. I now understand why you insisted on Warsaw and vetoed Krakow or Prague. The mixture here of proud persistence in rebuilding the city’s heritage along with the zest for modern development is striking. I can see how you want to translate that into the image we are trying to build for ‘signC’s’ approach to fashion. Admittedly I was very skeptical, only gave you the okay against everybody else’s advice because I trust you have a full-fleshed concept in your head when you go after something with dogged determination…” giving her a sly smile from the side.

Placing a soft, chaste kiss on his chubby cheek, Antonia said warmly: “Thank you for believing in me and for understanding my intentions better than anybody else has ever done. Would you like some more of your beer?” – taking it off the piano and holding it to his lips, letting Philip drink thirstily.

Sitting there next to Philip, him contently playing away, feeling his warm flesh against her leg, looking down at his ample belly comfortably resting on his thighs, his graceful fingers dancing over the keys, imagining they were running over her body…

“What are you staring at…?” Philip’s angry mutter broke her reverie, as he pulled his coat over his belly again to close the top button.

“I was listening to the music and admiring your hands,” Antonia responded, hoping an explanation might help. “You have absolutely beautiful hands, I’ve never really noticed before. They’re like those of the saints and angels on the Italian late gothic, early renaissance paintings. Giotto would have used you as a hand model for one of his angels…”

“Antonia, sometimes your marketing talk gets ludicrous ….”

“No, she’s absolutely right,” Maciek, their photographer had joined them, taking a few pictures of Philip’s hands playing. “I’ve worked with male hand models that didn’t have so perfect hands. Actually it would be great for the series with the black dresses – using Mr. Watherwood's playing hands as the foreground, with the models leaning over the piano…”

Exasperated, Philip stopped playing and wanted to get up. Antonia put a soothing hand on his arm and gave him his beer. “Finish this, calm down. Maciek – that is a brilliant idea! It would look really good, we could even think of doing it as a black-and-white centerpiece in our catalogue…”

“Over my dead body…” Philip downed his beer in one gulp.

“Please Philip! It would look great and be a unique angle!” Antonia winked at him. “Actually with your dead body it would be easier – we wouldn’t have to convince you anymore, just prop you up, put your hands in position on the keys…”

Relenting a bit, Philip looked at her murmuring: “You’re serious, aren’t you..?” – seeing Maciek nod vigorously and Antonia take his hand, softly caress his plump palms, run her fingers along his long graceful ones with their elegantly curved nails, gently pressing the tips of hers against his. “Perfect. Simply perfect.”

“Okay, I’ll have another beer, maybe a vodka … and then I’m probably anesthetisized enough to literally give your crazy idea a shot….”


The next morning, Antonia decided to go for a swim again, despite her problems of navigating the pool with no glasses or prescription goggles. She locked her sunglasses with her room key into the safe box then carefully made her way into the water feeling her way along the wall, around the corner, past two pillars and then the five steps to the ladder into the pool. Making sure of her footing, she slipped in to notice there was at least another party swimming, nodding a “Dzien dobre” vaguely into the direction she heard the splashing coming from.

Enjoying the refreshing water, Antonia started swimming laps, carefully counting her strokes so she didn’t hit the pool walls at the end. After swimming for about twenty minutes, she almost hit the wall in surprise as she heard Philip’s voice a few meters next to her say pointedly. “Good morning Antonia!”

“Oh good morning Philip! Where are you?”

“Antonia, even you can overdo the discrete and considerate act!” she heard Philip snap angrily and started to move in the direction of his voice, hanging on to the poolside. “It’s impossible for you not to have noticed me at 7-8 feet distance..”

“Unfortunately it is possible,” Antonia interrupted him bumping into the small wall separating the pool from the stairs into the water, accidentally groping his chubby forearm as she steadied herself. “I’m totally nearsighted and literally blind as a bat without my contacts. I have to get this close” – she moved her face about only half a foot away from his, leaning over the wall – “to a) recognize you and b) notice you seem to be mad at me for some reason. I forgot my normal glasses as well as my prescription goggles at home – and I can’t swim with contacts, I’ve caught a few bad eye infections before. So I grope my way around here impolitely simply because I don’t recognize anything or anybody.”

“Oh shit no Antonia, I’m so sorry!” Philip’s expression changed instantly to one of relieved shock. “I didn’t know you had such a major problem. Are you okay? Do you need help? Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I’m fine, I know the number of steps to get back to my safe box where my sunglasses are. I’ll manage, it’s no big deal.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want you to fall or hurt yourself,” Philip looked at her in genuine concern.

“Don’t worry. I’ll swim another 25 laps then get out. See you at breakfast!” Antonia grabbed the pool side and kicked herself off to get back into the correct rhythm – pounding through the water silently cursing herself. Great – she had missed her chance to get a full view of Philip’s gorgeous bulk hanging out in swimming trunks, just because she forgot her goggles. Instead coming across as a half-blind imbecile who …. “Ouch!” as she hit the other side of the pool hard because she had lost count of her strokes.

“Antonia – did you hurt yourself?” she heard Philip again from somewhere above.

“Just a small bump, I misjudged my speed, it’s nothing!” Continuing to glumly berate herself Antonia swam on, now paying more attention to the number of strokes she was making.

After a few more laps, as she touched the pool side, she heard Philip again. “Antonia, give me the key to your safe box – I’ll go get your glasses for you. It’s not a good idea for you to be on your own here so helpless on the wet floor.” – noticing his hand in front of her face. “Here give me the key. Very nice bathing suit by the way…”

“Thanks – I bought it in Paris, summer sales. But honestly, I’ll be fine…”

“You might, or you might not … that’s a risk I’m not going to run if I can avoid it. The key please!” Antonia looked at his hand in surprise but pulled the key chain off her wrist and handed it to him, realizing Philip in contrast to her was probably extremely relieved she was not able to see him properly almost naked in swimming attire.

As she returned from two more laps, Philip handed her sunglasses to her.

Looking up, she saw he was fully wrapped in a large white hotel bath robe, smirking shyly down at her. “They have polar bear costumes in this hotel too!”

“That’s a good thing, I love being rescued by a polar bear, they’re my favorite bears,” Antonia grinned up at Philip who went pink and ambled off.

Philip was waiting for her standing undecidedly next to the breakfast buffet.
“Are you having trouble making up your mind what might be the most tempting for breakfast? It always gives me a really hard time to decide on anything before I’ve had coffee.” Antonia handed him a plate.

“Umm no, I’m just not that hungry,” Philip’s stomach growled loudly in contradiction, making Antonia smirk.

“Well, looks like somebody doesn’t really agree with your assessment. We didn’t have much dinner yesterday, we won’t have much time for lunch today – and it’ll be too hot to eat anything substantial anyway, so we should have a decent breakfast now. Swimming always makes me ravenous,” handing Philip a small basket of rolls and a large plate with fruit. “Could you please find us a nice seat? I’ll collect an assortment of other things for us.”

Joining Philip at a sizable table, Antonia spread the breakfast plates out and pulled out an envelope. “Look Maciek gave me the contact sheets of late night’s bar shoot, I’m really curious to see how they’ve turned out.”

“I’m certainly not,” Philip muttered wolfing down a poppy seed roll in two bites. “Don’t know what I was thinking when I let you include me in that photo shoot.”

Antonia surveyed the photos, emitting a few fond ‘ahhs’ and ‘ohhs’, repeatedly looking at a few particularly nice ones of Philip and herself she immediately decided to save in private. “The hand shots with the piano turned out great, they are really artistic,” showing them to Philip who gave them a skeptical look.

“Yeah, I guess they look nice… if you say so…”

“And here, these others ones he took on the side are beautifully authentic of you at the piano… “Philip gave them only a brief glance, turned away and Antonia noticed he actually shuddered physically, seeing pain in his eyes and lines of disgust in the corners of his mouth. Heart-wringing as she found his self-rejection, she by now knew it was hopeless to try to get him to see why he objectively looked great in these pictures, because he would block out the message. So she reverted to business, indicating at the hand shots.

“These here will add a special flair to our publications. Having you play live music greatly helped the models move more naturally and in conveying the atmosphere,” she smiled at him encouragingly, giving him a wink “Based on these pictures, we should start discussing your career as a hand model.”

“That joke is as bad as those in these absurd modern French plays which try to show you life is grotesque from all thinkable angles,” Philip scoffed.

“Agreed, it’s a lame joke – you don’t need a career like that. But from a professional point of view, you have to change your perspective on modeling. Real life perceptions and good photos…..”

“Which photo shoots are on our schedule today?” Philip clearly wanted to change the subject.

“Well, we’re finishing with the business shoot today in some of the new office locations behind the train station. But I have a different surprise for you… the business shoot is not that interesting, it’s business clothes and office buildings, you see that all the time. Instead I’ve booked you a tour out to Zelazowa Wola to see Chopin’s birth house….”

Philip stared at her open-mouthed for about half a minute, before he half-whispered, his eyes sparkling: “Are you serious? Why did you do that?”

“For an extremely bright person you sometimes ask incredibly basic questions…,” Antonia teased. “Now why would I possibly book a tour to Chopin’s birth house for a gifted, passionate piano player who has a cat named Chopin?”

“It’s the most wonderful, thoughtful thing anybody has done for me since….well ..,” he said quietly, a smile of sweet delight spreading over his face.

“Good to see you like the idea; it was such an obvious choice. You’ll be picked up at 10h00. Now here’s our itinerary for the day, you can join us any time. We’re finishing the day with a small farewell to the crew down on the Vistula, okay? Have fun then!”


After the farewell cocktail with their photo crew, Antonia and Philip started to walk towards the ‘Rynek’ the old town square, where she had reserved a table for dinner. Philip – who had taken to the Polish summer drink of vodka with cherry juice – was already slightly tipsy, more easygoing than usual but also visibly hot in his suit and tie.

As they had settled at their table and Philip had let Antonia order her favorites, she asked him. “What would you like to drink? The local beer is not bad, or you can stick to the vodka cherry which seems to appeal to you.”

“The vodka cherry is tempting…,” Philip smirked.

Seeing him mop his brow, Antonia suggested. “Why don’t you take off your tie and coat? This certainly isn’t a formal business dinner.”

“Ummm, no, it’s okay,” Philip took another long sip of vodka cherry and started to fan himself with the menu.

“Philip, there’s nothing wrong with loosening up a little. Give yourself a break!”

“It’s better with the coat. I don’t want to embarrass you…”

“Too be honest, I’m embarrassed right now seeing you so uncomfortable while I’m sitting here all cool and fresh in linen next to nothing,” Antonia retorted, hoping to undo his reserve by this unexpected angle – without success.

“How very funny … believe me, it’s no pretty sight without the coat,” Philip mumbled, downed the rest of his vodka cherry and stared hard at the buildings across the square.

“Let me show you how to put the best sight on display, I’m the marketing expert here – you’d better stick to your numbers!”

Realizing she would have to take real action, Antonia got up, stepped behind him, reached around to undo his tie, and open the top two shirt buttons. Taking a deep breath, expecting physical resistance, she carefully pulled his coat from his shoulders, eased his arms out and hung it over the back of the chair, only to notice that he had frozen, hunched over desperately sucking in his belly. Seeing the waiter, she quickly signaled him Philip needed a refill before she unbuttoned his cuffs, rolled up his sleeves, very lightly loosened his shirt around the middle before she sat back down, giving him a warm reassuring smile. “Much better, cooler as well as a great way to show off those impressive broad shoulders and a very nice shirt.”

Philip only swallowed very hard, took a long draught of vodka cherry looking down half whispering. “Are you sure it’s okay to be seen with me like this?”

“It’s wonderful to be seen with you like this. We’re both much more comfortable than five minutes ago,” Antonia stressed her point. “Relax, there is nothing whatsoever you need to worry about, you look perfect. Look, our dinner is coming. You have to taste the Sauerkraut mushroom pieroggi – combination sounds strange, but they’re delicious.”

Philip unfroze only very slowly, letting Antonia talk about the food, mainly responding in monosyllables, drinking quite a bit more vodka cherry, eating everything she put in front of him and over time exhaling, not manically sucking in his belly or hunching up in his chair to try to hide it anymore. “I’ve never had Polish food before, it’s much nicer than I had expected. All I had ever heard of was over-cooked cabbage.”

“I’m not sure you as a Brit have the right to go around Europe criticizing other nation’s cuisine,” Antonia winked at him. “But from my experience it’s really a lot better than its reputation. Any dish with potatos, mushrooms, carrots, trout, game or poppy seed in it is definitely worth a try!”

“At any rate, great dinner … but I’m not yet sure it was a good idea to introduce me to the vodka cherry combination, it’s pretty addictive,” Philip smirked looking at his empty glass.

“Would you like some more?”

“Like – more than yes; need, should have – strict no! I’m well aware that my compatriots have a disastrous reputation all over Eastern Europe for drunken excess…”

“Unfortunately that’s true, but I’ll make sure you don’t disgrace yourself!”

“Oh I’m more than sure Nanny Antonia will take good care of naughty Philip, make sure he doesn’t get into more trouble than necessary,” Philip gave her a long, candid look out of his by now slightly glazed green eyes.

“Shall we walk back to the hotel? It’s not that far, it’s down the main strip and pedestrian zone, it’s a beautiful evening. What’s more, ‘Café Blickle’ on the way has some of the best peach and cherry ice cream I know…”

“Good idea,” Philip heaved himself up a bit unsteadily, hung his jacket over his shoulder and heavily wrapped an arm around Antonia leaning his head on hers making her shiver with pleasure for finally having his warm bulk fully touch her. Despite feeling some of his weight on her, she walked the stretch of Krakowskie Przedmiescie and Nowy Swiat as if on air, hanging on with one hand to his thick love-handle, every once in while running it over the bulging rolls of flab on his side leaning as far into his belly as possible.

After being taciturn throughout most of their meal, Philip talked almost non-stop now: how happy he was to have come to Warsaw, how many new insights he had gotten, how much it meant to him to see Chopin’s birth house, how great she was about introducing him to new things – while Antonia listened, smiling up at him adoringly. This was Philip as she had always pictured him with her: happy, outgoing, relaxed … it only made her a little bit sad that it had needed a major dose of vodka cherry to get to this point.

As they returned to the hotel with their ice cream, a small band was playing in the lobby bar and several people were dancing. Philip leaned against a pillar, his expansive belly hanging out openly as never before tapping his foot in time to the music. Suddenly he asked. “How about a dance?”

Antonia blinked incredulously. Getting men to dance was difficult enough, but to have physically almost autistic Philip ask her unprompted caught her totally by surprise. “I’d love to,” she stammered after the first shock had worn off.

Dropping his jacket over a chair, Philip led Antonia to the dance floor, with a practiced move took her firmly in his arms and started leading her through rather difficult steps, in perfect timing to the music. Antonia –despite having taken a number of ballroom dancing classes – lacked practice and had to fully concentrate on not messing up the moves.

After two dances, when the band was playing a very slow song, she finally could speak up. “I’m too impressed for words. I know your musical talent. The only other man I’ve ever danced with who is in your league was my dance teacher, who had danced professionally for a while. Where did you learn this?”

“Family requirement,” Philip shrugged. “Although nobody ever thought my abilities were worth mentioning – it’s not the right dance genre anyhow.”

“What do you mean? How can anybody not see your talent at this?”

Hiding his face in her shoulder, Philip mumbled darkly: “My mother was a professional ballet dancer before she married my father. She always dreamed of a ballerina daughter. Instead she got a whale son. That was the disaster of her life …. and of mine.”

There was such hopelessness in his voice it almost broke Antonia’s heart. But these few words unlocked the enigma of Philip Watherwood for her, let her see the cruel mother who had rejected and thus badly damaged her lovely child, simply because he was a big boy. Turning him into an adult whose feeling of self-worth had been ruined, who was constantly trying to be someone else and harming himself in the process.

Tears of sadness and pity welling up in her eyes, she was at an utter loss for words which might even have the chance of fitting. The only thing she could think of was to snuggle as closely into his belly as possible, warmly rub his back and his wonderfully bulging sides to make him sense how much she cared for every bit of him. Philip responded by wrapping her tighter in his arms as they continued to slow dance in silence until the musicians packed up an hour later.

Going up to their rooms, Antonia hugged him good night in front of his, taking long enough to give him the chance to move further, but he just cradled her close, his big thick hands with their long graceful fingers caressing her buttocks. Raising her head, she kissed his plump double-chin, his chubby cheeks, his long lashes …. not daring to kiss her boss on the lips.

“Will you be okay?” she asked, thinking of the amount he had drunk. Seeing him nod, she said softly: “Good night then, sleep well, sweet dreams.”
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Part 7 - Deauville

Even though it was one of these typical cool, very wet Brussels summers, Antonia felt content as she fussed around the office kitchenette to put the stuffed zucchini she had prepared at home as lunch for herself and Philip in the small oven. Things had been going very well since Franck, Guy and Baas had left, Saskia’s work was developing nicely, sales estimates and new retail contracts looked promising. Ever since Philip had come to Warsaw more or less just to see her, their closeness and mutual understanding had increased. She was wondering what the rest of summer would bring.

Jan joined her in the kitchen, watched for a while then closed the door asking with a very worried expression on her face. “You care for him deeply, don’t you?”

Antonia felt her face grow hot, mumbling. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come on Antonia, it’s no use denying it. Any of us who can see beyond our own belly button know you and Philip are crazy about each other – apart from the business obvious facts that he trusts you blindly while you would kill for him,” Jan said. “But I’m worried because you’re wasting your time.”

“What makes you think I’m wasting my time?” Antonia whirled around staring at her in astonishment.

“Three reasons: boss, British, fat.” Jan said simply, laying her hand soothingly on Antonia’s shoulder. “Please, listen to me. I mean well – I’m seriously worried about you.” Seeing Antonia swallow and nod, Jan went on. “Philip being your boss would be a problem in almost any constellation – you remember the problems Angel’s and Franck’s constant office affairs caused. Now the two of you more or less run our European branch –headquarters in New York would probably have a hard time stomaching that. Nobody except some easy going Frenchman or Italian or your regular total scumbag would overlook that. You’re too honest, Philip too shy, that rules out an undercover affair. Which leads to reason number two – Philip has serious body image issues. We could tell from his reactions to Franck’s constant needling he has no confidence whatsoever in himself as a man. You seem to know even more since you’re continuously cooking him balanced meals to make him eat healthy.”

Seeing Antonia hang her head, try to hide her face, Jan hugged her. “It’s okay, I know you have a thing for cute big guys, I remember Christian or Matteo. You’re a total sweetheart for trying to look after Philip, who really is a good guy. But on top of his hang ups about being big, he’s a British male!”

“I see your point with him being my boss, I know about his weight issues, but why is him being a Brit also a problem?” tears were streaming down Antonia’s cheeks by now.

“He even went to public school, right?” Jan wanted to know, drying Antonia’s tears continuing as she nodded: “Having spent half my life in London – there couldn’t be a bigger difference between your average Californian and British male. They honestly still believe in this stiff upper lip thing, don’t show feelings, don’t talk about feelings, don’t even know feelings exist – make a pass at the woman you care for only if you’re so sodden drunk you forget rules 1-3.”

Antonia smiled slightly through her tears. “Are you sure they’re all like that? Philip has almost admitted to me he missed me,” looking guilty for having told.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody,” Jan assured her. “That means there is hope for you – but simply not in combination with problems a) boss and b) fat. Please think about it, I want you to be happy – that’s why I’m saying this. I don’t want you to wake up to reality maybe in a few years time when it might be too late.”

“Thanks Jan. I appreciate your honesty – even though it hurts, it really hurts badly. Can I have lunch in the peace and quiet of your office?”

“Sure – I’m off to that press conference soon to see what the chamber is up to.”

Antonia went into the bathroom, splashed cold water over her face, put on a lot of concealer and powder to hide she had been crying. She took the zucchini out of the oven taking them to Philip’s office through its back door.

Philip’s face lit up as he saw her come in with the steaming dish: “Oh Antonia, you’re pampering me! What’s that – courgettes?”

“Stuffed zucchini – but I guess that’s the same. You Brits use the French word- we Americans the Italian one – English simply is a culinarily deprived language.”

“Aren’t we having lunch together?” Philip smiled at her expectantly, making tears well up again in Antonia’s eyes. He looked so invitingly plump to touch, was by now comfortable enough in her presence to not pull on his coat in panic, his nice silver gray shirt just a touch too tight in sitting, outlining the thick fat tire around his middle, his round belly like a big soft pillow in his lap, the top button open leaving room for his chubby double-chin, the green tie highlighting his eyes and his boyish hair all messed up. Antonia closed her eyes, rubbed her temples shaking her head. “Are you feeling okay?” Philip sounded worried.

“I’m fine,” Antonia managed to say. “I just have a pretty bad headache today need to finish discussing a few things with Jan before her appointment. Would it be okay if I take tomorrow as Friday off? I think I need a small break.”

“Of course, please be sure to rest a little Antonia – thank you for lunch.”

In Jan’s office, Antonia let her tears run free: How big a fool was she? How could she have been so stupid, so naïve not to see the obvious? Had thought she just needed to make Philip understand she was a big fan of big men for him to finally make a pass at her? Had fantasized about, worked on a relationship with her boss –in such a small office when they were working so closely together? How unrealistic was that? What was she going to do now?

As she had half way calmed down, she called Heather. “Can you somehow get the week-end off, drive to the Normandy coast with me? Honfleur, Deauville? Girl’s week-end? Leave tonight?”

“Tonight? Antonia – what on earth is wrong?” Heather asked, hearing only sobs on the other end. “Now wait, I’ll call Benedict, see what I can do, I’ll get right back to you.”

Heather did call back. “It’s okay. Benedict can work from home tomorrow, the baby-sitter is available. Totally spontaneous get-aways are often the best. I’m packing my bag – when will you pick me up?”

Antonia reserved a room in her favorite small hotel in Honfleur, packed a few things in a small bag, picked up Heather then hit the accelerator first down A1 towards Paris, then A29 over west towards Le Havre, ignoring the speed limit as far as possible.
“You do remember you’re driving the mother of four minors?” Heather asked her in slight worry behind Amiens.

“Heather, relax! My 4-wheeled friend and I know what we’re doing. Look at this lovely, brand new, beautifully empty toll highway – why on earth should we bore ourselves to tears driving only 120 km/h?” Antonia looked at her mischievously, teasing the accelerator a little further. She only slowed down a bit as the wide spanned architectural beauty of the ‘Pont de Normandie’ crossing the Seine delta appeared in front of her.

They didn’t talk about Antonia’s reasons for impulsively running off on this weekend until the next morning, a sunny but cool day for July when they drove out to Deauville to take a long walk on the wide beach at low tide, Antonia shivering in painful pleasure as the icy water and wet sand stung her feet.

After a while, Heather panted to a stop. “Okay Antonia, that’s enough cooling down for you, or at least your feet. Now for heaven’s sake – tell me why I had to come here on a minute’s notice to haul my 4’’ less and 75 pounds more across a windy beach in silence trying to keep up with you?”

Antonia hugged her quietly for a moment. “Thank you, bedankt, merci, danke, grazie tanto Heather for being the best friend possible coming here with me. Let’s go sit over there on the wall while we talk, I could probably walk all the way to Brittany, but that wouldn’t help either. It’s about my job and Philip,” tears welling up, making Heather wrap her arm protectively around her. “You were right from the first time you met – of course I have a major crush on him.”

Slowly, meanderingly she told Heather about how she instantly had fallen for Philip, how well they worked together, how they had slowly gotten closer, despite his very shy and reserved approach, recollecting all her favorite little scenes she loved replaying in her head, only hinting at Philip’s sensitivities and ending with Jan’s warning that her crush on Philip was leading nowhere.

By the end, Antonia was in tears again. “I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid Jan is right – if I continue working for Philip, I probably won’t get anywhere. What should I do?”

“What do you mean – what should you do? It sounds like things are progressing quite nicely between the two of you. I think you need a little more patience with Philip, given the difficult situation. Although I know patience is not your forte ...”

“But what about what Jan said? She’s right, Philip will never dare make a move as long as I work for him … he’s way too decent a guy. Since he’s my boss, I can’t do anything either. If I stay with ‘signC’, I have to find a way to fall out of love with him …. Or if I want more from Philip, I need to find a new job…”

“Antonia listen,” Heather said gently but firmly, handing her a tissue. “You asked me to come along here because you seriously want my opinion – right? Why is my opinion important for you – apart from the fact that we’re BFF’s?”

“Well, you know, you and Benedict have such a great relationship, even though you have a stressful life, I think you might have some good advice,” Antonia sniffed. “I know no better person to talk to than you anyway. And…well .. also I think you might be able to understand how Philip feels better than others…”

“You mean because I’m also a fatty?” Heather continued as Antonia nodded. “Okay – if you ask me, I’ll tell you honestly what I think. But I warn you, it might be something you don’t want to hear. I think you’re overreacting. I think you don’t need to do anything right now except let things develop along the lines they have so far.”

“But what about what Jan said? That things won’t develop much further?”

“Jan probably is right. Given the situation and Philip’s shyness, you probably won’t get beyond a certain point,” Heather admitted. “But – I don’t believe you’ve reached that point yet. You haven’t gotten to know each other on a personal level all that well. You’ve only been out together on business trips, you’ve never even set foot in each other’s apartments… do you even know where he’s going on vacation?”

“No, I don’t….come to think of it…"

“See, that’s what I mean … the two of you still have, within the framework of the situation you’ve been dealt, quite a way to go before having to decide whether you need to change things to move on to the next level…”

“But I have the feeling Philip won’t dare go any further than we’ve already gotten in the boss – employee set up we have,” Antonia argued in frustration.

“Maybe… but face it Antonia that has less to do with Philip being your boss than him being as overburdened by body image issues as he is. That’s nothing you will solve by pushing things. On the contrary, it needs more time and patience than you are used to investing,” Heather wrapped her arm around Antonia who was fighting tears again, gently tugged her thick hazelnut ponytail. “I warned you – you weren’t going to like what I have to say.”

“I’m so in love with him, probably like I’ve never been before. I want to show how much I care for him, how gorgeous he is, how wonderful his thick body is…”

“Toni, you’re better at making us fatties feel good about ourselves than anybody else I know, even Benedict,” Heather smiled at her fondly. “But from what I’ve seen of Philip - his issues go really deep. If you ask me, he needs to face them and get professional help. ‘Normal’ covers a very wide range – but his insecurities about his weight are no longer within that range. I’ve dealt with them myself, I know what I’m talking about.”

“But he has relaxed quite a bit since Franck has left….”

“Still, the way he acted regarding Franck only confirms my theory. If you’re honest to yourself, you know that – or even more than you’ve admitted to me,” Heather sighed. “Philip is no clueless adolescent on a playground of bullies. He’s an adult, with all the assets to help keep such insecurities at bay: He’s professionally very successful; actually has the status to call the shots, put others in their place. He has a number of outstanding talents. He has an in every sense very attractive women going crazy after him. Above all, yeah - he’s a big guy, but by any objective standard he’s seriously handsome. If all that put together doesn’t work, he needs help you can’t give him.”

“That sounds so hopeless, so final… what shall I do? Have you ever thought about it that I really am going crazy, sitting next to him in meetings, having to keep my hands to myself?”

Heather laughed lightly. “How do you say – the situation is hopeless but not serious? You’ll get what you want, you just have to be more patient, play your cards carefully with Philip. Now you need to get your mind on something else. Why don’t we go for a crepe lunch? Maybe to that cute place that even had “Crepe Antoinette” on the menu for you?”

“Une bonne idée! In the afternoon we can check out the cheese markets. Shopping is still the best cure against big boy troubles!”

In the evening, Antonia packed their picnic basket with some of the cheeses and patés they had bought, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, various small baguettes and two bottles of her favorite light summery Beaujolais. They settled on a remote bench on the beach walk way, gazing into the dusk and hungrily tearing pieces of baguette apart to put cheese on them. Without noticing, Antonia drank quite a bit of wine so her mind wandered to fantasizing she was here with Philip, leaning into his soft belly pillow, coaxing him to eat some cheese.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Philip would probably love the Gapéron with the red wine….”

“Oh sweetie, you’ve really got it bad,” Heather stroked her hair. “The two of you would make a good couple, I can see that. Be a little patient, then in the right moment talk to him about how you feel. Tell him exactly how you told me, with all those cute little scenes, that’ll make it easiest for him to understand and believe you. Some more wine?”

“Bien sur. You’re right, patience is not part of my vocabulary in any language,” Antonia sighed. “Can you imagine how hard it gets to constantly suppress you desires, especially if you have the object constantly right next to you? After I danced with him in Warsaw, do you know I had to sit in a bidet full of cold water for half an hour in the middle of the night to get my insides back in line?”

Heather choked with laughter on a piece of Camembert au Calvados, coughing heavily before she could respond. “Sorry … not to belittle your suffering, but that’s hilarious. And an interesting remedy I need to keep that in mind.”

“I know it sounds silly. It’s just getting harder and harder for me to think straight around him. Like Philip always plays with his color pencils he uses for high-lighting during work – and all I can think of is how his fingers would feel playing with my breasts. Or when we sit next to each other, he’s all big, warm and round – my mind keeps envisioning what it would be like to bite open the buttons of his shirt and then start nibbling on his big belly. Really bad is also when he leans over the table, he’s got this perfect plump, cuddly round ass, so sexy! Like the one of “Orsy”, you know my favorite bear, where I gave a replica to your Pierre for his baptism? My hands itch because I want to give him a fun little spanking...”

“Wait a minute – do you mean to tell me you gave my son a teddy bear as a present with a particularly sexy butt? Isn’t that a bit perverted?”

Antonia got the giggles and it was a while before she could answer. “No, I gave him ‘Orsy’ because – apart from the sexy backside – he has a very intelligent, understanding expression, so from my experience he’s the perfect confidant.”

“Okay, if you say so,” Heather raised her eyebrows skeptically. “Do you know I’ve always been a bit jealous of your creativity and imagination? When I want to do something ‘creative’ with the kids, I have to read at least three parenting guide books. While when you come, you just improvise or tell them great stories and they love that even more. But listening to you now, I get the feeling that vivid imagination might be a very mixed blessing….”

“Hmmm, I’ve never lived without my imagination, I don’t know what that would be like,” Antonia mused. “But you’re right, regarding Philip, my imagination regularly turns into pure torture. Do you know I’ve had to start keeping spare panties and panty liners in my desk, just because I often come out of meetings with Philip soaking wet? God, why am I telling you this, I’ve had way too much of this Beaujolais!”

“It’s okay; this is a girl’s weekend … what happens at girl’s weekend, stays at girl’s weekend. Admittedly I’m at a loss for comparable experiences, don’t tell Benedict, but no guy has ever excited me that much … and from what you are saying, continuously. I honestly don’t know whether I should envy or pity you...”

“I need more cheese before I have any more wine,” Antonia scraped some Langrès out of its little basket onto her baguette, as her mobile bleeped. “Are you feeling better? Did you have a nice holiday? Good night, see you Monday!

Very nice day, currently working on French cheese market survey; could use some input from you. Bon weekend!” Antonia typed back sighing. “All I really want to type is ‘love you, miss you’…. I can’t help thinking how much easier things would be if we didn’t work together, then I could just tell him how I feel. After my experience now at ‘signC’, I should be able to find another good job in Brussels, be it for an American company or in the fashion business…”

“Antonia, look at me,” Heather’s voice and expression were solemn. “Whatever you do, speak with Philip openly first. Promise me you won’t run ahead doing something definite before talking to him about everything. Promise me, okay?”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:31 AM   #10
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Part 8 – Five blocks down

To Antonia’s surprise, Philip had opted for the traditional Belgian summer vacation taking almost all of August off, keeping in touch with her mainly through SMS and e-mail, calling every once in a while from an area with very poor network coverage, only evasively answering her questions about his whereabouts with ‘hiking in the Alps’.

Since the opening of the first ‘signC’ stores was set for autumn, Saskia, Jean-Luc and she herself were intensely busy with the final preparations, checking on things, Jan booking first advertisements, planning the store openings and the more, trying to get as much done during the relative calm of summer. The little free time she had, Antonia spent on thinking about Philip, how their relationship might develop and which options she had.

Philip came back a few days before September 1st – and Antonia knew she needed to talk to him personally right on his return. So she pre-scheduled an appointment with a slightly surprised Joanna, got a perfect hair-cut with red highlights, a new sample dress from Saskia in grey and raspberry as well as a pair of raspberry sexy Pura Lopez slings to match.

Her heart was beating like crazy and there was a cold knot of nervous fear in the pit of her stomach as she stepped into Philip’s office. He was sitting at his desk, slightly tanned, but also looked a bit drawn and noticeably thinner, about the size he had been when he came to ‘signC’, as she could see as he quickly got up from his chair. “Antonia,” he beamed and pulled her into a tight hug, “it’s so good to be back!” only to step back blushing: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to….”

“No, it’s wonderful, I’m so happy to have you back too,” Antonia used the opportunity to likewise pull Philip into a hug, coyly slipping her arms around his waist under his coat, feeling his warm softness through his shirt and reaching up for a real kiss. Touching his lips was a dream of months come true, he responded first softly then more intensely for what seemed like an eternity of maybe 90 seconds before he broke away stammering. “We can’t, we mustn’t, we work together, please excuse me being so forward….”

Shaking his head, Philip moved behind his desk again and sat down on his wide CEO chair, not looking at her. Antonia followed him around and settled herself on one of its armrests, half bodily draping herself across him, his warm closeness strongly motivating her to address her issue. She laced her one hand through his and ran her other one gently through his hair. “Philip, that’s actually what I want to talk to you about… I want to do things like this with you but I can’t while I work for you….”

“Antonia, you’re being really sweet and it’s so good to see you again, but…” Philip looked at her in helpless discomfort.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she said softly. “Not only working with you, but talking to you, just having you physically close – as you can see, I can’t get you close enough,” softly running her fingers over his rounded cheek.

“I dislike having to say it, but I’m officially your boss….”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about.” Antonia took a deep breath. “As much as I love working for you … there are many things I‘d love doing with you even more. I want you to be more than my boss, I can ….” as a letterhead on his desk distracted her ‘Alpsee-Klinik Kärnten – Schrot-Fastenkuren’, making her exclaim in shock, her hand reaching for the paper: “Du hast doch nicht etwa im Urlaub eine Schrot-Kur gemacht?

“What did you just say…?” Philip asked, instantly snatching the paper from her hand and burying it under a pile of others. “That’s nothing… now what … ?”

“Sorry, that was German.” Antonia was flustered.

“And – what did you say?”

“I know it’s none of my business, but I’m worried…, Antonia swallowed, “you didn’t actually spend your vacation at one of these Schrot diet fastening clinics, did you? In rainy Carinthia?”

Not looking at her, blushing dark red, Philip mumbled: “As you said, it’s none of your business.”

“But why did you do that Philip? They’re so extreme, that’s very unhealthy,….”

“Now why would I do something like that? Ever looked at me with your contacts on? That’s by far the most stupid question anybody has ever asked me!” Philip exploded, got up, roughly pushing Antonia off his chair, making her have to catch her balance. She stared at him baffled, as he paced the office, never having witnessed such an outburst before. “Could you please finally get to the point why you wanted to speak to me?”

Hurt and embarrassment were written all over his face, telling Antonia their talk couldn’t have gone any worse. She thought rapidly of how to steer things back into line where she needed them. “As I was trying to say, you mean very much to me, much more than just my boss. You being happy, healthy is very important to me, that’s why I worry if you resort to unhealthy, in my opinion totally unnecessary measures….

“Antonia, if I have to say that’s none of your business one more time, you will get your first official reprimand into your HR file…,” Philip said through gritted teeth. “Now what’s your point!”

Seeing the necessity to calm things, Antonia suggested. “The subject I have to address is honestly a bit difficult. Could we please sit down again?”

Philip glowered at her but nonetheless sat back down on his chair while she took her customary seat across from him on the other side of the desk.

“Like I was trying to explain – I really like working here at ‘signC’. But I fell for you the first days you came here as CEO, and I’ve been battling my attraction to you ever since. Working for you is simply not enough to satisfy me,” she tried to look Philip, whose expression had frozen again, in the eye but he avoided her gaze. “I would like you to be more than my boss, it would be wonderful if you’d be a real friend, could even see yourself as the man in my life…”

“… but we’re friends, aren’t we…” Philip murmured uneasily.

“Yes, we’re friends, I’m happy to hear you see it that way too – I always felt we have a connection,” Antonia smiled in relief. “But if we want to make more of our friendship, we can’t continue working together. We can’t go on as boss and employee…”

“Are you trying to tell me taking ominous detours that you intend to leave ‘signC’?” a trace of panic appearing in his glance. “Have things deteriorated while I was away? What do we need to do to make you stay?”

“No, things here are just fine. It’s as simple as I said – I would like our relationship to move on from the professional to the truly personal level … and that is not possible if I can continue working here…”

“Again-what do we need to do the keep you with ‘signC’?” Philip interrupted her.

“Nothing.” Antonia took a deep breath, bracing herself for his reaction. “I want to be free from professional constraints for personal relations with you. This will be possible – since I’ve been offered the position of Secretary General of the European Association of Fashion Retailers (EAFR) ...”

Philip looked at her in true shock, swallowed twice before he said in a flat voice. “Congratulations – great position, major career step. Under which conditions would you stay on? How much more do you want? Official position as my deputy? Full responsibility for certain country markets?”

“I’ve been trying to explain that I can’t stay on here at ‘signC’ because you mean too much to me. If I have to, I’ll be very blunt about it: I’m totally in love with you, you’re the most wonderful guy I’ve ever met … and I want you in my bed and not as my boss. That’s why I accepted the EAFR offer ….”

“You’ve already accepted? And never said a word to me?”

“It all went really fast, it was vacation time, and you weren’t here……..”

“When are you leaving?”

“Philip, please, try to understand me, I did this for us…”

“When are you leaving?”

“The contract says October 1st…”

“Is there anything we can do for you to reconsider?”

Antonia looked into his face, his expression tense, his eyes downcast, as he swallowed hard several times. “No, I’ve already signed the contract, my notice is ready, it meets the four week criterion. Please, believe me…”

“As I said congratulations. It was good working with you. Do you have any idea where we might get a replacement on such short notice?”

“Philip, could you please look at me…”

“Answer my question, what about the replacement?”

Sighing, Antonia answered. “Arthur Trapper from marketing at headquarters would be a good choice. He’s worked for an MEP for a few years, studied in Regensburg, currently has a S.O. in The Hague, so is very keen on coming back to Europe ….”

“Interesting, so everybody at ‘signC’ except me already knows you’re leaving,” Philip tone was cutting.

“No, nobody knows, not even Jan. They’ll all be as shocked as you are!”
Antonia noticed her own hurt was making her lose her patience. “You asked for a candidate – Arthur is highly qualified, interested in working in Europe and above all a really nice guy – so that is my suggestion.”

“Well, I’ll have Jean-Luc negotiate with Craig. Hand your notice in to him and he will finalize everything with you. Thank you for informing me. Good luck with you new position.” Philip stared down at his desk, opened a folder and picked up the phone. “Antonia, we’re finished. Please leave my office now, I have work to do.”

Feeling as if she had run against a pillar, the breath knocked out of her, Antonia turned and left his office, in a daze put her notice in Jean-Luc’s box and went into her office. She sat down at her desk, unable to say, do or think anything – just sat there, stared out the window, feeling cold and numb, it was the pain of complete vacuum, if such a thing existed.

It took her a while to fully realize what had happened. She had had an uneasy feeling, how risky it might be to get Philip to understand why she was leaving so suddenly. But she had never imagined things would go so wrong, that he would be so upset and personally hurt that she probably couldn’t even talk to him anymore. That was the single painful thought that ran through her mind in an endless loop until the door suddenly opened and Jean-Luc briskly stepped him, tossing a piece of paper on her desk: “C’est quelle sorte de folie, ça?

Looking at the paper, Antonia saw it was her notice, saying dully. “I’ve accepted the position of Secretary General at EAFR. I had hoped if I was professionally independent from Philip we could finally have a real personal relationship. You probably know how much I care for him…”

“You care for Philip?” Jean-Luc’s voice was bitter with irony. “You’re breaking his heart – a great way of showing that.”

The tone and his words slowly set loose the tears that had been assembling in Antonia: “But I didn’t mean to, I wanted the best for both of us….”

Alors, what you have achieved is to show him once more is that it’s best not to trust anybody, let alone a woman,” Jean-Luc sounded cynical. “He’s let you get as close as he hasn’t let anybody get in years, only to be disappointed again. Bien entendu, it’s a good career step for you – but couldn’t you have shown him the minuscule bit of fairness to inform him before you signed the contract?”

“I know I made a huge mistake!” Antonia sobbed softly. “The timing was awful, they wanted a decision during summer break. It might not sound convincing since it is a good career move, but the only reason I ever thought of switching jobs was because I’m so in love with Philip. I want him to be more than my boss, I want him to be my best friend, my lover, the man in my life. I got to the point when I couldn’t stand sitting next to him, it not being appropriate to touch him…”

Merde – you’re serious about leaving because you want an affaire de cœur with him, aren’t you?” Jean-Luc scratched his head. “It’s a bizarre logic – I believe you, but I’m skeptical whether Philip ever can. What were you thinking when you did this undercover maneuver? You’ve been taking good care of him, shielding him from personal difficulties, you seemed to understand his sensitivities … and now you cut him up just like all the others have done! Do you have any idea how disheartening his relations with the women in his life have been so far?”

“No, not really,” Antonia sniffed. “I only know his mother must’ve made growing up very difficult for him….”

Sa mère, cette cruelle salope…” Jean-Luc spat. “Excusez-moi, that woman is complètement unfit to raise a child. Can you believe he was never allowed to enter her presence without a coat or jacket on, even as a child, because she found his round form so repulsive, told him that ten times a day. Did you know that’s the reason he stays covered up as much as possible until today?”

“I didn’t know that – but I inferred something of the sort.”

“Has he ever told you anything about his previous girlfriends?” seeing Antonia shake her head, he sighed, “I really shouldn’t tell you, but it might help you to understand how incomprehensible and non-credible your approach seems to him. Philip’s first love was a charmante British-Indien girl, Clementine, whom he met in summer diet camp as a teenager…”

“Does he still spend his summer vacation in diet clinics? Sorry for interrupting!”

“We don’t talk about such personal matters, but I assume he does,” Jean-Luc gave her a piercing look. “How do you know?”

“I saw a letterhead in German from some clinic in Carinthia on his desk, asked him about it…” Antonia felt ashamed of having to admit this.

“That was today too?” Jean-Luc rolled his eyes. “No wonder he is totally beside himself. That probably was the last thing he wanted you to discover. Now back to Clementine … they went to diet camps for several summers together, met as often as possible. It goes without saying his mother was totally against it – a fat girl from the colonies, how low can you sink? Her family was very traditional, was not pleased with a non-Indian boy either. They withstood the pressure together quite well for some years, I met her late in their relationship when he came to my tutorial in college…”

“What made them breakup in the end? His mother?”

“No, his weight – what he sees as the ultimate curse in his life. Clementine over the years managed to get very slim, Philip didn’t. She broke up with him telling him she didn’t believe he would be able to overcome their difficulties if he wasn’t even able to successfully battle his weight problem. Then I’m only vaguely familiar with the story of his arranged engagement….”

“Arranged engagement - that’s 19th century!”

“That’s British upper class for you, still hanging on to as many relicts from the past as possible,” Jean-Luc let out a bitter laugh. “As mentioned, I know no details – but his mother had found some Baronet’s daughter who needed the Watherwood’s money to save her estate to be engaged to him. Mother and fiancée were on him to diet all the time. She broke off the engagement because she found a richer Australian to marry.”

Pausing, he looked at Antonia who was wiping tears out of her eyes. “You understand now you’ve cut into his sorest point, making it almost impossible for him to believe you? Last there was Annette, a lovely, red-headed Swiss-German violinist, who studied here in Brussels while he was in Bruges. He accompanied her on the piano for her practice. She was slightly eccentric - what can you expect from an artist – but rather loving to him.”

“How did that end then?”

“A third party and career considerations. Annette needed a piano partner to play professionally with – and Philip was clearly going to choose business over music as a career. Enter Raphael, I hate to admit it, a French pianist, skinny, gloomy. He did everything to win over Annette, not only as his duet but also as his personal partner. His tactic strongly resembled Franck’s – he noticed Philip isn’t able to handle people making fun of his weight, so he did that in Annette’s presence until Philip lost his nerve and gave up.”

“Jean-Luc, why didn’t you tell me all this much earlier? If only I’d known, I would’ve … well gone about things differently… I’ve asked you so often about Philip’s past, you never answered any of my questions…”

Discrétion oblige chérie,” Jean-Luc sighed. "But you may be right, I should have told you. At the latest after you solved the Franck problem, because it showed Philip is personally important to you, despite this current disaster.”

“What can I do now?”

Poooff … aucune idée. He doesn’t want to see or talk to you, he’s locked his Antonia door. Give him some time … and find a new key to re-open that door. But I warn you - ça sera difficile!

As Antonia had predicted to Philip, all the others at ‘signC’ were just as shocked and upset about her leaving so quickly as he had been. Saskia had tears in her eyes and Jan looked at her dumbfounded as she tried to explain: “Jeez Antonia, I know I was the one to warn you of potential problems if you wanted to become personally involved with Philip. But I never expected to trigger such a reaction, have you run off immediately to look for a new job – even though I can see it’s a great career move here in Brussels. Sec Gen for a European professional association, that’s something everyone wants on their CV.”

“I hope the two of you will at least believe me that I didn’t take the job mainly to climb the career ladder, but because I wanted to give me and Philip a better chance in our private lives. Even though I probably blasted all chances I might ever have had with him in the process,” Antonia mumbled glumly.

“Well, knowing how crazy you can get, I do believe you – but I don’t really see Philip believing it, you poor thing.”

“We’ll miss you so much,” Saskia’s whisper was choked. “I can’t thank you enough; you’ve done so much for me. I’d never have this position, these professional opportunities without you. I don’t know what we’ll do…”

“Saskia, I’m only transferring to an office five blocks down from here, I’m staying in the fashion business, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to work together, see each other, even have lunch together,” Antonia reassured her. “I always thought of the two of you more as friends than as colleagues. I hope this will stay that way. And thank you for everything; I love your work, everything you’ve always made for me, your creativity.”

Over the next days, Philip was true to his word: He did not respond to a short, personal letter she wrote him trying to explain again with a heartfelt apology. He left for London, not to be seen in the office anymore and had Jean-Luc arrange the details with her. He had him offer Antonia her full annual salary if she did not take the vacation days still due to her to instead check on all the preparations for the ‘signC’ launch in the major flagship stores and with the retailers, coming up with detailed to-do lists and timelines, reporting all this to Jean-Luc.

Even though this meant she would be on the road for almost a whole month, Antonia agreed. Right now, she did not have the feeling she could stand being alone with herself in Brussels, so numbing herself with work, seeing different places, being on the go all day and spending the evenings in hotel rooms writing reports seemed like the less stressful alternative.

The cities, stores, hotels and locations passed like a blur. She only took one longer weekend off on returning from Portugal to visit her university friend Catalina who lived in Seville and was undergoing a messy divorce while having two children under three to fend for. Together they went to Catalina’s aunt’s beach shack – there was no other way to describe it –in the lovely nature reserve of Matalascanas to swim, relax and tell each other their relationship woes.

“I know my problems don’t compare to yours, you’ve been dealt the much worse deal Catalina. So give me a telling off, if I get on your nerves, “Antonia told her.

Catalina shook her head and cradled little Marina. “Emotionally, you’re in a worse position. I married Paco because he was the one I finally got pregnant from, not because he was the love of my life. You know how badly I wanted kids. So I knew I was running a high risk that things might not work out with us as a couple – but it was a price I was willing to pay. You in contrast seem to be in love with this Philip like crazy – that hurts a lot more, even though I might have more practical problems to deal with.”

“I’m totally at a loss of what to do now. I don’t even know how to get back in touch with him. After he hung up on me on the phone, I haven’t dared try again – he hasn’t responded to anything in writing.”

Looking very thoughtful, Catalina let the baby suck the bottle for a few minutes before she asked: “What does he like to do? Any interests, hobbies, favorite foods or drinks, activities?”

“He likes good food a lot, but also has eating disorder issues. I’ve thought about that as an approach myself – but that would be the last one that would work,” Antonia shook her head. “Otherwise, he’s really into music, he’s an excellent piano player and divine dancer.”

“Well, I’d definitely sing for him them,” Catalina laughed.

“I might too, if I were blessed with your lovely alto voice,” Antonia smirked, “but you know full well me singing would ruin even my best existing friendships.”

Nevertheless, Catalina’s words along with Jean-Luc’s warning, she would need to find a different key to open her door with Philip again, kept ringing in her mind without her getting any closer to a solution. It was not until her last afternoon in Matalascanas, after a tiring swim fighting a strong current to get back to the beach then the strenuous walk across the dunes to the shack that suddenly everything fell into place.

Excited and laughing, she stormed into the shack, whirled Catalina around, hugged and kissed you. “Gracias, gracias, gracias … for coming up with the perfect idea of how to interest Philip in me again!”

“But I didn’t suggest anything! Which idea did you come up with?”

“You said to use something he likes, is really good at! I’m going to write him a business plan for our relationship as a venture capital pitch!”

“Ummm, that’s either very creative or totally crazy…”

“No, I’m pretty sure it fits perfectly!” Antonia took a deep breath. “But I’ll sleep over it again, think about it more – I don’t want to make the mistake of doing something head of heels a second time.”

“But what would that look like? Love in a flow chart?”

“Well not exactly, but sort of..,” Antonia pondered. “I’ll start with a mission statement for ‘Philip & Antonia Ltd.’ relationship business, come up with an interesting implementation strategy, some milestones like first private dinner together, advantages of vacation together, etc. Then I have to be really good in the finance part, his field of expertise, with the necessary investments we would need to make, practically and emotionally, maybe add some nice pie charts to this. Of course a good marketing design, how to show the outside world we belong together.

I’ll mail that to him, add a simple post-it note to it, make it look like an authentic business plan, saying something like: ‘I regret my first elevator pitch for ‘Philip&Antonia Ltd.’ went all wrong, but it would be great if you could give the completed business plan a second chance with a quick analysis.
He normally can’t resist anything that has business on it – it’s the only key I can think of right now which might have a chance of fitting!”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:37 AM   #11
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Part 9 – Flagships

Antonia spent the little free time she had before starting at EAFR on working on her ‘Philip&Antonia Ltd.’ business plan, being very conscientious in her wording, trying not to assume or anticipate things Philip might never have seen that way. Instead she took Heather’s advice and used as many of their small scenes and little positive experiences together as illustrations for making her point why she thought they had a future. After sleeping over the final version for three nights, she dropped it into Philip’s mail box the morning she first went to EAFR, knowing the new tasks would at least keep her from brooding.

Jan dropped by on Antonia’s second day at EAFR during her lunch break with a large flower bouquet and a small package, smiling: “The best of luck from Saskia and me! Saskia can’t come because she’s currently in Amsterdam, arranging the details for the fashion show of the store opening there. She’s got some Oranje princess coming, so she’s frazzled with total perfectionist pressure.”

“I thought Philip hat vetoed inviting any royals. At least from what I last saw, he had crossed out all suggestions of the like I made for Brussels, Luxemburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Munich.”

“Yeah he had. Philip oddly is part of the 17% minority of anti-monarchist, decidedly pro-Republic Brits, probably votes LibDems, don’t ask me why,” Jan laughed. “But since it’s her home turf, Saskia went ahead, did her own thing in Amsterdam, actually stood up to Philip saying he wasn’t a local, he couldn’t really tell what would be best on the Dutch market.”

“Saskia stood up to someone? Well good to hear, seems the therapy is working!” Antonia sobered up instantly, asked in a very small voice, “How’s Philip doing?”

Jan rolled her eyes moaning. “To be brutally honest – awfully! He clearly misses you like crazy; it’s painful for us to watch.” – making Antonia cringe until it hurt physically. “Do you know what he did on one of Arthur’s first days? He came into Arthur’s office, your old one, with some paper in his hand saying, ‘Antonia, let’s look at this....’ When he saw Arthur, he looked as if he had been slapped in the face, left without a word and didn’t return to the office until noon the next day, very obviously hung over.”

“Oh god … what have I done….”

“Okay, you staged your biggest communication disaster ever with him. But, you meant well, you did not really go against him. You’ve probably apologized I don’t know how often, you’ve left all doors back to you wide open,” Jan reasoned. “There’s nothing more you can do, he needs to do his part. Philip is a really sweet guy, but not exactly very mature and rational in handling his emotions. His standard response to personal conflicts seems to be retreating into his shell and stuffing himself silly …. but that’s not your fault.”

“Still, I feel so guilty…”

“You shouldn’t Antonia you need to get over that too. If you ask me, I think Philip is currently totally torn whether or not he should somehow find the guts to get back in touch with you. He clearly wants to hear what you’re up to. At the beginning, whenever we talked about you, we immediately shut up when he came in. Then one day he asked Saskia to finish the sentence she had started about you. Now we always make sure he can discreetly eavesdrop if he wants to when we talk about you.”

“Well, the next time you do, you can say I miss everybody at ‘signC’ awfully and am full of remorse….”

“Don’t – use you energy on making the best of everything here at EAFR. Now I have to run, a journalist appointment.”

Since she had a meeting next, Antonia did not open Saskia’s present until the evening when she was in the office alone. “You always need a good friend to have coffee with in a new office…” her small note read. As Antonia opened it, it turned out to be a large, traditional Dutch hot chocolate mug, shaped as a bear girl ballerina in a lilac dress. On seeing the dancing bear, Antonia broke into uncontrollable sobs, hugging the cold mug tight.

The first two weeks at EAFR kept Antonia so busy with meetings, technicalities and familiarizing herself with everything, she had little time to think much about Philip. Despite checking her mobile and e-mail a bit more often than usual, she was secretly grateful for the amount of activity keeping her mentally busy, leaving her physically tired in the evenings, thus keeping a firm lid on her emotional state of mind.

Late in the evening of an unseasonably cold, rainy Sunday, Antonia was packing for work on her third Monday at EAFR as her mobile bleeped. She blindly pressed the inbox: “Most unusual b-plan I’ve ever seen – never knew you could turn that into a business. Rather intriguing, but need more time to think about it. After all, we finance blokes normally only risk others people’s assets, not our own..

Antonia stared at the phone, slowly grasping the significance of the words and the caller ID, unheard of relief trickling down her insides, feeling as if she could finally breathe again. Hoping time would let her find the right words, she took the phone to bed with her and didn’t answer until over coffee the morning: “Is indeed a pitch for high risk venture capital, so take all the time you need. Feel free to correct my calculations should they be wrong. Let me know if you want to go through the details over coffee…

Even though they slipped into a pattern of texting each other about every other day with small humorous nonsense, Antonia did not dare call Philip because she was afraid of maybe catching him wrong-footed. Also, she was hosting the first round of meetings of her various country association representatives which left her little free time and leisure to carefully plan such a step.

As she was getting ready to go out with the marketing & distribution delegates from EAFR’s member associations, Antonia one more realized how surprised, bothered and even a bit repulsed she was by the slightly rowdy machismo, borderline chauvinist tone common to many rounds of EAFR representatives. Despite it being the mainly female targeted fashion business with many women working in the industry, also in executive positions, the association’s culture was clearly male dominated – making her notice how much she had taken the political correctness in culture working for an American company for granted.

Catering to this culture, Antonia had grudgingly agreed to spend the evening not with a nice dinner but beer and ‘frites’ at Place Jourdan and ‘Antoine’s’, its legendary ‘friterie’. Styling herself to the occasion in navy skinny jeans and cashmere sweater, new navy Sergio Rossi ankle boots, she played it up to casual chic with a short, flashily zipped burgundy leather coat recently bought in Madrid on the way back from Seville and matching rich dark burgundy Dior lipstick.

At Place Jourdan, she luckily found a parking right on the square and joined her group which had come by taxi. Making sure some reserved seats at the corner bar while others got in line at Antoine’s booth, Antonia stood back a little and surveyed whether everyone was taken care of. In doing so, a large figure caught her eye beyond the friterie, leaning against the low metal railing around one of the smallish, a bit crippled trees eating a large portion of frites.

Looking a second time, Antonia realized in pleasant shock it was indeed Philip.

Her pulse quickened, warm happiness rose in her, but her feet stayed rooted in cold uncertainty. One part of her wanted to run over and hug him tight, the other was deadly afraid of making any move fearing it might be the wrong one again. Philip seemed to have discovered her too, looked in her direction, looked away but almost immediately looked back and gave her a small wave. This set her feet going and she walked briskly over to him.

“Bon soir Philip, I’m so happy to see you,” Antonia couldn’t resist to cheek kiss him in greeting, savoring the delicious soft feel of his chubby cheeks against hers. Stepping back she smiled at him, quietly drinking in the sight of his handsome plump features and big frame, well covered by a trench coat.

“Really nice to meet you. You look very well,” he responded softly, looking at her intensely until he blushed, saying with a small grin: “I always thought you were against the entire Belgian ‘frites’ culture.”

Antonia laughed. “You’re right about that – I like my potatoes mashed, in the oven with herbs, baked with a spicy dairy product, au gratin, dauphinois, as Knödel, Gnocchi, homemade salad or whatever… But I’m here with an EAFR meeting, the guys wanted to go for beer and frites, so I’ll play along. May I steal one of yours?”

“Help yourself to as much as you like, it’s probably better that way,” Philip grimaced slightly. “How are you doing? How are your first experiences at EAFR?”

“It’s very different, in some aspects not quite what I expected, despite having known the association for a while from the outside,” Antonia was exceedingly grateful he asked because she was tongue tied by his presence, her mind felt void of any meaningful conversation pieces. “I really like the EU policy parts, looking at the different country aspects – but the institutional stuff is not my cup of tea. I miss everything and everybody at ‘signC’ a lot.”

“We miss you a lot too,” Philip mumbled this so softly Antonia wasn’t even sure she had heard correctly as he went on. “But we’re seeing you at the opening of our flagship store here in Brussels are we not … in 10 days? Did you get the invitation?”

“Invitation? I’m not sure … I only remember the general announcement with the introductory folder….”

“But you’re coming, aren’t you…?” touched by his barely suppressed eagerness Antonia nodded smiling: “I’ll double check the date and do my best.”

“Oh here you are Antonia, we’ve been looking all over for you,” a voice said next to her. “We’ve all got our chips now… they’re fab …, Desmond Jameson,” he stretched his hand out to Philip.

“Philip Watherwood..”

“Looks like you’ve been here a while already in Brussels, mate,” Desmond guffawed and slapped Philip square in the middle, “too many frites, too many beers … lets that gut get huge …”

Philip turned almost purple with embarrassment, visible even in the dim light, while Antonia said sweetly: “Well Desmond, looks like you’ve in contrast been in Brussels now the longest you’ll ever be. You have just successfully disqualified yourself for our spokesperson position you were so keen on…, I’ll be right over with all of you.” Turning to Philip, she cheek kissed him good-bye: “We’ll see each other at ‘signC’s’ opening then,” whispering in his ear: “Loved seeing and talking to you.”

Antonia was already at her desk the next morning, checking e-mail before the meeting rounds as Desmond Jameson came in, fiddling nervously with his hands before he said: “Antonia, I’m sorry about yesterday evening, I had a bit too much to drink …. Belgian beers are dangerously good…”

“Ok, thank you for coming to apologize. See you in the meeting.”

Uncertainly, Desmond stayed standing in front of Antonia’s desk. “You weren’t serious about me not getting the spokesperson position here, were you? That was a joke … because it’s all arranged with our association, isn’t it?”

“I’m very sorry to have to say that was no joke, Desmond,” Antonia shook her head. “You personally insulted a complete stranger on first sight yesterday evening. That is inexcusable for someone who wants to be EAFR’s spokesman.”

“Come on, it was a lame fat joke among us lads! He’s a Brit too, isn’t he? He’ll know how to take it! And he’ll know I had too much to drink…”

“Just because he might have the same passport as you do, does not enable you to make a sound judgment regarding his attitudes and feelings. We cannot have anybody as a spokesperson with whom there is only the slightest doubt that his or her communication skills are up to par in every situation…”

“It was a joke Antonia! It’s not about you’re bl***y American political correctness! You don’t understand, that’s the way we lads talk to each other, you don’t know the culture….”

“No – you don’t understand Desmond.” Antonia’s voice turned cutting. “I know enough about so-called ‘laddism’ to know it’s a self-styled ‘culture’ to cover for bad manners. And I can assure you Philip Watherwood, despite being British is definitely not partial to your crude brand of ‘laddism’ humor, while he is CEO of ‘signC’, one of our members here at EAFR, which makes your gaffe…”

“F***ing shit no, he’s CEO of one of our members!” Desmond groaned. “Understand your point much better now. I’m sorry, it was too much beer, didn’t know what I was saying… it will not happen again…”

“Desmond, that’s no good as an excuse. Not being able to handle your liquor as a man is considered unacceptable in most continental business environments. For women it’s even stricter. That’s a major difference between English and continental culture by now – you people on your island are much more tolerant regarding drunken excess as acceptable adult behavior. But no matter how you look at it, from our perspective here, this incident disqualifies you.”

“Well, you need a British representative on the board!”

“Yes, of course I do. I thought about that last night. EAFR could use a vice-president from every one of the five big European fashion markets, so we should institute a UK seat too. Reg Harrington would certainly be negotiable for that post on account of your federation, or not?”

“Harrington? He’s decidedly anti-European! Are you joking?”

“Well, better a cultured professional highly qualified anti-EU Brit than one where I never know which drunken insults he might be peddling around town!”

Before joining the others in the meeting, Antonia called Jan to find out about the invitation to ‘signC’s’ store opening in Brussels. Jan sounded uneasy: “You met Philip and he asked you about an invitation which you haven’t received yet? Well, all invitations have been out for two weeks by now. He put you on his personal list, he has the special invites – you sure haven’t received one? Shall I double-check with him?”

“No, Jan, thanks, please don’t. I’ll double-check – my mail here still is pretty messed up.”

On getting home that evening, Antonia found the invitation in her private mail box, simply ‘Antonia’ inserted as addressee in Philip’s neat slanted hand-writing.

Five days before the event, Antonia received the first e-mail from Philip again to her private account: Please excuse my disturbing - could you maybe take a look at my opening speech Jan and I wrote. Do not know why- something does not feel right about it for me….

Knowing work was Philip’s way of dealing with things Antonia was delighted and spent two nights working on it before she answered: Very good solid business speech. But it’s not necessarily you, I can see that. Since you’re normal brilliant numbers approach is not really fitting for a festive opening, I’ve been so bold to attach a very different option … see if you can work with it. You’ll need to add some details yourself, since that’s more your field of expertise.

The evening of ‘signC’s’ opening Antonia was exceedingly nervous. She had reconsidered her attire at least a dozen times, in the end opting for the off the shoulder dull royal blue wrap shift Saskia had resized for Heather, surmising a ‘signC’ piece would be the most appropriate. Then she agonized for a week over the exact styling, in the last minute forsaking the sophisticated version of complicated up-do and patent leather high-heels for the more relaxed version of casual brushed back waves and curls, kitten heels and her grandmother’s Art Deco fashion jewelry.

Still, she noticed her hands were cold and shaking as she entered ‘signC’s’ new premises on Avenue Louise, so she gladly accepted the offered glass of champagne to calm her nerves. As she started to gulp it down, she saw Philip at the other end of the room toasting her also with a glass of champagne, which he poured down in one swig giving her an imploring glance showing crossed fingers. Antonia could tell how nervous he was since he was very pale, so she signaled back reassuringly and let herself be lead to her reserved seat in the front row along a makeshift catwalk.

The bell rang, the lights faded and even Antonia was surprised not to see Philip standing in front of the room at a lectern, but sitting at a piano on the side, starting out by playing the first lines of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in a jazzy variation: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Damens en Heerens, welcome, bienvenue, welkom, to the opening of ‘signC’ here in Brussels. Just so you’re not confused by my accent … this evening is all about a major American fashion brand opening up its first store in what considers itself the capital of Europe.”

Laughter and applause greeted this introduction giving Antonia the chance to survey Philip more closely. He still was nervously pale, but looked more comfortable sitting at the piano, playing a bit while talking. Seeing that he actually was wearing the shirt and bow-tie combination she and Saskia had come up with for the Antwerp reception filled her with unspeakable tenderness for him. The black suit he was wearing with it was a bit looser than it had been then, but fit alright and showed he was clearly rounder again than he had been at the end of his summer diet vacation.

Moving on to a different jazzy tune, Philip continued to explain ‘signC’s’ approach to women’s wear, what it wanted to introduce to the European market – using the framework of Antonia’s speech with the analogy of music styles spreading from the US to Europe to its full extent. He clearly had put quite some work into it himself, selecting nice pieces of music as examples, explain their significance and how they referred to the fashion presented on the catwalk by the models. As he warmed to his theme, became more and more confident, Antonia felt herself get all starry eyed in admiration.

During the short intermission for changing the back drop of the catwalk for the second half of the fashion, Jean-Luc slipped himself a chair next to Antonia: “Géniale cette idée,” kissing her hand. “You couldn’t have made him happier, he was dreading this first opening with the speech he had to deliver. What gave you the idea to make him comfortable by being able to hide behind the piano?”

“Actually, Philip took my idea all the way with that,” Antonia beamed at him. “I had just written the speech with the music analogy, asking him to choose the best examples because he knows more about the music history and significance than I do. In that context, I also said it might be good to include some of the music into the selection for the défilée, but I never dreamed he would go ahead and play himself.”

Jean-Luc winked at her. “It shows how well you understand him after all. He’s only fine with presenting in public if he can talk about endless financial reports or hide behind a piano. Since the first is totally déplacé in a fashion show, you wisely paved the way to the second option. En plus, it gives the not-really-exciting event of a store opening a unique touch – even if it isn’t the most CEO-like behavior.”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:39 AM   #12
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The final round of applause for the show and Philip’s presentation made Antonia clap wildly and confirmed Jean-Luc’s assessment that a CEO playing the music to the show was going to cause some publicity since Philip was immediately surrounded by journalists and photographers while Jan had her hands full in having to deal with all requests. Antonia decided to mingle a bit before she went to congratulate Saskia to free her from too much unasked for attention.

“I should be mad at and jealous of you that Philip chose your speech, because that’s my job now.” Jan smiled at Antonia later as they had time to talk. “But things went so well, he was so much happier and more confident than I had expected, so that’s good…”

“I did ask you beforehand whether you were okay with it….”

“Yes, you did – and seeing the result, I’m now truly fine with it. You know so much better how he feels than I do – plus, you’re a lot better at the creative framework of speeches than I am…”

“You’re in contrast a much better, more precise business writer than I am.”

“Thanks. Best of all though, it’s good to see you and Philip are in positive communications again. We’ve all been starting to think whether we needed to lock the two of you in a broken elevator to get you to talk again!”

Antonia took a long sip of champagne: “I can’t tell you how relieved I’m about that either!”

Towards the end of the evening, Philip came over to Antonia who was talking to Arthur and Saskia, murmured half in her ear: “We still need to speak about that business plan of yours…” while running a hand down her back and over her hip making all her hair stand on end in electric shock.

“Tonight … you want to talk about that tonight, after this long and stressful evening?”

“Evening went very well courtesy your speech, we’ve a bottle of champagne to finish, a piano … everybody will be gone soon… do you have other plans?”

“No, you’re right … this is a good set up to talk about our business,” Antonia smiled at him still wondering whether she had heard correctly, as Arthur and Saskia politely excused themselves. As he ushered the last guest out and bade the staff good night after they had closed the blinds, Antonia found the champagne in its cooler and washed two glasses before she arranged them next to the piano and settled herself on its bench, leaving enough room for Philip.

He carefully lowered himself next to her, while she poured two glasses of champagne, handing him one: “Chin-chin, to a brilliant launch of ‘signC’ here in Brussels – and many more to come!”

“Yeah, I’m going to drive all planners crazy in the stores I have to open by asking for a piano every time,” Philip smirked and bent over to kiss her naked shoulders. “What would I do without your ideas?”

“As you know, I don’t want you to have to do without my ideas. Just as I don’t want to have to do without you,” she gave him a fleeting kiss before he started to play: “Do you mind if I play while we talk?”

Knowing this made him feel much more comfortable, Antonia softly stroked his cheek: “No, absolutely not, it’s lovely and a very special part of you.”

“Like I already said, most mad business plan I’ve ever seen. What gave you the idea such a business would be feasible and worthwhile?”

“Well, first of all, it’s a type of business most people are interested in starting,” Antonia was a bit taken aback that he seemed intent on discussing the issue as if it were a real business proposal in third person, but decided to play along since she sensed the level of abstraction would make it easier for him.
“It first crossed my mind that you could be a potential personal business opportunity I needed to take a second look at directly as you poured coffee over me at Arts-Loi. Since we met right again with you coming to ‘signC’, I quickly found out you’re the best possible business partner for me I’ve ever met. We seemed to have a connection - which unfortunately led me to rashly assume you would immediately understand my maneuvers.”

“Jean-Luc convinced me you mean well, I needn’t be so skeptical, should talk to you … and I guess you know how much I like reading business plans…”

Antonia let out a small guilty laugh, ran her hand through his hair. “Thank you for making this first investment in our potential business by trusting me again.”

“Now what do you actually expect from this business?”

“You read the b-plan with the examples – it’s not much different from what we had at ‘signC’: Time together to talk, work, eat, dance, go places, enjoying each other’s company, exploring new things …. that always worked well with us, didn’t it? I got the feeling we might have little more there than casual friends…”

“Friends.. yes, I always hoped for that. I could never really see you as my employee….” Philip shifted uneasily.

“I had an even bigger problem seeing you only as my boss…” Antonia softly kissed him on the cheek.

“But what about those investments we need to make? I told you we finance people mainly invest other people’s assets…. I don’t have very many to offer, I don’t know what you expect…”

“Philip most of the assets you have to invest in such a business are normal ones everyone has, like time, interest, understanding,” Antonia explained carefully. “You tend to underestimate the assets you have to offer. You’ve always been so sweet, so thoughtful … if I just remember the very first time, when you went and figured out where I bought my suit, got me a gift certificate to replace it. 98 out of 100 men would just have given me their insurance contact data – and 80 out of 100 bosses would have overlooked the entire incident after finding out they were my superior.”


“Positively! You’re wonderful with such things….”

“But so are you! Think of the fantastic speech you wrote for me tonight… what does ‘signC’ owe you?”

Antonia kissed him fully on the lips and said softly: “Shut up! That was a personal favor from me to you, not to ‘signC’! Now back to the assets. There are some were we’ll both need to make some serious investments. For me that will definitely be patience, that’s not my forte. But I’m willing to make a serious effort, maybe issue some patience bonds if you help me….”

Philip let out a small laugh: “Okay, I can see more patience on your side might be helpful..”

“In turn, can you see yourself maybe investing more trust? Maybe raising a mortgage in trust on my behalf – and also in trusting yourself?”

“That might not be easy, I could maybe try….,” Philip sighed.

“If we both do that, it shouldn’t be too difficult to accumulate the necessary investments for our business. I think we already have a pretty solid base…”

“Well, ummm, but such a business also normally has …umm… physical aspects. Are you aware of those?” Philip mumbled almost inaudibly, swallowing hard.

“Yes, I’m extremely and very happily aware of those physical aspects. I’m fully confident they will be a wonderful element in our business,” Antonia let her lips brush over his plump cheek.

“How can you assume that? That’s one major flaw in your b-plan, based on wishful thinking instead of realistic analysis ….”

“Philip, did you never notice that I often moved in physically much closer, touched you more than was appropriate for an employee with her boss?”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“What did you think why I did that? Why did you never say anything about it?”

“Ummm, I guess I thought it was American… and I never said anything because it… well… it was nice,” Philip blushed.

“It’s definitely not American,” Antonia giggled lightly. “In the US you can end up in a harassment case way to easily. If it’s anything cultural, it’s more Southern European, there’s more touching there. But actually I did it because you have such a strong physical attraction on me, I can’t get you close enough…”

“How can you possibly be attracted to me?” Philip muttered scornfully.

Antonia knew this was the crucial point: She needed to convince him of her serious attraction to him physically without making any references to his size, choosing her words carefully to not use any Philip might find offensive, hurtful or misunderstand.
“Because you have all the assets I’m looking for in a business partner,” she said gently, leaning her head against his. “You have these great broad shoulders which make me feel so comfortable. I love physical power and presence in a man- leaning here against you just feels perfect, makes me all warm and fuzzy. Then you’re a divine dancer, an excellent piano player- so being around you is high-quality time. Not to mention those gorgeous green eyes … which are again wasting time looking skeptical … We had already established the fact you’re a professional hand model, I need to find out everything these hands can do …” putting her rather small one on one of his.

Even though his features had softened while she spoke, Antonia perceived fear and doubt in the short glance Philip gave her, so she went on: “… and the little I’ve got to taste of these here definitely want me to try more.” – kissing him more intensely on the lips again.
He turned his head and responded to her kiss, gliding one arm around her waist, pulling her closer and continuing to play on with only one hand. She carefully opened up, let him explore as deeply as he wanted, letting themselves get wrapped into the first moment of true intimacy. As he pulled back he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.

Using his distraction, she asked: “Now tell me, why do you seem to be considering starting this business with me?”

“What? Any man in his right mind would like to start a business with you!”

“That most likely is an incorrect generalization. At least 50% of your male compatriots would veto such a business with me simply because I’m half-Kraut,” Antonia teased. “For others I might be too tall, too near-sighted, too difficult, too shopping obsessed … whatever. Can you honestly see yourself starting a business with someone who is tone-deaf? Which reasons do you have?”

Philip let out a little laugh. “I’ll be happy to work on your musical education, I’m certain we can do something about that,” going on in a more serious tone, while running his lips over her shoulders. “It’s simply lovely to have you close, you’re gorgeous, you’re so considerate in small things, you’re such a good cook, .. I’ve never had that, it’s like, well, it’s like someone cares …”

“That’s because I care for you very much … and I’ll be happy to take even better care of you if you let me…” Antonia let him kiss her deeply again, very carefully slipping her hands under his coat brushing them along his round middle, getting seriously aroused feeling his abundant bulk straining against the thin fabric.

“It’s getting late, we should think of leaving…I’ll go get your coat,” Philip murmured.

“I’ll call us a taxi…” Antonia pulled out her mobile. After he had helped her into her coat, softly nuzzling her neck, she turned and tried to wrap her arms around his middle. He caught and put them around his neck, while pulling her close around the waist, running his hands over her hips and gently grabbing her buttocks, kissing her again and then running his lips down to her well displayed cleavage, hiding his face between her breasts.

“Mmmmmh, so you’re interested in an advance payment for our business too,” Antonia purred, running both hands through his hair and gently rolling the small bulge of flesh at the back of his neck.

“Advance payment? What kind of advance payment?” Philip mumbled as they got into the taxi quickly to dodge the pouring rain and she gave her address.

“Just a little advance on the physical pleasures of our business, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Antonia whispered and leaned into him for another kiss.

“Taking assets out of a business before it’s really taken off is never a good idea,” Philip mumbled between two kisses.

Antonia half settled on his knee wrapping herself tightly around him to feel him as fully as possible: “There’s plenty of this asset, no harm will be down,” her arousal leading her to start nibbling on his little double-chin while her hands ran along his belt-line in the back to his love-handles where she firmly took a first grab into his pliable flesh, inhaling sharply at the pleasurable feel.

“Do not do that!” Philip jumped.

“Pardon Madame,…. the Belliard tunnel ahead is closed ….” the taxi driver interrupted.

“Take any route, it doesn’t matter, go via Parc Léopold III,” Antonia quickly told him before turning back to Philip, kissing him and murmuring softly, “It’s okay, I didn’t mean to hurt you, you just feel so warm and good,” as he pulled her tight by the waist, placing her hands around his neck again.

While kissing, Philip’s thick torso kept beckoning Antonia seductively and she started gliding her hands down his back, under his coat, this time not squeezing his love-handles but carefully pulling his shirt out of his waistband, slipping her hands underneath, finally getting the chance to touch his soft naked skin, smooth over the firm padding on his back: “Mon Dieu, you have no idea how wonderful you feel,” Antonia purred.

Philip was too preoccupied to have fully noticed, since he had pulled her dress further off her shoulders and started kissing her breasts. Antonia let her hands explore not only his back, but also the softer, thicker, more forgiving fat roles on his sides. Moving up, she finally reached the particularly tender ones under his arms, the cuddly extensions of his man boobs to his back. Feeling how plump and juicy they were, she couldn’t resist and squeezed deeply, her fingers reaching out for the nipples on his fleshy chest, moaning in the physical delight of the sensation swooping down between her legs.

As if he had been touched by red-hot iron, Philip bucked and tore her hands out from under his shirt, thrusting them in her lap: “How dare you! Humiliating me so much in a situation like this!”

“But Philip I didn’t mean to …”

“You don’t need to remind me, I know it’s f***ing revolting! Don’t you have any respect for me? I warned you – I knew you couldn’t take the unpleasant truth of the physical aspects…”

“Philip will you please lis….”

“Forget it, I’ve had more than enough of this! Why could I ever think you’d be different? It’s always the same, no woman can stand my bl***y ….” opening the taxi door as it stopped at a red light, pushing Antonia off and heaving himself out, walking away as fast as he could in the pouring rain.

Arrêtez!” Antonia yelled at the driver who took off as the light turned green, only to notice she had lost one shoe. Before she could find it in the dark taxi, Philip had already turned the corner and was gone.

Dumb-founded, hurt and miserable, Antonia had the taxi take her home. There she paced her apartment for a while before she wrote Philip a text: “Sincerely sorry if I hurt your feelings by being impatient again. My touch wanted to show you nothing but my love for every little part of you- that’s all. Please honestly try to believe me!

She slept fitfully only to be woken at 5:30 a.m. by the bleeping of her mobile: “I apologize for my behavior, I totally overreacted. Believing and trusting are just not my strong points…
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:42 AM   #13
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Part 10 -Weihnachtsmarkt

“Impressive moderating of that working group. But I know how important the issue is for you,” Antonia whirled around hearing Philip’s voice as she was pouring herself a coffee after the end of the workshop session on new demands and standards for European cloths sizing she had chaired at the European fashion retail conference in Düsseldorf. She hadn’t spoken to him since he had jumped out of the taxi some two weeks earlier; they had only stayed in rather loose SMS contact. Being unsure how to proceed further, she had sworn to wait for EAFR’s Christmas dinner on St. Nicholas day before she maybe would try another move.

“Thank you. It’s a total surprise to see you here; I didn’t know you were coming.”

“It was the easiest way to meet with quite a number of retailers as well as take a good look at some competitors,” Philip looked up and down uneasily several times, before taking a deep breath. “Could you …. it would be good …., I know last time I was …. well, I’d would really like to talk to you about some things I have observed here. What are your plans this afternoon? And I don’t know whether you would still be willing to have coffee with me?”

Seeing him look at her helplessly, Antonia had trouble being angry, especially since she felt it was partly her fault that their last encounter had ended so disastrously. “Actually my day here is done. Because of a mess up with the hotel rooms, I’m not staying here in Düsseldorf, but in Cologne … as a perk in the lovely “Dom Hotel” right on the cathedral square. What’s more, one of the nicest “Weihnachtsmärkte”, typical Advent fairs is there. I was planning on going this afternoon, I totally love Weihnachtsmarkt, buy some Christmas cookies I don’t make myself…”

“Have a nice evening then, see you maybe tomorrow,” Philip gave her a curt smile and turned to leave.

“Wait Philip – let me finish my sentence! Have you ever been to a Weihnachtsmarkt?”

“Ummmm … no… why?”

“Well, they’re incredibly popular with your compatriots,” Antonia smiled, simply could not help suggesting an activity together since he obviously seemed to want it too. “Many British bus operators and no frills-airlines tours offer weekend packages for Brits – these tourists have turned into a major economic factor. Why don’t you come along, join me, I’d love to show you around?”

“I don’t know … my hotel is here in Dousseldoff, how will I get back?”

“Don’t worry you can take a train any time. They run several per hour, it’s a 25 minute ride and the train station is right next to the cathedral,” Antonia linked arms with him. “Come on, you won’t regret it, I need to introduce you to Glühwein, hot spiced red wine, I know you’ll love it.”

“It’s always difficult to say no to suggestions of yours like that,” Philip gave her a small twisted smile, “because they’ve always turned out to be fun and tasty.”

“That’s the right attitude. Come, my car is in the park garage.”

It was dusk by the time they reached Cologne and Antonia watched Philip’s eyes survey the cute matching little wooden market stands circled around the brightly illuminated huge Christmas tree in front of the imposing Gothic cathedral.

“Quite impressive, truly a picture book perfect Christmas illustration. And it smells delicious.” Philip smiled taking in the aroma of Bratwurst, fried foods, hot chocolate, Pizza, baking, caramelized goodies that wafted over.

“Snacking and indulging yourself on the various goodies is a quintessential part of the Weihnachtsmarkt experience,” Antonia grinned. “If you’re really hungry though, we can go over to ‘Früh’s‘, the best brewery of the local beer, ‘Kölsch’, to get you a decent meal first,” hearing his stomach grumble.

“I’ll follow your lead. I presume you’ve most certainly done some extensive European Weihnachtsmarkt survey ….” Philip gave her a sheepish grin.

“Indeed I have…” Antonia laughed. “Thus I have sound empirical evidence that this booth here offers the very best Weihnachtsmarkt potato pancakes with apple sauce ever. Could you please get in line while I run over to get us some Glühwein?”

Placing the two paper plates stacked with potato pancakes in front of them, Antonia clicked the two Glühwein mugs. “Cheers, to your first Weihnachtsmarkt experience!”

Philip took a long sip. “Mmmmm … that is something, spicy, sweet … and it really warms you up,” before biting into the potato pancakes hungrily, only to burn his tongue. “Ouch… they’re really hot. But crisp on the outside and juicy, a bit spicy in the middle … a great combination with the tangy and sweet apple sauce. I can see now why you prefer them to frites…”

“Yeah, I love the contrast too. The potato batter is made with a bit of grated onion and parsley. I’m glad you like them,” Antonia smiled indulgently as he wolfed down his three, only to push one of hers over before she went to get him a second plate.

“This is really too much…..”

“No, it isn’t. Rule number one on Weihnachtsmarkt – overeat a little. Rule number two – this is a substitute for dinner,” Antonia playfully admonished him also setting a second mug of Glühwein in front of him. “You still need to try Nuremberg style small Bratwurst, the wonderful signature cathedral “Dom” Christmas cookies, the baked apples with vanilla sauce and maybe some caramelized almonds ….”

Tasting here and there, they wandered across the market, Antonia showing Philip the arts and crafts, buying a few things, listening to the music of a small live band and happy that he over time draped his arm around her.

“Very odd, lively, party music for Christmas season, people are even dancing,” Philip remarked observing several couples sashaying around the huge Christmas tree “From my knowledge German Christmas songs are mainly in the mold of ‘Silent night’ ….”

“That’s local color – original Cologne carnival music,” Antonia grinned. “It’s normally supposed to be played only during the season from November 11th to Ash Wednesday, minus the 4 weeks before Christmas to Epiphany. But somehow it’s turned into the year round local music for any public occasion. It’s used for carnival events, but also soccer matches, the Christopher Street Day parades, as you can see Christmas markets … and there even are some songs dealing with the afterlife which are often played at funerals – despite the gaudy carnival instrumentation.”

“Who’d have thought you Krauts of all people would be into carnival all year round…”

“It’s not us Krauts … it’s the Rhinelander’s … or even more precisely, the Cologne natives. Regional differences are huge here in Germany – no Hamburger would be caught dead celebrating carnival… it’s almost as extreme as Flemish and Walloons, only without the vicious secessionist drive….”

Stopping for their second official round of Glühwein, Philip sighed, shook his head muttering: “You’re being so sweet again-I think I owe you a real apology, don’t know how to explain… how we can move on with our business…”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Antonia gently laid her gloved hand on his. “We’re having a good time together, aren’t we? Let’s leave it at that – it’s fine with me. We have time, we don’t need to rush anything, just do what you feel fine with – and give me a telling off if I get impatient again, okay?”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely – now you must try one of these cookies….”

As it started raining heavily, they both still had an almost full mug of Glühwein in their hands. “What now? Is there anywhere we can go for cover?” Philip asked.

“My hotel is right here, let’s find a sofa in the lobby.” Antonia steered him quickly across the square into the hotel and onto a cozy small sofa in a corner. She was shivering with cold and wrapped her fingers tightly around her wine mug.

Philip flopped down heavily on the sofa next to her, seeing her shiver, wrapped his arms around her, murmuring: “Come here, let me warm you.”

Reluctantly, remembering the frustrating outcomes of her last attempts at physical closeness with Philip, she leaned against him, let him rub her back and arms while he finished first his then her Glühwein. But she stayed passive, vowing to not ruin things again by being to forward, let Philip take the initiative even if that meant not getting very far. Holding her snugly with a slightly hazy smile for a few minutes, he leaned down and slowly, teasingly started to kiss her, first only lightly pecking, then going in deeper as Antonia closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Craving his body heat, she pressed herself into his bulk, savoring his insistent kisses. She could tell the Glühwein had loosened his inhibitions, making him decidedly horny and as his hand kneaded her breast, she murmured, “We should move on to a more private place, if you want to. Cologne is a liberal city … but let’s not overdue it…”

Seeing him nod slowly, she rose quickly wrapping her arms around him and indicating at the elevator. Philip went along, as then got on, she leaned into its corner, pressed 3rd floor and drew him close again, reaching up for a deep kiss.

“What about my train back..?” Philip whispered between kisses.

“Don’t worry, they run very late…”

Careful not to break the bond of physical touch, Antonia navigated him to her room, with one hand pulled the key card out and stuck it in, opening the door. Once inside, she immediately dropped coat, handbag, everything she was holding, backed against the wall to let Philip press his weight onto her, delighting in the sensation, his warm lips running down her throat as he with a sense of urgency started unbuttoning her blouse. Reluctantly, she slipped her fingers up to his tie, pulled it off and set to work on his shirt buttons, as he broke off, breathing heavily…

“No please, wait….”

“We’re doing great Philip, just go for it. I can feel you want it as much as I do,” Antonia let her hand tease up the inside of his big thigh.

Leaning heavily into her again, Philip kissed her neck and ear, murmuring: “Please, for me, take out your contacts, please…”

“Take out my contacts? But w..,” Antonia groaned quietly, but instantly decided to give in while making sure he would not use the diversion as a chance to get away. “Philip I can’t navigate my way around this room without contacts, I can only do that at home. If you insist, you have to guide me. Come, continue undressing me while I take them out..”

Turning on only the small light, Antonia deftly removed her contacts, letting Philip fully unbutton her blouse, tug down the zipper of her skirt, his hands gliding over her hips, down and up between her thighs, where he let his fingers play until she clenched with desire. As the world around her turned into a dim, multi-colored blur, she wondered briefly whether she honestly wanted her first sex with Philip to be the result of inebriated horniness combined with total lack of vision on her part. But by now she had been waiting far too long for this opportunity to let it pass by for being particular about details.

“Bed, Philip, bed – guide me over,” Antonia nibbled on his earlobe, carefully stroking over his soft flesh as she continued to unbutton his shirt, literally fingering her way down, pulling it out of his pants, undoing belt and waistband slipping her hands into his boxers feeling the deliciously plush, sensitive underside of his belly and how needily hard he was.

In the meantime Philip had steered Antonia to the bed and settled her on it, wrapping her into his abundant body and kissing her passionately. She caressed his bulges gently, making sure to keep her hands flat to not start squeezing or poking his inviting flab.

Given her previous experiences, she had always feared physical relations with Philip would require endless coaxing and reassurances to make him overcome his inhibitions. So she was awed as he expertly, naughtily started to stimulate her, making her writhe in pleasure, his hands plucking cords in her she did not even know existed.

Keeping her teetering on the brink of orgasm, he only asked briefly, panting, with a quavering voice: “Are you really okay with going all the way?” taking her moaned,. “Oh jaaaa..” as an invitation to quickly enter her scissor-style, causing a tantalizing pre-orgasm. Grinding his thick body against hers in a flowing rhythm, he wound her up tighter and tighter to make her utter a high-pitched scream of release she was not able to suppress shortly after, before he climaxed too in a quiet grunt.

Holding her close, Philip buried his face in Antonia’s neck, breathing heavily before he quickly rolled himself around making the whole bed shake like a capsizing raft to then wrap his arms around her from behind, his belly pressed against her back. Antonia struggled though to turn in his arms, brought her face close to his and looked at him intently.

He looked flushed and serene until he caught her look, his expression turning apprehensive. “Are you feeling alright? I didn’t hurt you? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“How does a woman feel who probably just had something that must come very close to the perfect orgasm?” Antonia purred giving him a kiss. “Even for a communications expert that’s difficult to verbalize….”

“Are you sure? You look … well, I don’t know….”

“I’m staring at you so closely because, don’t forget, you suggested I take out my contacts …. remember? I have to look at you like this to get an idea how you’re doing.” she playfully pulled his hair. “So… how does it feel to make love to a blind woman?”

Philip blushed lightly with a guilty look and said seriously. “Making love to you feels fantastic. I forgot about you not seeing clearly. Sorry, don’t know what I was thinking …..”

“Well … it was an interesting experience for me, too. Not seeing much does make me concentrate more on other senses like feeling and smelling … and you feel and smell sensational, so it’s well worth my time…” she nibbled on his fleshy man boobs, rubbing his tummy in circular motions making it ripple rhythmically.

“This is lovely, but I need to catch my train…” Philip started to get up.

“No, no way!”

“What do you mean no? My hotel bed is in D…”

“No, you’re staying right here is this hotel bed in Cologne! I’ve waited way too long for this, I deserve an encore! You take an early train tomorrow morning!” Antonia put her full weight on top to make getting up more difficult for him.

“So… you think you deserve an encore,” Philip grinned self-consciously. “Well, admittedly …. I’ve an appetite for an encore myself…”

Antonia did not see Philip all next morning in Düsseldorf at the fair after he had snuck out early from her room in Cologne. Just as she was getting ready for her noon final panel discussion on challenges for fashion retailers in Europe, Arthur came by: “Hi Antonia, have you seen Philip?”

“You haven’t seen him yet this morning?” fear instantly rising in her.

“I don’t mean this morning, right now. We already had a meeting together, he was a bit late, but seemed fine. No I mean right now, we’re running late, we need to catch our Thalys back to Brussels,” Arthur explained.

“Okay, well, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him if I see him.”

Sitting up on the podium for the discussion a little over half an hour later, Antonia made out Philip’s broad frame in one of the rear rows of the audience. Texting him from under the table she wrote: Hmmm, someone missed his Thalys back to Brussels ;-)

Well, wanted to see you in action here – can take later train…

Or you can hitch a ride with me! We can go via Aachen, another great Weihnachtsmarkt – I can introduce you to my ultimate favorites as Xmas cookies, their local specialty Printen…., she discreetly typed making sure no one noticed.

“Ms Langley, as Secretary General of EAFR, could we have your opinion on what some see as the crisis in women’s fashion in Europe?”

“Certainly,” Antonia smiled at the moderator and her audience. “We have to differentiate between external and internal criteria. There is little we can do about external criteria such as a major economic downturn in which consumers cut spending drastically – notably on goods such as fashion which are not daily necessities. But there are a number of internal criteria where we as an industry can only blame ourselves if we are not getting the sales we expect and need.”

“Could you maybe give us some more details on this?”

“I would like to take on two: supply and sizing,” Antonia elaborated. “We all agree that neither the low price nor the luxury segments are currently causing any problems – it’s everything in between, mid-market and quality fashion. Now I would like to do something that might seem unprofessional, but I would like to use myself and my own shopping habits as a pars pro toto to high-light this. Many of you will probably agree that I do fit the mould of the woman you have in mind when you think about who is going to buy your fashion: I’m young enough, fashion interested, wear a standard size, have the professional opportunity and necessity to dress the part as well as the income to spend on decent fashion.”

Some laughter, a bit of applause and many nodding heads were the response to Antonia’s statement.
“But I find it increasingly difficult to actually spend the money I’m willing to on fashion. Why? Somehow many designers and producers seem to have forgotten I’m their main target group. I might like, but I certainly don’t need an array of €500 diaphanous baby doll dresses. I’m 10 years too old, 15 cm too tall for those – and simply have no opportunity to wear them in a business environment. If I want one like that for fun or a party, I’ll go to a low price retailer, buy a nice copy for € 60-70, wear it once or twice a season and that’s it. On the other hand, I already have 8 good gray suits in my wardrobe. I’m not going to buy the 9th one just because some designer comes up with a ½ shade of gray off and pockets that zip from left to right instead of right to left this season!”

Major applause arose, mainly from the women in the audience. “So what do I do? I vent my fashion budget on shoes, handbags, the 87th nice t-shirt, scarves and the like – and save the rest!”

“You mentioned sizing as the second issue?”

“How many of you like trying on 3-4 different sizes before you find one that fits?” Antonia asked her audience; looking around seeing only a few very young women raise their hands. “Well, so only a minority has that hobby horse. Okay, many brands have these half-meter long EU size tags in their clothing. Apart from the fact that you have to cut them off if you don’t want them peeking out or scratching the back of your neck all the time – how reliable are they? Yesterday morning I might have bought a nice dress with jacket in an innovative shade of green by an Italian designer en passant here in Düsseldorf. Now I wear a German size 40, which normally would translate into an Italian 44/46. Now the tag read D40 – I42 – so I knew something was wrong. I did not have the time or nerve to try on three sizes to find one which might fit, so I saved my money. In my own name, in the name of EAFR and for the sake of good business prospects for all of us – we finally need to get this sizing issue solved – and be more realistic about what we offer to our markets!”

Even though one rail thin female designer from Switzerland kept disagreeing, Antonia got the most applause at the end of the discussion and was surrounded by people as she grabbed a bowl of pea soup for lunch afterwards where Philip joined her. Bashfully he asked: “Can I take you up on that offer of a ride home to Brussels via a second Weihnachtsmarkt?”

Antonia flashed him a delighted smile and nodded, swallowing her soup. “It’ll be a moment; I need to talk to some people. Go get yourself some soup, it’s highly eatable.”

“I’ll wait a bit; the queue is really long just now.”

Antonia leaned against him a bit, yearning for his warmth in the chilly fair hall, as the moderator addressed her again: “Antonia, could you please come? They want to do a radio interview with our panelists.”

“Finish this, and meet me at 15h at the main entrance,” Antonia blew Philip a kiss and handed him her bowl.

Hand in hand they reached the car where Antonia first thing climbed into Philip’s lap, hugged him tight and kissed him longingly. “I’ve been waiting for this minute ever since you left my hotel room in Cologne…”

“Mmmm, I guess so’ve I…” Philip blushed and murmured, returning her kiss. They made out for quite a while until Antonia pulled back: “Okay, we need to get going before rush-hour traffic hits or we’re arrested for public indecency. Look at how those guys over who are staring at our car. Are you in the mood for more Glühwein?”

“Definitely!” Philip grinned with pleasure while his stomach grumbled loudly.

“It sounds like you need something to eat beforehand though. What have you had so far today?”

“It’s been a good day. I finished your soup, so I’m fine,” there was a touch of pride in Philip’s voice Antonia found unsettling, especially since she totally disagreed with his assessment.

“Well, I know a cute, historic wine café in Aachen that makes great vegetable omelets and salads; we’ll go there first before we hit the Glühwein booths!”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:43 AM   #14
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“Bl***y unbelievable – it’s true what everybody says: Your apartment is overrun by thousands of teddy bears!” Philip exclaimed as he looked around Antonia’s living room. He had been reluctant to come up, but Antonia insisted since he had aroused her unbearably the whole drive back from Aachen running his fingers over her body while she drove - apart from her general determination to move past a one-night stand, let him truly enter her life starting with her apartment.

“Not thousands – 93 … well maybe 94 teddy bears live here….,” Antonia slipped her arms as far around his middle as possible, leaning in for a kiss. “None of them have ever complained, they seem to like living here…..”

Philip kissed her firmly: “I think I can see why that’s the case….” – as she steered him over to her bedroom. “But there’s no room on the bed for us … it’s occupied by polar bear squatters…” he mumbled into her neck.

“That’s just Mère Polar Bear and her three cubs…they live here on feather bed mountain…,” Antonia set the bears on the window sill and flicked the bed aside.

“That’s some mountain of a feather bed… don’t you suffocate under that?”

“Oh no- on the contrary!” Antonia shook her head smiling. “That’s what comes from having a German grandmother – I was turned into a total feather bed addict, I only sleep well if I have something really big, warm and fluffy to wrap around me. I abhor these tucked in sheets!” settling on the bed and pulling him down on her. “You were a very naughty boy in the car, distracting me so badly from driving …. let’s finish that now I have my hands free too….”

“Could you please turn off the light?” Philip half swallowed his words and turned away to finish undressing. Antonia sighed but complied. Light or dark, as Philip enveloped her in his body, she was completely absorbed by losing herself in his delicious roundness, particularly relishing the contrast of his soft abdomen and increasing hardness. Rubbing it teasingly, she was so tempted by the feeling of his pliable bulk she pressed her hands into his extra soft underbelly, kneading it vigorously.

Philip bolted at this, grabbed his shirt and trousers and stumbled over to the living room. Antonia took a few deep breaths, then rose, pulled on a wrapper and went over. He was sitting on her couch, just with an open shirt, his head hanging half between his knees and breathing in rapid, shallow gulps. Letting him calm down for a minute more, Antonia perched herself on the backrest of the couch and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her cheek against his.

“Sorry, I’m afraid I overreacted again,” Philip pressed out with some difficulty.

“It’s okay, don’t worry. I got carried away again,” Antonia murmured soothingly, lightly massaging the back of his neck. “Touching you feels so sensational, I forget myself – and do things you’re not comfortable with. I’m sorry too.”

Philip nodded slowly, his breathing more normal so she went on: “We both need a little time and patience to get to know what we like, what works for both of us, okay? Is this fine for you?” lightly caressing his chest.

“Mmmmm…hmm,” Philip sighed, nodding so Antonia let her hands wander up and down his sides. “How about this?”

“Niiice…” he mumbled, leaning his head back, slowly rolling it against her chest. Anticipating the next move to be a more difficult one, she very carefully stroked her hands over his broad belly, outlining his girth. Sure enough, he sucked it in, tensing up, but did not protest, instead let out a low guttural moan. “This really okay?” Antonia intensified her petting a bit.

“Ummm…hmmm,” Philip nodded. “I’m used to that, it’s in many dance moves, they center on touching the waist and sides …. Or where the waist should be,” he grunted bitterly. Antonia wrapped herself tighter around him, softly started kissing the tender flesh of his neck and proceeded to rub his expansive tummy calmingly as she would a baby’s.

After he had relaxed a bit, she leaned precariously down from her perch, let her hand wander tentatively lower, sliding it between the thick, soft, warm fat folds of belly and thighs to reach his manhood, slipping her fingers in a ring around it, squeezing lightly. “But I may squeeze down here – or not?”

“Absolutely…” Philip whispered hoarsely, letting something drop he had clenched in his fist.

“What’s that ….oh sorry, Heather’s boys, Henri and Pierre arranged the Christmas cookies we baked last weekend on these Winnie-the-Pooh napkins… I didn’t have time to clear everything away …”

“I hate Winnie-the-Pooh…..”

Pardon? How can anybody hate Winnie-the-Pooh?” Antonia sat up in dismay.

“He’s fat, greedy and …. stupid, really stupid…,”

“What? Winnie-the-Pooh isn’t stupid – he’s just a bear with very little brains! But he has a lot emotional intelligence since he sees and knows his own faults, even though he isn’t able to follow his own insights time and again … Come to think of it, Winnie-the-Pooh with academic smarts would be literally un-bear-ably perfect!” Antonia was intrigued by the idea. “Imagine – he’s cute, cuddly, loving, and loyal, a good friend, compassionate, curios … a high IQ would be almost too much. What’s your issue with poor Winnie-the-Pooh?” she nuzzled his cheek.

“… my nanny was told to read me only the one chapter where Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s hole because he ate too much and was too fat to get back out…” Philip muttered under his breath, stiffening in Antonia’s arms; who was appalled.

“But that’s awful, how cruel!” the words slipped before she could hold them back. “I always hated that chapter, too. When I was older, could read the book myself, that’s the one I skipped. I was especially mad at Rabbit and his stupid relations!”

“You were mad at Rabbit’s relations?”

“Yes … those stupid rabbits, digging holes all over the place … couldn’t they have dug Rabbit’s front hole a bit bigger to help Pooh out and then fill it up again? That would have spared poor Pooh a diet and the humiliation of having his sexy hind paws being used as a towel rack!”

Philip laughed out loud and with a surprising move flipped Antonia down into his lap raising his eyebrows in mock questioning: “So … you’ve always had the impetus to try to rescue poor teddy bears in distress?”

“Ummm … I guess I have…”

“Such a good little girl….” Philip mumbled and kissed her hungrily, his fingers drumming up her thighs under her wrapper.

“Bonjour sleepy-head, coffee is ready!” Antonia cooed happily, playfully pulling the blanket off Philip, who stretched, yawned and smiled at her drowsily, aimlessly groping towards the coffee mug.

“What time is it?” he took a deep drought of coffee. “I can’t remember having slept so long, so deeply in ages. Fabulous bed … I could get used to it…”

“I sincerely hope so,” Antonia smiled sweetly kissing him. “It’s a major feat of German orthopedic engineering – gift of my German grandparents to this apartment. And here – taaa daah – breakfast, continental cross over with German bread and rolls, French cheese and preserves, Greek and Spanish fruit, Italian prosciutto, Norwegian salmon …. all stored in my other major asset, my huge American refrigerator ….present from my American grandparents…”

“That’s a big spread..,” Philip surveyed it with a guilty look, pulling the duvet up under his armpits to cover the beautifully big and round, faintly hairy, silky smooth belly resting in his lap and his well plumped chest.

“I’m starving! We didn’t have a proper dinner last dinner, but got some major exercise instead,” Antonia winked at him, settling on the bed next to him with a plate, spreading pineapple preserve on a brioche with small dark chocolate chips in it. “Taste this, my new winter favorite…” taking a bite herself before handing him the plate and slipping her hands under the blanket around his middle, her head against his chest – occasionally reaching up for another bite to eat.

“And now?” Philip asked indecisively looking at the empty plate.

“Now you take 2 slices of the raisin brioche, spread some lavender honey on it, maybe take some tangerine to go with it,” Antonia instructed him.

“I don’t know how to cook, can’t you do that?”

“Cheri, that’s not cooking, of course you can spread a slice of bread,” she mockingly wrinkled her brow, shook her head and playfully bit his nipple. “I’ve got my hands full down here, it’s so warm and cozy, I don’t feel like coming back out into the cold. Is this okay for you?” as she let her hands wander along his full round curves under the covers, caressingly them lightly.

“Ummmh… more than okay…”

As she gently nudged him on, telling him which things he should get from the tray to eat, put together and in part feed her, she felt herself get more and more turned on, wrapped her legs around one of his thick ones, sensing his own mounting arousal. Philip squirmed uncomfortably: “Antonia please… we’re having breakfast, it’s early in the day …”

Choking to stifle a derisive laugh into a giggle, Antonia teased: “Whoever taught you such outdated notions that sex was an after dinner activity in the dark?”

“Uuuh, don’t know … this is just the first time I’ve ever had breakfast in bed….”

“Well, if this is a premiere, we have to make the most of it, don’t we?” Antonia set the plate on the side, stretched herself out over his body to kiss him intensely, further teasing his manhood into hardness before she slowly guided him inside her, using his fully belly to rest against like a soft pillow.

In the cozy warmth of the bed, both pleasantly full with breakfast, their love-making was languid, slow-moving, excruciatingly drawn out, both of them teetering on the edge of pleasure for minutes before letting their climax wash over them in a long lapping wave. Lightly covered in sweat, Antonia stayed sprawled out over Philip, who exhaled very deeply: “I don’t ever want to leave this bed; I want to stay right here for the rest of my life.”

Touched, Antonia kissed and wrapped herself tighter around him before she said after a few minutes: “For the sake of personal hygiene, we should at least get up to have a quick shower together before we climb back into bed.”

“I guess I do need to go to my place some time to check on Chopin and get fresh clothing ….”

“Well, you can do that after we shower … while I go shopping and cook us a really good dinner for a change,” Antonia suggested. “What would you like – as main course I can offer off the bat caramelized duck drumsticks, veal in Marsala, duck ragout with pasta, or chicken à la Normandie with Calvados apples?”

“Chicken à la Normandie sounds interesting….”

Humming off key to herself, Antonia checked the dinner table set for two with candles and her Advent decoration, matching her own simple outfit of dark jeans and a burgundy low-cut wrap blouse, hiding her sexiest new burgundy lace lingerie. Taking the bottle of Cassis for the aperitif into the kitchen, she called Philip: “Bon soir cheri – one quick last question before you get here. What would you prefer with your chicken à la Normandie –tagliatelle or gnocchi?”

“Ummm … well … don’t know …. can’t really …. don’t bother at all Antonia, I can’t come, I have too much work ….”

“Wait, you mean to tell me you’re not coming to dinner right now? Everything except the side dish is ready….,”

“I’m sorry, I really can’t….” Philip mumbled so quietly she had troubled hearing it over the phone.

“But Philip, you need a decent meal for a change,” Antonia reasoned. “Come by quickly for dinner and then you can get back to work if you have to…”

“No, sorry, that’s not possible… I really can’t, I mustn’t…. it was wonderful with you but now I can’t….”

“It’s just a small light dinner …. I can’t eat it alone. Shall I bring it over to your place if you don’t have the time to come?”

“No, absolutely no. It’s hopeless here,” there was slight panic in Philip’s voice. “Can you save it, maybe we can have it tomorrow for lunch in the office if you bring it over…”

“Tomorrow is Sunday…”

“Well, I still have to work after I’ve been away. Please can you come to the office? At 14h00? Please?”

“Okay, if you insist … bonne nuit,” Antonia looked at her dinner table, a feeling of dull disappointment settling like lead into her stomach. She packed the food away, had a few bites of the endives, apples and walnut salad before throwing the rest away. Her comfortable bed suddenly seemed as cold and empty as never before as she sat down on it, pulling mother polar bear into her lap, squeezing her plump fluffy tummy, unable to fathom Philip’s response: “Now what, Mère Bear, now what?”
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:47 AM   #15
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Part 11 – Desktop

Bon soir, enchantée de vous voir, thank you for coming, fröhlichen Nikolaus,” Antonia was greeting the guests for EAFR Christmas party on St. Nicholas day with the matching theme, as she was half hugged from behind, warm softness pressing into her.

“Why do I have to eat the main course first? You look like the tastiest dessert I’ve ever seen,” Philip whispered into her ear, greeting her with a small kiss, keeping his arm around her, his hand on her backside with a touch of shy, proprietorial pride. She was surprised and relieved he had come, obviously in an outgoing mood: “Well, I’m happy you like my outfit – but I can see Saskia informed you about its essence because she gave you something matching to wear,” playfully tugging at his dark cherry red silk tie before she cheek-kissed Saskia in greeting.

“Oh, it mainly matches the Sinterklaas theme,” Saskia blushed and surveyed Antonia – wearing a new slim ‘signC’ charcoal grey dress nested along her curves with a fitted short dark cherry red velvet jacket, patent high-heeled Mary Janes in the same shade with fish-net stockings – in satisfaction. Jean-Luc let his eyes wander between Philip and Antonia, whose hand he kissed in greeting, with benevolent relief while Jan, who lingered for a second as the others moved on, said sotto-voce: “It’s so good to see you two have finally gotten your act together. Philip is obviously so much happier – and you look gorgeous too.”

“Yes, I guess things are developing nicely, thank you Jan,” Antonia responded reluctantly, wondering to herself whether she really was happy with how things were going between Philip and her.

The past few weeks of dating, relationship, affair – she had trouble even naming what was going on between Philip and her – had been an emotional rollercoaster, leaving Antonia alternating between giddy delight, deep tenderness and despairing disappointment.
Incidents like on their first evening, when he had stood her up with a home cooked dinner had repeated themselves – along with others which would normally have caused her to dump any boyfriend. He still refused to come to her office, he had not yet shown her his apartment, he rejected all her attempts to go out to dinner with him or cook or bake together, or do her the simple favor of bringing bread or other staples along if she asked.

On the other hand, he would pick her up as a surprise from the Eurostar one evening as she returned dead tired from London with a bottle of champagne, happily devour a plain risotto she whipped up before making ardent love to her, rocking her to sleep in his arms. Or he would apologize profusely for not making it to dinner to instead play her good night music on the piano via phone. Or he found out that she always went to the small picturesque Weihnachtsmarkt in the Eifel foothills in Monschau with Heather and the kids – only to insist they go alone to spend a romantic night in the snow having reserved a suite there in a small historic hotel.

All this left her struggling to adapt to the constantly alternating hot and cold emotional waves washing over her. As much as she loved being with him, she was always apprehensive as to what might happen next. It was unthinkable to talk to Philip about any of this; he immediately froze, blocked off or even bolted away at any attempts to make himself the topic of conversation. Complimenting him about personal aspects was out of the question, let alone addressing her fondness for his big round body.

Antonia only noticed she was turning into a true expert in flat-handed, loving caresses - avoiding any grabbing, pinching or squeezing. Her touch though seemed to trigger instinctive physical responses of calm, and relaxation in Philip; it was almost as instantaneous a reaction as if she were petting a cat or a baby. Despite finding it bewildering given his numerous insecurities, she was grateful for this oddity since the physical closeness he seemed to appreciate and actively sought out was at least a surrogate for the impossibility of verbal emotional closeness – and it made their sexual relations unexpectedly uncomplicated and highly rewarding.

On balance though, she was relatively sure his erratic and unreliable behavior had nothing to do with her personally – she took Jean-Luc’s word as well as Philip’s cute attempts at being a good boyfriend as proof that he did care for her as much as he was capable of. It was more his own inner demons he was constantly battling with – although it hurt her to have to watch, especially if he came afterwards with heart wrenchingly helpless apologies. But whenever she saw his eager adoring look follow her, or was wrapped into a loving bear hug, she melted, forgave him all major and minor blunders to concentrate on believing that her love and help would overtime inspire him with the confidence to overcome his issues.

Mesdames et messieurs, Damens en Herrens, ladies and gentlemen, Signori et Signore – Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas Day is the ideal date to celebrate EAFR’s annual Christmas dinner, » Antonia started her speech, giving a quick wrap up of the past year at EAFR with the data her team had assembled for her. “Now we have a new format this year – and I hope you will support us at EAFR in supporting others. Sinterklaas and St. Nicholas are holidays for children; their essence is making children happy. Those of you who have attended EAFR’s Christmas parties in the past know there always were rather extravagant give- aways. But be honest with ourselves, we’re all adults, we can all do well without presents. So we want to give away support to those who really need it. Shortly you will see a small fashion show by the European schools art class with designs interpreting the Sinterklaas theme in modern children’s fashion. They’re showing you their selected favorites – and made traditional Christmas stockings and bags with all the designs submitted. We will auction the fashion samples, stockings and bags – giving the returns to the European schools partner schools in the poorest countries of the world to pay for new school books. So thank you very much in advance for supporting this initiative – and enjoy the show.”

Talking to and smiling at everybody who wanted to speak to her was much more tiring than she had expected, but all in all Antonia was extremely content with the feedback she received for her first public event for EAFR. At the end of the evening, Reg Harrington at his first appearance in new official EAFR function in Brussels took her aside: “Sincerely dislike having to admit it, you know I’m critical of these European association gimmicks – but you have something going for yourself here. Alone that you created my position on the board knowing how I stood on EU issues. This was a very good Christmas party scheme – and I have to admire your nerve, never thought I’d say that about a half-Kraut Eurocrat.”

“Thank you for the compliments, despite the reservations. I look for and appreciate competence; I can live with political dissent.”

“But I’m afraid you’ll need your nerve in the coming weeks,” Harrington scratched his bald head. “I’m no expert, but I have the feeling after talking to our new auditor, the one I've been charged to enlist for us, that your predecessor might have been involved in major accounting fraud. We’ll have to look into that.”

“The only thing I’ve noticed so far is that we have much less money in our accounts than the books tell us – and our accountant has been on sick leave now almost the whole time I’ve been at EAFR.”

“Seeing your work so far, I trust you’ll go about it with the necessary determination,” adding with a dry grin, showing his less than attractive yellow teeth. “Alone your taste in men speaks in your favor – spoke to Watherwood, a very good English boy you’ve got yourself there,” making Antonia turn dark red since Philip just appeared behind her.

Reg Harrington’s prediction at the Christmas party had not been exaggerated – over the next few days, as Antonia tried to immerse herself further and further into the financial situation of EAFR, she began getting a vague idea of the amount of havoc her predecessor had left behind. Working endless hours, she was increasingly nervous: The more she saw of the accounting the more she sensed something was seriously wrong but her lack of understanding in financial technicalities only added another layer of confusion to the problems. Philip was on a business trip doing the last store openings before Christmas – and so far she had shied away from telling him about her problems out of an odd mixture of pride and insecurity.

So she was on the edge of despair when he called: “Salut cherie, I’m back in Brussels! I’ve missed you so much! Everything is fine here in the office – what are we doing tonight? Will you pick me up?”

“Oh Philip I’ve missed you so much too! Things here in my office are terrible! I can’t see you tonight; I have to finish making heads or tails of these accounts!” Antonia moaned.

“What’s wrong with the accounts?”

“It looks like my predecessor left us with some kind of fraud or the like to deal with. Now I have to try and sort things out…”

“You’re having trouble with finances and accounting but you don’t tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you….”

“You know finances are my field of specialty. What’s the use of having me among your, how shall I say, closer acquaintances if you don’t let me help you when you need it?” Philip half-scolded her.

“Would you do that? Can you come and take a look at these accounts?”

“I’ll be happy to take a look at the accounts. But I can’t come by … “

“But why Philip? There’s nothing wrong with my new office….”

“I can’t come to your office and look into EAFR’s accounts there – that wouldn’t look right, would it? But I can look into something you bring along to wherever and ask for my advice. You understand the difference, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do … and you’re right….,” Antonia yawned and rubbed her eyes.

“Okay- then pack up those dirty books and bring them here – I’ll prepare everything else!”

Coming into Philip’s office with a folding box full of files in her hands felt a bit like coming home, everything seemed so familiar. Being wrapped in a big warm hug by Philip, who pulled her on his lap, let her snuggle into his belly and kissed her longingly was a new addition making her feel safe and comfortable.

“Look, here’s a glass of decent Sangiovese, you need that now before we get started. Did you know my crazy predecessor actually kept a wine cellar here at ‘signC’? We shouldn’t let it go to waste,” Philip handed her a glass and opened the lids of a few food containers. “And I ordered some of your favorites from the Lebanese place at Place du Chatelaine – was that okay?”

“Merci, that’s lovely … you’re being so sweet….”

“Well it’s the least I can do – you always managed all other office disasters,” Philip murmured with a touch of embarrassment. “It’s good I can finally help you a little bit. Now show me those financial reports and accounts of yours.”

Antonia handed Philip the files in the order she had put together before she took the container of lentil soup and the lamb kebabs to heat them in the kitchenette. As she came back, he had already spread out some of the account sheets, was marking them with multi-colored post-its, had taken coat and tie off and rolled up his sleeves energetically. Handing him a bowl of lentil soup, she was relieved because she was positive he would at least find some answers to her many questions.
Watching him work reminded her, why she had fallen so hard for him: He was totally in his element, enjoying the challenge of the task of unraveling the financial mess she had found in EAFR’s books, putting him so much at ease that he even forgot his usual diet obsession to give into his hearty appetite, polishing off three plates of the Lebanese mezé after the soup. She so rarely had the pleasure of observing his cute chubby cheeks chew with relish, his soft tummy becoming round and full, turning into a shapely dome in his lap that this made it even harder for her to concentrate on following his explanations of the misled financial transactions.

“You don’t really understand what I’m trying to explain to you, do you?” Philip gave her a twisted smile as he caught her blank look.

“No, not really. I’m horrible with finances, those calculations turn into cobwebs in my brain,” Antonia sighed. “Sitting across from you doesn’t make it easier to concentrate. It reminds me so much of the times I worked here, sat on this chair, had to constantly restrain myself because I wanted to touch you so badly.”

Philip blushed mumbling: “Well, that’s different; you may touch me now..” prompting Antonia to move to his side, settle on his armrest and wrap herself around him, “although I could never understand, why you want to touch me.”

“Face it, there are some things we all don’t understand,” Antonia kissed him, unbuttoning his shirt, slipping one hand around his neck and the other down to his chest. “You don’t understand this – but you don’t have to, simply take it as something we both really like. Unfortunately … I have to understand that financial mess at least a little bit. Will you try to explain it again?”

Turning her in his lap, Philip patiently pointed out what he had detected so far in the books, presuming they would have to look for a network of hidden accounts between which undeclared transactions had taken place. But sitting in his lap, fondling his full round belly made her naughty thoughts wander again until he shook her a bit: “Hey, you’re not paying attention again! I guess you’re pretty tired … but you’re also starting to distract me …”

“Do you know that you let your fingers play across those finance sheets like on a piano when you work with them? I’d always imagine you would play with my breasts like that…”

“Accounts are not the only thing you don’t understand – music is another thing!” Philip gave her a wicked grin. “You can’t play breasts like a piano! You can play piano down here very well…” as he hitched up her skirt, sighed his approval of her lacy Italian stay-up stockings and let his fingers play between her thighs making her let out a small groan, “…. but you have to play breasts like you play the guitar…”

“You can play the guitar too?”

“A little bit … definitely well enough for this….” deftly unbuttoning her blouse, reaching behind her back to snap open her bra and pull out her breasts, fitting his arms around her as if he indeed was holding a guitar and artfully starting to pluck and tease them with his elegant fingers, making Antonia wince with pleasure as she simultaneously rubbed herself along his thick thigh.

Shifting heavily in his chair he mumbled into her ear: “… know what I always thought when you sat across from me in one of your sexy low-cut tops?”

“No, but I’d love to…”, but Philip shook his head, poured down the rest of his wine to grunt holding her tight: “…no, ummm well, it’s nothing, I can’t…”

Antonia turned on his knee, cupped his plump cheeks in her hands and tilted his face up so he looked at her, wistful uncertainty in his eyes as she whispered: “I have a suggestion – why don’t you delete ‘I can’t’ from your vocabulary? I told you my naughty thoughts … so you can tell me yours. There’s nothing wrong with that, you’re entitled to naughty thoughts ….”

Swallowing hard several times, he stammered: “.. ‘d imagine … like you … on my desk …. kissing…” before he broke off and looked down.

“Now that can easily be taken care of…” with a sly wink, Antonia let her blouse and bra drop, stepped out of her skirt and arranged herself on his desk, only in panties and stockings. Philip’s eyes went big as she teasingly unbuttoned the rest of his shirt, with a quick move undid his belt and waistband to pull him towards her by the elastic of his boxers. “Now take off that shirt and t-shirt quickly so I can really feel you!” He did as told, but pulled his button-down shirt back on and half-covered his belly with his arms, leaning down to kiss her.

Placing his hands on her hips, she let her finger tips glide teasingly over his fleshy chest, the expanse of his belly down to his thighs, letting out a small giggle at his low moan and instant strong physical response: “Looks like someone is in the mood for a real quickie – well you’ve got me all ready, you just have to pull down these panties….”

As he did so, Antonia wrapped her legs tightly around him, digging her heels in his round plump buttocks, pulling him down to her letting out an ecstatic shudder as his abundant belly flesh rolled over her in heavy waves, creating a luscious micro-environment of its own around her, making her forget the hard table and menacing accounts under her. Having her sailing on a high plateau, Philip bucked hard to then hold her firmly against his heaving chest before he collapsed back into his chair. Not looking directly at her, he shot her a few bashful glances from under his long lashes, until he was convinced by her beatific loving smile that he exhaled, grinned at her gleefully and settled her in his lap, cuddling her firmly: “My office has always been my favorite place, but now …. you’re so wonderful …merci,” giving her a deep kiss. “What about dessert now?”

“Dessert?” Antonia raised her eyebrows in astonishment.

“Neuhaus’ new Marc de Champagne truffle ice cream… it’s in the small freezer – can you go get it?”

Playfully Antonia pulled his discarded t-shirt on to cover her modesty, slipped into her high heels and in model pose sashayed out the door. Returning with the ice cream, her eyes widened incredulously seeing Philip had arranged all big mattress cushions from his office couch on the floor, covered them with some blankets from Saskia’s studio and beckoned her to join him: “My desk is pretty good, but this is more comfortable… come here, I haven’t really finished my guitar session … and we still have some work to do.”

After they had eaten their ice cream, Philip got up and spread out several of the account sheets around them, pointed out a few more details to Antonia and continued to study others. Surveying him with tenderness as he lay sprawled on his belly, tagging some figures, the perfectly rounded globes of his buttocks inviting her to skate her fingers in arabesques across them, up over the shapely love handles, down to his big strong thighs, making Philip turn with a questioning smile: “This makes you really happy, doesn’t it? Office sex, financial fraud, good food and wine?”

“Is that totally perverted?” Philip turned pink with a small nod.

“There’s nothing wrong with a decent amount of perversion every now and then,” she reassured him, bending down for a kiss. “On the contrary, it’s very healthy and good for you.”

While Philip was still working away, Antonia snuggled against him and sometime, exhausted from the difficult tasks - knowing she had competent help for the financial mess she had to investigate and the warm gut feeling that everything would fall into place between Philip and her after all - fell into a deep sleep. The next thing she knew was hearing a loud shriek: “Mon Dieu, pardon Monsieur le directeur, excusez-moi, je n’ai pas été informé ….” as the cleaning lady found them curled together on the cushions of his office floor at 6:30 the next morning.

Although this total emotional high between Philip and her had only taken place three days earlier, Antonia applied lipstick and brushed her hair in front of her bathroom mirror getting ready for her dinner invitation with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach. He had helped her with the first ad-hoc analysis of EAFR’s financial mess for the board, but she now hadn’t heard from him since yesterday noon – and today was her birthday. She had invited a small circle of friends over for dinner – Jan, Heather and Benedict, Katja from school in Germany and Laurent from university – preparing an elaborate Fondue chinoise with many home made dips and sauces as well as a Mango-Mascarpone ice cream cake for dessert.

Out of superstition, she had not announced Philip’s coming to her friends – icy disappointment churning in her insides by the time Jan was the last of the guests to arrive, who promptly asked in the hallway: “Is Philip in a better mood than yesterday? He was completely unapproachable, left at noon, Joanna mumbled something about already heading out for Christmas vacation in the Alps…”

“Yes, he left early, I can’t get away yet with all the mess I inherited at EAFR,” Antonia had to swallow very hard two times before forcing a smile. “Please go join the others at the dining table,” going into the kitchen to get the wine.

“Okay everybody, time to get started, you all know each other. Laurent, could you please light the réchaud? Here is a very drinkable Alsatian pinot gris, so why don’t you have a drink, help yourselves to the amuse gueles while I bring the platters from the kitchen….” turning quickly to go back in the kitchen.

“Birthday song first!” Heather insisted.

“No please, not now… birthday song with dessert, okay?” Antonia felt her voice crack hurrying away. Heather joined her in the kitchen: “What’s wrong dear? Where’s Philip?”

Taking a few deep breaths, squeezing her eyes shut to suppress the tears, she finally mumbled: “He’s already on Christmas vacation….”

“Well he should have waited the day until after your birthday party to leave!” Heather frowned. “What’s really wrong? The past weeks, you’ve had such mood swings. I’ve only seen you together with Philip that one time when he surprisingly picked you up from our girl’s movie night.”

“Everything’s fine. He just doesn’t like dinner invitations…”
Antonia tilted her head back to keep the tears from brimming out of her eyes.

“Well, this isn’t any dinner invitation – it’s your birthday party! That’s a time to set aside your preferences for someone you care for. You should talk to him about that, draw the line to such behavior.”

“For Chrissake – what do you want to hear Heather?” she snapped. “That you’ve been right about Philip all along? That his issues are really getting in the way of our relationship? That this is too big a piece for me to chew? Great, thanks for the information, that’s all I needed after this week and on my birthday!” this opening the floodgates, tears streaming over her cheeks.

Heather gently took her in her arms, soothingly stroked her head, murmuring: “It’s okay, let it out – these are rough times for you,” before she sat her down with a tissue, started taking the platters out and explaining quietly Antonia was exhausted from the EAFR finance disaster. Before Antonia rose to join the others, Heather hugged her: “You can talk to me anytime you want or need to. And if you think it’s a good idea, I’d be happy to try to talk to Philip, like from fatty to fatty. Maybe that would help.”

Merci infinitivement, you’re such a good friend Heather.”

Afterwards Antonia had trouble remembering how she had survived the party, especially as Jan asked her in parting with a critical expression: “Is really everything okay with you and Philip?” leaving her to only nod energetically with closed eyes. As the door closed behind them, Antonia threw herself on her bed to lie there not doing or thinking anything for almost an hour.
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:50 AM   #16
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It was not until two days later, in the afternoon that she received word from Philip, am SMS: “Happy belated birthday – I can’t tell you how sorry I am I missed it. Can you ever forgive me?” An hour later, a gigantic bouquet of deep pink roses, hideously expensive in December, along with a Magnum bottle of Moet&Chandon rosé champagne was delivered for her. The combination in the gesture of being extravagant yet impersonal aroused a sullen anger in her, making her have the flowers arranged in the office and not answer his text.

The next morning Antonia had another: “Please answer. I understand you’re angry. I wish I could explain. Please say you can forgive me.” – leaving her totally torn. On the one hand she was angry he didn’t call to apologize – on the other hand she sensed this was one of his desperate phases, making him help- and hopeless in communicating the actual problem.

The latter attitude won over in the course of the day, so she tried to call Philip on his mobile, only to receive “temporarily not available” a few times. In the evening, on impulse, she sat down with Google, racking her memory as to the name of the diet clinic on the letterhead last fall, remembering only Alpen, Kärnten and Schrotfasten. Finding a number of options, she cursed the Alpine lack of imagination in coming up with original names for clinics and resorts, but in the end could narrow her selection down to three.

Calling them, she struck gold at the second clinic, a concierge saying they had a Mr. Watherwood there, but it was after their calling hours so she could not put her through.

The next day in the early afternoon she tried again, this time to have a very hesitant concierge, whom she had to convince for 15 minutes in her best, most persuasive German to put her through to Philip’s room – in the end with success.

The phone rang twice before she heard Philip’s disgruntled: “Hello?” on the other end.

“Hello Philip – how are you?”

“Annnn-tonia? How did you get this number? Nobody has it…,” Philip’s voice went almost shrill. “How did you find out? Why did they put you through?”

“A little bit of memory, Google and the ability to sweet talk my way in German past a reluctant switch board.”

“Why did you call?”

“Well … to thank you for your birthday wishes. And somehow I have the feeling we have a few things to talk about…”

“You’re right, we have, or better I have,” Philip let out a deep sigh. “I know I have to apologize to you, I didn’t want to forget your birthday, but I don’t know how to explain .... can you believe me?”

“It’s okay Philip, I believe you are sorry, I’ll try to understand such things are difficult for you, don’t worry,” Antonia answered softly. “How long do you plan to stay down there in Carinthia?”

“Until January 8th.”

“You’re spending your entire Christmas vacation in a diet clinic?” she was shocked. “But Philip why? It’s Christmas and New Year – there couldn’t be a less fitting season… that’s truly masochistic…”

“I have to, I always do, there’s no other way. This was planned a long time, long before we … you can’t understand,” he sounded angry and defensive.

“I do my best to understand,” Antonia tried to keep her voice calm. “If you’re staying there so long, I could come for a few days? I’d love to spend Christmas with you. Maybe a little hiking in the snow together, or go skiing?”

“No, absolutely not… I can’t, you mustn’t… I can’t eat or do anything.. I’m hopeless here,” in an angry mutter.

“Philip – I promise I will not do anything to sabotage your program there. I just want us to be together, at least for some of the holidays. I’d love to come, bring you your Christmas present…”

“No Antonia, don’t … you can’t … I don’t want you to see me like this….”

“Philip, I want to see you no matter where and how, I lo…”

“No, don’t you dare come here! I don’t want to see you here! I will not meet you here!” Philip’s voice was filled with panic.

Antonia felt as if she had been punched in the stomach and gave up, saying flatly before she hung up: “Okay, have a good stay there, happy holidays and see you again maybe next year.”

As the huge tires of the large Air France Airbus started thundering over the runway at CDG, the force of the acceleration pressing Antonia into her seat, she stared outside into the gray winter day, completely at a loss as to what to make of her present situation and behavior. After she had hung up on Philip, she had cried herself to sleep, her head pillowed on Mère Bear – waking up the next morning with the resolve to do something good for herself.

In the meeting with her EAFR board, everybody quickly agreed that they would suspend all regular activities through mid February to fully investigate their finances, maybe even raise criminal charges against several former association members. Antonia convinced everybody to let her go through all files, taking them with her on two hard drives to a place where she could work on them in peace and quiet. Right afterwards, she informed her parents she was coming over the holidays and staying for a month to work – booking the cheapest fare she could find, taking the Thalys to Roissy and then the plane to Miami, asking to be picked up there. Despite not responding to two more helpless SMS from him, Antonia took the package with Philip’s Christmas present with her and mailed it from CDG’s airport post office after standing in front of it undecidedly for 40 minutes.

Fiddling with the complimentary on-flight entertainment system, her past year kept spooking through her mind. It had brought her the fulfillment of her most cherished ambitions – attaining an interesting position in the political sphere in Brussels at best paired with a wonderful big cute man at her side. Now she had both, but unfortunately they each came with the side dish she had never wanted: She was battling financial fraud and political blackmail in the job - and a boyfriend who constantly kept her emotionally and practically in limbo, disregarding her feelings.

Having witnesses disastrous relationship often enough among her friends, who laid out their entire lives to cater to the whims of their current male – only to be let down time and time again, their self-esteem, other friendships and often enough even careers suffering. Antonia had always sworn she would never end like that – and so far had done a good job evading those pitfalls. Her lack of patience had kept her from putting up with the typical forms of male scumbag behavior for longer than two weeks, making her end a number of relationships to avoid further damage. In hindsight though, these break ups had never caused her true grief, probably because no serious emotions had been involved.

For some reason, Philip was different: Maybe it was because she never had had to invest so much time and trouble in winning over a man before as she with him. He had touched something deep inside of her, an intensity of feeling for another person she had never thought she was capable of – making her bear inconsistent behavior that hurt her longer than she ever imagined. She was clueless as to where her sudden patience and willingness to compromise suddenly came from. True, Philip was a particularly adorable big boy specimen; but there had to be more to it. Sometimes she surmised it must have something to do with his profound unhappiness with himself – even without having a helper syndrome, she had the urge to help him find a way to the kind of real happiness for himself he was able to evoke in her time and again. But in the past days the nagging fear had grown stronger that her love and support would not be enough to let him leave the past behind him to accept himself as the big wonderful man he was.
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:55 AM   #17
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Part 12 – Naples, FL

Minimum 2 more hours and 17 minutes, Antonia let out a small groan as she looked at her watch – that was how long she forced herself to work through the EAFR files until she allowed herself to take her lunch break to go for her much coveted daily swim in the sea. Every morning she settled with her notebook computer in her parent’s gazebo at the end of the garden in their retirement home in Naples, plowing her way through files, accounts, contracts, memos and the like to try to unravel which of her predecessors had been responsible for which misdemeanors. Her parents were delighted to have her over for a longer stay than just the Christmas holidays, did their best to support her work while also offering her distraction and relaxation.

Spending New Year’s Eve with old family friends on the beach, she thought for hours what her New Year’s resolution should look like but could not make up her mind. She did not know what to wish for with either Philip or her job – for the first time in her life being afraid of making a decision too fast, too final to seriously regret it.

2 hours, 9 minutes – time moved at a snail’s pace when working on this tedious investigation, as she realized she would have to re-read the last page since its essence had not really sunk into her brain. Should she get up for a new cup of coffee instead, maybe that would help her concentrate? No, the cup was still over half full, as she heard her mother call out: “Toni, totaler Überraschungsbesuch für Dich!

The warning was more than needed, as Antonia looked up to see Philip slowly coming across the lawn towards her. Getting up, she let him come almost all the way, stepping out from behind her table in the last moment: “Hello Philip, happy New Year personally. What a surprise! Looks like you have a lot more nerve than I do – to come visit me even though I had not informed you of my whereabouts!”

The look of pained rejection on his face, his mouth opening but no words coming out and Philip’s physical retreat made her immediately want to take back her sardonic remark, so she stretched out her hands to take his and hold him there. “It’s good you came, I couldn’t decide what to do after our last mess up – you made the right move for us, thank you.”

Despite her words and softer voice, Philip stood there stiffly with sucked in belly, hung his head, did not look at her and sniffed slightly, carefully pushing away her attempt at a kiss, shaking his head and coughing. To remedy her harsh initial response, she stepped closer, leaned against him to stroke the back of his neck and his shoulders, noticing with shock he looked really sick: not only had he lost weight, but he was pale, with puffy eyes, a red runny nose and a swollen, blotched throat. As she stroked his still soft cheek, he felt almost feverish making her call out to her mother in German. “My poor darling, you’re really sick, flying in this state … what can I say?”

“It’s nothing … just a bad cold,” Philip croaked and coughed. “Carinthia in winter isn’t as warm and sunny as this here. Don’t get too close, I don’t want you to catch it. Happy New Year to you, too.”

Antonia pushed her papers to the side and sat Philip down continuing to rub his shoulders and back until his breathing and posture relaxed a bit. “Where did you get this address?”

After sneezing three times, Philip muttered looking under the table: “I asked Heather, she gave it to me … along with an awful scolding, saying I needed to go see you, tell you how sorry I am. Are you still angry at me?”

“How can I be angry at someone who travels approximately 5000 miles to apologize even if he’s totally sick?” Antonia hugged him from behind, rubbing her cheek against his feeling how hot his skin was, the familiar tender closeness rushing over her as she held him tight. Her mother arrived smiling with a tray of water, coffee, pineapple sorbet and a thermometer she handed to Antonia: “Here’s more coffee. Philip, if I may call you so, I brought you some of Antonia’s wonderful home-made pineapple sorbet. It’s not exactly dessert time yet, but with that cold you will have a sore throat so it will do you good.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Langley.”

“Call me Ingrid please. Let me know if the two of you need anything else,” quickly and discreetly leaving.

After a sip of coffee, Philip tried the sorbet, to spoon down almost half the bowel with lightening speed. “Oh no… this is the first dessert I’ve had in weeks.., and I’ve almost eaten it up.”

“Don’t worry, it’s only fruit purée with a little bit of sugar and some champagne – as far as desserts go, it’s on the healthy, low calorie side,” Antonia tried to sooth him while taking his temperature. “38.5°C/101.3°F - that’s a serious fever for a grown man like you. We need to get you to bed as soon as possible! Do you have a hotel room here in Naples? How did you get here anyway?”

“I flew to Miami, rented a car, got here last night – my room is at the Naples Beach & Golf Club….”

“Okay, fine! I’ll go check you out, pick up your things. As sick as you are, you’re of course staying in our guest apartment so I can take care of you. Come to think of it, I might as well return the car too. You don’t need it recuperating in bed – and we’ve got my mother’s car. Now be a good boy, stay here and finish your coffee and sorbet while I arrange everything…” walking off briskly ignoring Philip’s helplessly croaked protests.

As she came back, he had nodded off sitting in his chair with exhaustion, his slightly deflated belly rising irregularly with congested breathing, making Antonia very gently take his head in her hands, cradle it against her chest. He muttered under his breath, opened his eyes and looked up at her, sad, feverish and questioning. “Pauvre cheri, we’ll put you to bed now, everything is ready in our guest apartment, you’ll feel better soon. Now give me your room key.”

“Antonia, no… listen to me, I have something for you. I can’t … I shouldn’t stay here … what I … you can’t get my things…”

“It’s okay Philip, I wouldn’t leave you sick alone in a hotel room if I was very angry, which I’m not. You’re so sweet, so brave to come all the way here. I try my best to understand how difficult some things are for you. I only wish you’d let me help you more.” Antonia whispered running her hands through his hair, giving him a small kiss on his hot forehead. “But you can’t stop me from helping you get well and healthy again here, okay?”

“Okay… but please, I have to get my own things from the hotel, let me,” looking up at her imploringly, making her realize how sensitive an issue the privacy of his room was for him, so she nodded: “I’ll drive you though, so you can pack up while I take care of the technicalities.”

At the hotel Antonia waited patiently for 50 minutes down in the lobby before she went up to Philip’s room where she found him all packed, but sitting on his bed shaking feverishly: “I’m sorry I made you wait, I needed to rest before coming down. You’re right, I feel really ill,” meekly following Antonia as she collected his bags and took them down to her car.

Back at Antonia’s parents, Philip showed a small smile as she led him into the guest apartment with his bed all ready. “This is nice, so warm and welcoming. I’m so tired. Can you unpack my suitcase please?” as he sank down on the bed.

“Of course,” she smiled, touched by the trust displayed by his request. “The first thing I’m unpacking are your PJ’s … before I pack you into them…” nimbly starting to unbutton his shirt, pull his t-shirt out of his waistband, unhook his belt which was fastened three notches tighter, undo his waistband and slip her hands under his t-shirt, caressing him, gliding her fingers over his hot clammy skin and slightly less abundant flesh. Philip stretched, reaching out for his small bag, muttering: “I have something in here for you….”

Cheri that can wait until later, that’s not important now,” Antonia soothed him, pulling off his shoes, socks and pants. “I’ll be right back…,” returning quickly with a bottle and basin of water. “Here – take two Paracetamol to bring down your fever,” before settling on the bed, stroking him, rubbing him down with a cool wet wash cloth and struggling to pull his PJ’s over his heavy body.

“Mmmmh … don’t stop, so good,” he grunted, shifting on the pillow. Antonia covered him and continued to gently rub and caress his back and sides until he quickly fell asleep. She watched him sleep while she quietly finished unpacking, before she slipped out. Her mother greeted her in the kitchen with a small sandwich and yoghurt: “You should eat this little snack before you go for your swim that should be the right thing to tide you over…”

Antonia hugged her: “1000 Dank – for always knowing what I need best!”

The inner turmoil Philip’s surprising appearance had created slowly rose to her conscious level as she had time for herself, to sort her thoughts while energetically swimming. The activity of attending to Philip’s immediate needs had smothered any initial emotional response - now an apprehensive relief took over. Relief that he had made the first move, seemed to be honestly interested in making amends – and apprehension because of his obvious poor health, her own uneasiness of how to really get things back in line between them and the uncomfortable premonition, that something more than a bad cold was ailing Philip to make him come all the way to see her. She swam longer than usual, then procrastinated even more by adding a walk in the sand, in the attempt to understand her own feelings, deliberate her next steps but remained undecided until the end.

So the sun was low by the time she reached home to find Philip wrapped in a blanket in an easy-chair on the terrace talking to her father. She kissed both of them on the forehead in greeting before picking up the thermometer to take Philip’s temperature, who gave her the first small sly grin: “Your mother did that only 30 minutes ago – she’s been taking excellent care of me!”

“My three women always take excellent care of their men, you can certainly rely on that,” Tom Langley remarked drily. He was a tall, heavy-set man with a comfortable paunch and Antonia’s vivid gray eyes behind thick glasses, whose calm, quiet demeanor stood in contrast to his lively petite blonde wife. “Toni’s little sister, Tina, who is currently doing her medical residency in Denver might be even worse. I have to watch out my blood pressure isn’t taken every half hour when she is here.”

“She only means well,” Antonia settled on the armrest of her father’s deck chair, leaning over his shoulders. “I hope you’ve been having a good talk.”

“Extremely interesting talk about why Vienna was such a major music metropolis in the 18th-19th century,” Tom Langley pulled his daughter’s ponytail chiding her. “Why didn’t you introduce me earlier to this delightful, intelligent new man in your life? Bring him along for all of the Christmas holidays, instead of having him pick you up here so late even though he’s ill?”

Philip and Antonia both blushed crimson; he started to cough while she squirmed uneasily. “Philip and I had both made different other plans for Christmas before we really got together, somehow we didn’t quite manage to coordinate them very well. We’ll certainly do a lot better next time.” she stretched the truth a bit, not looking her father in the eye. Antonia had hinted at her current relationship issues with her mother, but as usual had not spoken to her father about them, since she knew him to be overprotective of her and judgmental of any man who caused her only an instant of grief. Since she had nursed the hope of them patching up their misunderstandings, she had not wanted her father to maybe be prejudiced against Philip before he had even met him – and now it showed that this approach had paid off, despite the current awkward silence.

Antonia was grateful her mother called her this moment into the kitchen to help prepare dinner before she quickly went to shower and change. She was busy drying her hair as she heard a knock and saw Philip appear in the mirror, neatly dressed in button-down shirt and sports coat for dinner.

“I’ll only be a minute. Finish drying my hair, dress quickly.”

Coming into her bedroom, Philip was sitting there on her desk chair, looking at her expectantly while she quickly pulled the clothes she wanted to wear out of closet and drawers, intending on retreating into the bathroom to dress.

“Please feel free to do it here – I like watching you dress or undress,” he watched her slip into her panties, flick around her bra before he reached out to her and pulled her close, holding her by the waist and rubbing his face against the small curve of her stomach. “I simply don’t know what to say, how to explain how sorry I am. Can you…”

“Philip, don’t beat yourself up. I understand sometimes very different thoughts and emotions drive you than me. We’ll work everything out over time. We don’t need to talk now you’re feeling so sick, get well first.”

Philip looked up briefly in grateful doubt, then pulled out a flat smaller box and handed it to her, keeping his eyes on it: “Thank you so much for your lovely Christmas present. I’m so looking forward to our trip together over May holiday to Valdemossa, such a lovely idea. Here … this was always supposed to be your birthday and Christmas present…”

Antonia took the box, fondling through his hair: “Why thank you – but nothing can beat the gigantic gift of you coming all the way here.”

As she opened it, she was startled to see a beautiful, artful necklace with grey baroque pearls, which seemed oddly familiar and matching earrings. “Oh Philip you shouldn’t have, it’s gorgeous!”

“The pearls match your eyes – and since you admired it…,”

His reference brought back the memory – she had seen and immediately loved the necklace way back in March at the Antwerp Royal Academy Exhibition, making her gasp incredulously and blush. “But that’s ages ago! There wasn’t a thought of us …. we weren’t even… and I don’t remember the earrings, they’re just as perfect! When and where did you get this?”

“I reserved it right that evening,” Philip went dark pink,shrugging. “Somehow, I had the sense, hope, delusion, whatever … that I might need, want the perfect personal gift for you for the end of the year. Alone from work, you were always so kind, so helpful, worked so hard. When I realized your birthday is almost on Christmas, I had the earrings made to match…., then I forgot all about it when … well when …”

Antonia was speechless. She deeply regretted it was not possible to kiss him, so she earnestly kissed her two fingers and placed this kiss on his lips before hugging him tight, pressing her face against his plump chest. “Thank you so much, you’re so wonderful, if only you could realize just how perfect you are,” she was all choked up as she finally said something.

Withdrawing from his arms, she went to her closet and from the way back pulled out a floaty, dark gray dress with small sequined strips, quickly slipping into it and turning to Philip: “Please close the zipper for me. This is an age old plain party dress – but it’s the best match I have here for the lovely jewelry – and I want to show it off right away,” lusty goose bumps running over her body as Philip’s fingers ran over her back zipping her dress and nestling at the back of her neck as he fastened the necklace, placing a few small kisses along her hairline.

Her mother raised her eyebrows as she saw Philip and Antonia’s attire, but did not say anything. “Philip, since you are ill, I made you Antonia’s favorite get-well dish when she was a child – chicken fricassee with asparagus, mushrooms and rice. It’s easy to digest, so it hopefully will do you good.”

“Thank you very much. It’s delicious as far as I can taste right now,” Philip said after his first quick bites. “Now I know where Antonia learned to cook so well.”

“I hate to admit it, but Toni probably is a better cook than I am,” Ingrid winked at him. “She has the combined talents of my mother and my mother-in-law, is more creative than I am. But I’m glad you like it – would you like some more, since I only gave you a small portion not knowing how much you can currently stomach?”

Rather soon after dinner, Antonia excused them since she could see Philip was fading fast and starting to shake with fever again. She hugged her parents’ good-night and took Philip downstairs, where she made sure he was comfortable in bed and had everything he needed.

“Do you always hug your parents’ good-night?”

“Ummm, yes, mostly, why do you ask?” Antonia was baffled.

“You’re an unusual family. Doesn’t it bother your father that you and your mother constantly speak German to each other?”

“No … why should it?”

“Hmm, you know, he might feel as if he stands on the side-lines all the time if he can’t understand you.”

“My father understands everything we say perfectly well – he’s fluent in German,” Antonia laughed. “Out of habit I speak German with my mother and English with my father; they alternately speak both too each other, depending on issue, mood and situation. We’re actually a pretty normal family in my opinion – if you count out the two languages and 1.6 cultures.”

“1.6 cultures?”

“Just an attempt at describing that Germany and the US do have notable cultural overlap. It’s not like trying to reconcile two cultures with extremely diverging values, traditions, and behavior patterns. Hope you feel comfortable with my family.”

Philip nodded. “You’re all very caring, considerate, make me feel like I could … well, I guess, thank you for having me here, being so kind. Sorry I’m such a burden, being ill …”

“You’re never a burden. I’m so happy you’re here; I can’t tell you how happy I am. I only wish you get well soon-so good night, gute Besserung,” she planted a soft kiss on his cheek.

The next morning Philip’s fever still had not gone down, he had coughed badly all night so Antonia called their family physician, disregarding Philip’s massive protests who did not want to see a doctor. When Dr. Ruff came, he energetically pushed Antonia out of Philip’s room to examine him and just called her back in to give her some prescriptions: “He’s got a pretty bad bronchitis, sinuses and ears are inflamed too, so no flying for at least a week. Get him these medications; come to my practice as soon as you’re through with the first cycle to check which further treatment might be necessary. I don’t need to say anything in this household about healthy fresh meals to help your recovery Philip; I know you’re in excellent hands here with Ingrid and Antonia. Good-bye, say hello to your mother for me.” Philip gave him a weak smile and nodded.

Despite strong doubts Antonia gave Philip a second dose of the strong medicine that evening because he was coughing so badly he could hardly eat dinner, which was only soup to make swallowing easier for him. Afterwards she sat next to the bed, holding his hand, waiting for him to fall asleep.

“Toni – I need to, can I talk to you,” he suddenly surprised her by murmuring, using the short form of her name for the first time as her parents always did.

“Sure Philip, any time. What do you need to talk about?”

“I came here to say how sorry I am, .. hoping you would have me again,…”

“Don’t worry, I care way too much for you to let you go,” she whispered as he didn’t finish his sentence. “What else is it?”

“I also came here, to America, because … to get… find a place… to to have bariatric surgery…,” Philip’s mutter was so muffled, it took Antonia a minute to verify what he had said before she gulped audibly from shock. Knowing she had to tread very carefully for him to listen to her, accept her response, she first quietly stroked his head with the hand he was not clinging too.

“You mean weight loss surgery, right?” Seeing him nod slowly, Antonia continued. “Philip love, I know you hate talking about such subjects. But that’s a big issue – I naturally have some questions. Promise you’ll try to answer my questions? Listen to what I might have to say?”

“I’ll really try…,” a coughing fit shook Philip before he took Antonia’s other hand and pillowed it under his hot cheek. Remembering their pattern of closeness, she settled on the bed, pulled him close with all her strength, her arms around him, his head in her lap and gently rubbed the back of his neck and his well-fleshed chest. Soon his coughing subsided, his breathing calmed, she could only feel the muscles at the back of his neck were rock hard from stress. She was surprised to notice having his weight and warmth on her gave her a feeling of security and confidence, making her more assured of how to handle this difficult issue.

“First question – why did you come to the US for that?”

Philip sighed heavily, took a long draught of water before he finally mumbled: “Because they won’t do it in Europe, neither Belgium, the UK nor Austria. I don’t qualify. They say there are no medical reasons. And Traudl said, if I understood her correctly, I should do something else first… even though I think she won’t have me again at Alpsee….”

“Traudl?” Antonia half giggled. “Who’s she?”

“What’s so funny about Traudl?” she could feel him stiffen and try to get out of her embrace.

“I’m sorry, that was silly and unasked for. Traudl in German is such an out-dated, Alpine mountain girl name; it’s funny to hear it these days. So who is she? What did she say?”

“She’s my physician at Alpsee, she’d good … but her English isn’t great, so I’m not sure I understood everything correctly. Could you maybe speak to her in German on the phone?”

“Sure, we can do that tomorrow if you want. What was her opinion?”

Philip squirmed, blew his nose then clung so tightly to her hips that Antonia feared she would have some bruises the next day. “Traudl is against surgery, she said something about a different therapy. Also … like coming every holiday for their program was not a good solution…”

“I’ll talk to her tomorrow with your permission; ask her exactly to explain what she advises so I can translate it for you.” Antonia gently massaged his tense neck muscles for a minute then asked: “Could you please try to explain why you had the idea with the surgery now? What makes you want to do it at this particular time?”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Philip spat it out hiding his face in her lap.

“No, it isn’t obvious. There’s a reason they won’t do it in Europe. That’s why I asked you why you think it is necessary for you to have it done now here in the US. Please try and explain it to me, Philip.” she kept her voice as soft and understanding as possible, continued to lovingly stroke his head.

“Because I finally want to have a normal life, look normal. I can’t go on looking like this forever. I’ve tried everything, nothing works for me, it seems I can’t … and now I’m ruining everything between us again because I’m like this…,” hurt and helplessness were in his muffled voice.

“Cheri, you’re not ruining anything. We have a few things we should work on – but that absolutely does not need such drastic and dangerous measures.”

“Toni, we only have something, because you gave me so many chances, are so extremely tolerant and considerate, … otherwise,” he sighed, turning in her lap.

“Tolerant and considerate would be the last adjectives my family, for instance, would credit me with,” Antonia smiled down at him. “You know I love teddy bears, don’t you? How can I not love you, then?” He looked up at her, a glint of hope and understanding in his eyes. “What’s difficult for me is that you will not let me even tell you how wonderful, cute, good-looking, seductively attractive I find you – you always block it off or turn away. Like why is it okay for me to caress you like this” – she let her hand wander up and down the full curve of his stomach – “but not for me to say how adorable I think you perfect round tummy is? My hand is telling you exactly the same thing my words mean.”

He tensed up and shifted uncomfortably in her arms, started to say something, broke off and coughed, then tried again murmuring: “You’re the only one who has ever really touched me like that, it’s new, it’s so … But nobody sees me like you do, everybody else thinks I’m a hideous glutton … I can’t stand the looks…”

“Philip, your self-perception is totally wrong – that’s what you need to work on. Nobody thinks you’re hideous, because you simply aren’t. Everybody I know says the same thing on seeing you: Yes, you’re heavy. Yes, you’re also seriously handsome.”

“Don’t say that … it’s no help, it’s not true…”

“Yes it is, I would never lie to you about something so important. Even someone like Jan – who seriously has a thing for lean, mean chain-smokers, don’t ask me why, so you’re absolutely not her type – said exactly that when you first came to ‘signC’. Or my mother, she says you’re by far the most classically good-looking boyfriend I’ve ever had. Or a random person like Wouter Dehaenen, who complimented me on what a cute new boss I have…”

“Wouter asked me recently if I wanted to join a sort of men working in fashion small band he’s assembling …”

Antonia laughed: “He certainly did that because he not only thinks you’re an excellent piano player, but also a real plump cutie, he has a small crush on you…” making Philip blush almost purple: “But he’s gay, is he not…”

“Yes … and he knows you’re straight. But still, he’d probably make a move on you if he didn’t know I’d cut his throat,” she fondled his belly playfully smirking.

“But look at me…,” he indicated at his belly with a derisive wave of his hand.

“Philip, almost nobody sees what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror. You’re making a huge mistake if you constantly reduce your self-image to your size and weight. You’re hurting yourself badly, but also those who care for you. 98 out of 100 people see more than your size when they look at you. They see you’re heavy, but you’re also reasonably tall, broad-shouldered and well-proportioned, have very well cut, regular features, women love your green eyes and 9 out of 10 men would kill for your hair. Learn to see your whole package objectively, try to make peace with it, be kinder to yourself.”

Philip took a deep breath but was shaken by a bad coughing fit, Antonia had to steady him so he could drink some water. “So you will not help me find a place to have the surgery here in the US?”

“As I said, I do not think it is necessary. It’s a very drastic measure – and nobody knows anything about the long-term consequences. We can speak to this Traudl tomorrow, then reassess everything. Maybe you should talk to my little sister Tina, she’s doing her residency right now in Denver, she’ll know a lot more about the medical aspects than I do, okay?”
Philip nodded and Antonia could feel he was drifting off to sleep, she gently patted him until he had, then she slowly settled him on the bed, before she left for her room, deeply worried.
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Old 06-28-2015, 03:56 AM   #18
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The next morning Philip was a bit better, but only picked at his breakfast, to ask her after several attempts: “Were you serious about speaking to Traudl?”

“Of course I was. I’ll go get the phone, we can settle out on the quiet small porch and I’ll talk to her there.

Speaking to Traudl on the phone in German, under Philip’s intent, apprehensive gaze, who held her left hand tightly while she talked and mainly listened, jotting down a few notes, was a more difficult exercise than she had expected, she could hardly meet his eye. She was deeply touched he had entrusted her with such a difficult personal matter, but on the other hand dreaded the responsibility of having to translate things he would almost certainly not want to hear, least of all from her.

“What did Traudl say?” he asked her anxiously after she had hung up.

Antonia checked her notes to have an instant more to collect her thoughts, before taking his elegant hands in hers. “You more or less understood her correctly, Philip, from what you told me last night.” Antonia said quietly. “She strongly advises against bariatric surgery, she says you have no medical reasons at all. And she thinks having the surgery with the subsequent more or less automatic weight loss will not actually solve the issues you have with self-image and self-perception, as well as your mechanisms of dealing with stress.”

It was painful to watch him hunch himself up more and more across from her, as if visibly retreating into his shell; until he finally mumbled: “What does she suggest then?”

“Traudl suggests you start a regular behavioral therapy in Brussels. You were right when you assumed she is not in favor of you coming back to Alpsee every vacation for their fasting program. She’s says that’s not a healthy, long-term sustainable approach at all, especially not in your case.” Philip had bowed his head so low by now Antonia just saw his hair and could no longer read his expression, so she sighed and went on: “In most cases, Traudl said, she would suggest the European version of ‘OA’ Overeaters Anonymous but since she knows you are not comfortable with group therapy…”

At this Philip quickly stood up, shoved his hands into his pockets and walked off, around the corner to the downstairs apartment leaving Antonia staring after him. She followed him quickly, but he had locked himself up and refused to open. Hoping some time on his own might help, she went into the kitchen and started preparing the ingredients for his favorite pasta salad for lunch with salmon, peas, zucchini, eggs and dill weed.

After three hours, she decided to try again, knocking carefully on his door: “Philip, could you please let me in?” – indeed getting him to open so she could enter. He sat on the bed, his head on his knees as she leaned against him, started to lightly roll her fingers over the inner side of his meaty upper arms, softly squeezing the little role of flesh over his arms in the nook of his elbow, one of the few places he did not mind her firmer grip on his flesh.

He looked up at her forlornly, whispering: “What am I supposed to do now? Can’t you understand I want to finally lead a normal life?”

“Of course I understand that Philip, love,” Antonia pressed her forehead against his. “But you have a normal life, in the eyes of many people you actually have a wonderful life: Good career, very decent income in an interesting city, health, decent looks, a girlfriend who loves you, many talents … plus a few more pounds than other people. But do not let that be the be-all and end-all determinator for judging your life. A scale is no instrument to measure the value of a life. Take Traudl’s suggestions seriously. She promised to send me some addresses in Brussels and vicinity to look into. We can work it out.”

“Working things out is so American,” Philip scoffed. “I’ve never been able to work things out. I’m even incapable of learning how to... I’ll have to find a place for surgery on my own then if you won’t help me.”

“Philip, I want to help you – if you let me; but admittedly not with surgery. For me and us: Why don’t you at least look into and maybe try one of the programs Traudl suggests? I’ll be there for you, cook you those three healthy meals a day if that’s important, I love doing that. Remember last summer, our office picnics when we were under pressure with the new strategy–that worked well for you didn’t it?”

“You really don’t think I’m a basket case? You want to invest more work in me?”

“I’m willing to go a long way to make you happy with yourself and us. I don’t know why, but I am – you mean an awful lot to me. To be totally honest, I would have dumped any other of my previous boyfriends after the birthday incident. Somehow, you seem worth the extra effort. But I hope you’re willing to make an extra effort for us, too. Will you at least think about it?”

Philip sighed, leaned his head heavily on her shoulder, playing his fingers across the blanket like piano exercises, before he finally nodded: “I’ll think about other solutions as long as I’m here, okay.”

“You miss your piano, don’t you?” He looked up at her in surprise, nodding. “We don’t have one, but my father has an old guitar, would you like that?” Philip’s first real eager smile made Antonia exhale softly.

Over the next few days, Philip recuperated yet they did not speak of the issue again. He stayed tense, distant and brooding, all the while keeping Antonia physically close, holding her hand, wrapping his arm around her as if he was afraid of losing her if he let go. On the other hand he blocked off all her attempts at real physical relations, stopping her hand when she tried to touch him intimately, shaking his head saying he wasn’t feeling well yet. As much as she loved just snuggling with him, she had grown used to his intense love making to now find herself reminded of the times when he had been her physically unattainable boss, resorting once more to energetic swimming and cold bidets to quench her desire and not start pouncing on him or make him feel uncomfortably pressured in this difficult situation.

As soon as he was well enough to get up out of bed, he had immediately insisted on helping her with her EAFR investigation, overruling her protests: “You know work makes me happy, and working to help you, after all you’re doing for me here is the best way to make me get well again.” Being able to play her father's old guitar also seemed to calm him, making him also open up to her parents, to Antonia’s massive relief, who in turn both liked him and included him warmly. Still, she had no regrets she had to drive her parents to the airport one morning since her father was going to a conference in Boulder with her mother going along to visit her sister in Denver, hoping Philip would maybe relax even more with her alone.

“Philip – where are you? Sorry I’m late, traffic was awful, the highway was blocked because an 88-year old driver hat bumped into the car of a 92-year old,” she called out, going into the kitchen with the groceries she had bought. Entering it, she saw Philip standing at the refrigerator, taking out some cheeses and cold cuts. On the counter in front of him were already several toasted sandwich rolls, a stash of cookies her mother had made, two bananas and one yoghurt.

Seeing her, his face turned dark red and he looked mortified: “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t, please excuse me … I didn’t mean to,” he stammered, hanging his head and avoiding her eye.

Antonia found he looked cute in the role of the little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but was stricken as she noticed his hands were actually trembling, he seemed to be sincerely agitated, continuously stammering apologies: “Cheri, you have nothing whatsoever to apologize for. I know I’m late, of course you’re hungry; you didn’t have much for breakfast. I’ll fix lunch right away.”

“I don’t know how to explain, I know I mustn’t, it’s your mother’s kitchen… I understand if you’re angry because of this …..it will not happen again…”

Hugging him tight with one arm, she pushed his chin up with her other hand so he had to look her in the eye. “Philip, I’ll only be angry if I hear one more apology from you. You’re part of the family when you’re here in this house. This is a self-service kitchen – if you’re hungry, you go help yourself, get something eatable out of the refrigerator or cupboard. And you have every right to be hungry now – it’s late for lunch and you only had a small breakfast. On top of that you have been fasting and sick in the past weeks, it’s normal for your body to need more nutrition right now. Now let me fix those sandwiches for you before I continue with the Thai-style chicken-rice salad I had planned for our lunch.”

He hugged her tight in response, hiding his face in her shoulder. “I’m so sor…”

“What did I say? No more apologies!” at which he gave her a weak smile and she him a small kiss. But she could see his uneasiness remained as he very slowly only ate some of the sandwiches she set before him, mumbling something about waiting to eat with her when she had finished the salad. Antonia was aggrieved such an utterly meaningless incident could shame him so strongly, but guessed the situation probably brought back difficult memories and confronted Philip with the unresolved issues he had with reference to his eating habits. She felt incredibly sorry for him, hoped that maybe the therapy this Traudl had been talking about might help him. For the moment she resolved to act as if nothing had happened, make a big lunch, eat as much as possible herself so he would feel normal.

Dividing their days between Antonia’s work and some sight-seeing, she did make sure she got her daily swim which lead to the next small struggle with Philip’s insecurities as he refused to accompany her, even though he was by now healthy enough, maybe not for a swim, but at least for a walk on the beach. One day she had pleaded so hard, he finally gave in, only to come along fully dressed in jeans, button-down shirt, sports coat and loafers, not even willing to take off his shoes and socks, instead swearing non-stop as the sand got into them. As she told him he should have dressed more appropriately, he barked at her: “I told you I do not go to the beach, I do not have beachwear, it’s non-existent for me!” spending the rest of their stay watching her swim from the small deck sulking with mutinously crossed arms, conspicuous in his full semi-professional attire.

On the way back, she tried to make amends: “Philip, I’m sorry I nagged you to come alone even though you didn’t feel like it, which I can understand if you didn’t bring the adequate clothes. Why don’t we buy you some nice shorts and t-shirts for you to wear the next time we go?”


“No? Why no? I like shopping for you, it’ll be a good addition to your warde…”

“I do not wear shorts or jersey knit in public, never.”

Hearing the finality in his voice, knowing a rational argument was hopeless once he was in this line of thought, she instead decided to buy him a few nice items on her own the next time she went shopping as a fait accompli. Keeping his sensitivities in mind, she opted for a store which sold sailing attire and had a plus-size section, where she bought 2 pairs of cargo pants which went over the knee, as pair of deck slippers as well as several very nice cotton button-down shirts in old-fashioned sailor as well as Panama style.

As she got dressed to go swimming the next day, Antonia called Philip to her room where she had spread her purchases on her bed. As she had expected he went pale as he saw the clothes and tried to back out, but she energetically sat him down.

“Philip cheri, you know I try hard to understand you’re not comfortable with some things. I don’t want to impose anything on you – but not going to the beach because you don’t have the right clothes is not a reason I can accept well. Going to the beach to swim, walk, read, relax is one of my favorite things, I want to share it with you. It would make me very happy if you would at least try to see if you could wear the clothes and come with me. Please, could you try?”

He swallowed very hard, sighed and nodded slowly, getting up to look at her purchases, pulling out the grey cargo pants and a darker grey shirt with white in-woven strips and retreating into her bathroom to change. As he came back out, Antonia was smitten and beamed at him: “Wow you look great! That suits you so well – I’m so proud to show you off like this on the beach!”

“Proud to show me off?” Philip echoed in dismay, standing with hanging shoulders, his hands stuffed into his pockets in front of her mirror, surveying himself in disdain. The shirt and pants fit perfectly, emphasizing his broad shoulders, skimming loosely but not tent like around his burgeoning middle, the pants showing his strong shapely calves, and the darker grey of the shirt bringing out the green of his eyes. “The clothes fit well, are indeed comfortable, thank you,” he muttered. “But they show my legs…. I can’t…”

“Oh yes you can. You have very shapely strong calves, like the Olympian wrestlers on antique vases; they could be carved in marble.” Antonia teasingly snaked her fingernails around his calves up to his thighs ending on their inside as far up as she could reach inside his pant legs, making him squirm. “Now I’ve made us a nice picnic basket for lunch, what would you like to take along? Any books? Special drinks?”

“I’d like to take the guitar, if I may. And maybe I’ll start proof reading the financial chapters of your report….”

“You don’t have to do that. You should relax on the beach…”

“No, it’s okay, I like doing that, and it’s relaxing for me.”

At the beach, Antonia left everything in the car and set out for a long walk in the sand, splashing their feet a bit along the water’s edge with her arm around Philip, lightly caressing his love handle under his shirt as they walked. After a while, he smiled down at her ruefully: “You were right again, this is very nice. It’s good you forced me to come.”

“In contrast to your perception, I do not usually believe in exercising force,” she mock berated him.

“Sometimes you know better what’s good for me than I do myself. So I guess exercising a certain amount of force is asked for,” giving her a small, teasing kiss.

Antonia found a nice spot on the beach not too far from where they had parked the car to spread out their things on soft foam mats and blankets, having brought these along since she knew the flimsy beach chairs she normally used would not hold Philip’s bulk and wanted to avoid any further crisis of the sort. She settled him comfortably; he immediately grabbed the guitar and starting playing around with it as she went for her swim. Turning in the water to see how he was doing, she was surprised to make out a short redhead standing next to their spread, obviously talking to Philip.

As she returned after about an hour, two young women were standing next to their blankets, a shapely Latina and a typical Florida blond, the type which always reminded Antonia of home because they were a type of woman she had mainly seen here: No hips, no thighs, no buttocks, no belly – but sizable, obviously fake breasts in a skimpy bikini top.

“Augh gawd… it’s so cute how you say ‘financial’ with that accent,” the blonde cooed, clearly trying to flirt with Philip. He lumbered up as he saw Antonia, picked up her towel, wrapped it around her, tenderly rubbing her down and holding her close.

“Well, you sure could’ve told us you’re here with your girlfriend,” the blonde huffed and turned to leave.

“But you didn’t ask…,” Philip stared at her innocently, while the Latina smiled with a shrug: “Nice talking to you anyway Philip, enjoy your stay in Florida.”

“Good to see you found company,” Antonia smirked. “Would you mind getting the cooler and picnic basket from the car now, I’m hungry?”

After they had eaten their lunch, Antonia got up: “Which ice cream flavors would you like for dessert? I’ll quickly walk over to the small new Italian gelateria, they’re pretty good.”

“You know which is best, what I will like.”

On her return with two scoops lime and peach yoghurt for herself, strawberry cheesecake, mocha and orange for Philip, he was chatting with another woman, now a strikingly pretty brunette with bright blue eyes who seemed to be in banking, judging from her questions.

“Lucky me that I got my hands on you before you met any of these Florida girls.”

“People here are opener, talk more to strangers on the beach. It’s quite nice.”

“For someone who prides himself of his analytical abilities, you are surprisingly clueless when it comes to analyzing human interaction.”

“What do you mean?”

“All those girls who stopped to talk where checking you out, trying to find out more about the attractive single guy with the guitar on the beach.”

“Please Antonia, don’t. You know I can’t bear that.” Philip looked pained.

“I’m not teasing.” Antonia bent over, licked some of his ice cream to catch his full attention again. “I would like to introduce you to the facts of the typical thought process of a single woman when she sees you sitting here alone on the beach. So what do you think one of these women was thinking before she started talking to you?” Philip shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “This is her train of thought when she sees you sitting here: guy, alone – any girlfriend in site? Is he wearing a ring? No- so then: well dressed for the beach, good style, nice hair, rather cute, chubby…”

“And that’s when her interest and attention span ends!” he scoffed and kicked some sand in frustration.

“No – that’s where the attention span of maybe 20-25% of the women checking you out will end, because that’s the criterion they cannot get past. We all have different no-go criteria when checking out other people. But 75-80% continue thinking: Wow, book, guitar and report on the beach – the guy is intelligent, interested in more than foot- or baseball & beer, artsy, knows how to use his fingers, and seems to have a decent bread winning career on top ….in sum making you a ‘must-talk-to’ for any smart girl who believes in chatting guys up on the beach.”

“Is that really how you women think? We men do not think like that at all. What’s your no-go criterion by the way? I’ve never heard of that before – and I certainly do not have one!”

Antonia laughed out loud: “Of course you do – you totally shun women who are under 5’5’/1.65m, you keep your eyes at 5’7’/1.70m and above, all others literally fly beneath your radar. That’s partially why you’ve been giving poor Jan such a hard time frequently – or why you mainly register Heather when she is sitting.”

“I’ve never thought about that, but I guess I do have the tendency,” Philip smirked ruefully. “But what’s your criterion?”

“I’m honestly put off by the combination of flat backside and bald/thinning hair – why do you think I fell for you right away?” she playfully ruffled his hair and reached around to pat his plump buttocks, making him blush and mutter: “So did you think like the women here on the beach you just described when I ran into you at Arts-Loi with the coffee?”

“Not quite, that was a different situation. I didn’t have the chance to check you out, I had to instantly come up with an assessment of how to handle the situation.” Antonia giggled. “But I’m happy to tell you my first 90 seconds of thoughts after you spilled coffee all over me: Bastard-can’t he pay attention- where will I get a clean suit now for meeting with new CEO-I’ll give him a telling off - oh, he’s about my age, nice and tall, cute hair, ooough totally the size and shape I love, gorgeous eyes…. - well maybe better be nice and try to solve this in decent style - aha British accent - good manners, polite, takes responsibility - adorable smile, seems to have some sense of humor – hope to see him again soon. That’s all. Now what did you think about me when we ran into each other?”

“Nothing. As I said, we men don’t think like that.”

“You must have thought something, otherwise you could not have reacted! So what did you think?”

Philip shifted uneasily, then played with some sand and didn’t look at her: “Ummm, I was terribly embarrassed, I braced myself for being shouted at and insulted, most likely in French. I looked up saw stylish shoes, great tits showing in grey and red lace, then smiling eyes matching the grey lace. No insults, instead you teased me in American English, I was almost shocked then tried to think of how to respond, to come across as more intelligent than the incident suggested. You were so nice, so considerate. I wanted to talk more to you, so when you gave me your card, I knew I would see you again, knew I wouldn’t even have to think of something to talk about, … I took it as a good omen for my new position.”

Antonia leaned over and tenderly kissed him: “I cannot believe you still remember which bra I was wearing almost a year ago when we met.”

“Well I have learned a bit working in the fashion industry for a year now.”

Packing up their things, Antonia asked Philip to wait next to the car while she hopped over to the bakery to buy some pita bread for lunch tomorrow. Coming back, she saw he was once again talking to the first girl from the beach, the petite redhead, who was trying to convince him to join her somewhere: “Why don’t you come tonight? Other guys will play too. You can bring your guitar – and we even have a piano there.”

“Would it be okay if he brought not only his guitar, but also his girlfriend?” Antonia stepped between them smiling.

“Sure, why not?” the redhead swallowed but smiled in good grace. “Shall I reserve two seats for you near the stage? By the way, I’m Jeannie – I couldn’t resist talking to Philip as I saw him playing away on the beach, since I study music and work part time in that small music bar.”

“I’m Antonia. I’m happy to know Philip found nice, competent company.”

As they got home, Antonia asked: “How about going out for sea food tonight before we go to that music bar? I know a nice, traditional family owned place just around the corner from it, would you like that?” Philip nodded, smiling, humming while strumming a bit on the guitar. “I’ll go shower then, get dressed for a night out, wear my new jewelry…”

Luxuriating under the hot shower stream, she was relieved Philip had responded so well to their trip to the beach, had gotten so much positive attention and even accepted the evening music invitation as a gust of cool air hit her as the shower door opened. Groping blindly for the door, she felt Philip’s roundly protruding belly playfully nudge her to move over: “Is there enough room for me? I need a shower too if we’re going out tonight.”

“Wait, come in, you know I can’t see anything…”

“I love it when you can’t see anything,” Philip pulled her into his belly, cupping her breast in one hand, his other hand teasing up between her thighs as he kissed his way from her ear to her lips, lightly biting into them with loving greed. As he rocked her against him, his fingers instantly making her insides melt, he murmured into her ear: “How about a little private happy hour before we go out? Do not know where I ever got the stupid idea abstinence might be helpful in anyway…”

“Well, I’m glad you finally realized that, I’m dying of thirst…,” Antonia reached for the shower gel and teasingly squirted some on Philip, firmly running her fingers over his belly, his thick chest, around his privates to his back where she energetically lathered up his round buttocks, feeling his hardness rub against her hip as she locked him in a deep kiss.

“Maybe you’re right, maybe – if you help me – I can somehow manage without that surgery. Maybe there are other ways… can we try that together back home in Brussels?” he let his erection tease between her thighs tentatively. “But please, could you maybe take care of this first –I’m starved for you, can’t hold it much longer…..”
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Part 13 – Evere

“Currently, it would be best if we switched jobs,” Philip groaned stretching making his plump belly slip more out of the waistband, hanging further down into his lap, prompting Antonia to reach over, pat it lovingly and give him a small kiss: “What would I do without you writing that financial investigation report and preparing my presentation for me?”

“Well-who’s talking? I’d definitely fail the presentation of the new clothing concept in front of the investor board if you hadn’t re-done it for me, completely changing the focus and letting Saskia try with explaining a few sample designs.”

“Your job-switch idea nails it – re-doing your presentation didn’t seem like work to me at all. Actually, it was fun to be able to think of how to convince people of a real product, a new clothing line for a change instead of futile efforts in making heads and tails of those doctored numbers. Or trying to balance skewered political interests.”

“Do you think Saskia is honestly up to the job of presenting to the board? Has she overcome her shyness well enough to explain fashion to a room full of rather insensitive business males?”

“I think so. Jan and I have practiced with her extensively. I know she also did a few confrontation sessions with Solange, actually speaking in front of random groups, so she should be able to handle it.” Antonia looked at him hesitantly before she continued against her better judgment. “Still, if both of you combined your efforts, don’t you think it would be possible to introduce the idea of the significant extension of the size range for the online and mail order service? With Saskia doing the fashion parts and you explaining the market rational behind it?”

Philip gave her an anguished look. “Don’t pester me; you know I can’t talk about that. It’s not convincing if I do it – and Saskia is afraid of making mistakes if she has to talk about marketing. She says maybe next year she’ll have got the hang of it. It was your idea, if only you were still here ….”

“Hmmmh”, Antonia sighed, leafing through Philip’s presentation, deciding to leave it there. She had tried to convince him time and time again to present the new concept, the first one from a high street brand offering the entire collection in then 12 sizes, but he had refused. Actually it was a considerable improvement that he admitted he was personally not comfortable with presenting on the issue of sizing, even if it was for women’s clothing; the first time she had addressed the issue he had left the room. “Can you maybe coach me in doing the financial presentation again beginning of next week, right before our bureau plenary? To be sure I limit the number of gaffes?”

“Anytime” he reached out for her, pulled her into his lap and buried his face between her breasts. “… it’s been a long day.”

Antonia hugged him tight and as both their stomachs grumbled in chorus, she giggled: “How about going for a quick light dinner to that nice new Thai place? Some soups, vegetables and rice? It’s late; I’m too tired to cook…”

“Ummm, don’t know-can’t we simply go home, you make a little something?”

“Why don’t we grab a bite somewhere quick for once, I’m so tired?”

“But what you cook is always tastier, is so much better for me… please Toni, only something light and simple,” he wheedled, making her relent: ‘Oh okay, I think I still have everything for baked endives Dutch style at home, and I bought a fresh cereal baguette.”

Merci infiniment,” Philip kissed and caressed her with warm hands until Antonia let out a sigh: “You do know it’s possible to smother people with flattery?” The soft, content look on his face once again disarmed her; letting her fail in her resolve to coax him into more ‘normal’ patterns in their relationship. It was so plain to see he was most at ease when they were alone at home or in the office, she found it hard to deny him these simple pleasures despite suspecting his motivation to be less than healthy.

Straining her sore neck muscles a bit the next morning as she took her first long sip of ‘café au lait’ while preparing the small breakfast tray for Philip and herself, Antonia started wondering about the odd patterns in their relationship. On the one hand, it still strongly resembled a minefield with numerous no-go areas: Philip’s weight and eating issues, his apartment, socializing as a couple when no music was involved, many small daily occurrences. On the other hand they had this unbelievably strong, wordless, very physical closeness. Even though he refused to verbally acknowledge his physical self or refrained from voluntarily ever touching his own body except for rumpling his hair, he conveyed the impression of attempting to make up for a lifetime of lack of physical affection as quickly as possible by constant tangency. He seemed to have no insecurities as long as it was only non-verbal, body contact between them and she did not indulge in any third-dimensional tactile activities – then it could almost not be physical enough for him. Like morning breakfasts at her apartment: Despite it being a busy workday, their pattern was that she’d shower and quickly make a light muesli or porridge spoon breakfast while he showered, which they would then have together naked in bed, snuggling, feeding and reading the newspaper headlines to each other – before they got dressed and left for the office.

This almost schizophrenic situation strained Antonia’s nerves because no matter how good she had gotten at navigating Philip’s mine field, her inner self rebelled against it being an open, communicative person. In addition she noticed with unease that she was becoming increasingly addicted to his physical closeness. She slept much better if she could snuggle between him and her fluffy featherbed. The best form of calming down after a trying day was resting her head on his belly pillow, his arms wrapped around and his talented fingers massaging and caressing her body absentmindedly. It was like having her childhood fantasy come alive; to have a full-size, real living, breathing teddy bear for herself to cuddle and coddle as she wanted. Her cooking ambitions now centered around coming up with dishes Philip would enjoy eating heartily without feeling guilty, making her loose her own appetite if she didn’t have this goal to meet. Yet there was the small malicious voice in the back of her head telling her that all of this was a rickety safety net, not a solid foundation for a relationship – and that Philip did not seem to be making any progress since their agreement in Florida.

With a small sigh, she set the bowls, coffee and fruit on her tray and sailed into the bedroom with a, “Petit déjeuner pour mon chéri” only to find Philip getting into his clothes at high speed, their bed oddly disheveled with the sheets pulled out. “What’s wrong? Where are you going? What about breakfast?”

“Ummm … sorry … forgot, conference call with China, somehow wrong time difference,” he muttered, swearing as he tried to get his foot into a tangled sock.

“What about your breakfast?”

Philip gave the tray a quick look, a small greedy smirk appearing on his tense face: “Crunchy oatmeal cranberry?” Seeing Antonia nod he asked: “May I take it with me, eat it in the taxi? I’ll return the bowl.”

“Okay chéri, bon appétit,” giving him a quick kiss.

“I’ll call about your presentation, so you can practice once more,” before he closed the door behind him.

Following up on their findings regarding her predecessor’s fraud, Antonia had spent the last weeks in endless negotiations with the other side’s attorneys, supplemented by debates within the EAFR board as to whether or not to hand over the evidence to the notoriously unreliable Belgian system of justice, with its inner workings that made a snail seem like a high-speed train. Since she had no major stance on this issue – she was convinced pursuing criminal charges in Belgium would not amount to anything – she had stuck to moderating the discussion, which ironically had complicated procedures. The pro side wanted her as an uninvolved party to take their side with a total ‘clean hands’ campaign as they called it, to use this as a fresh start for EAFR. While Antonia was in favor of a clean slate and transparency policy, she doubted the Belgian justice could contribute to this end, thus finding herself half-aligned with one part of the con-side who also believed criminal investigations would take ages and if a verdict was reached this would be in such a far future to render it pointless. Then there was the con-group, who partially was involved in some of the previous transactions, so she suspected, who was extremely interested in hushing everything up, under the guise of concern for the public image of EAFR.

Tired to the bone but tremendously relieved, Antonia entered her EAFR office the morning after their full board meeting on her fraud investigation report to see Stefaan Pauwels grinning at her with a bottle of champagne in one and a large dossier in the other hand. “Felicitations – I hear you pulled off an excellent show last night and convinced everybody of our approach to handling EAFR’s disaster. Let’s drink to that! I brought the statement of case so you can sign it off and we can start legal action in front of the Dutch court.”

“I could kiss you for having had the idea of filing for private law damages in front of a Dutch court because of my predecessor’s old contract under which we could define him as ‘leased labor’ from the Dutch national association. That gives us a meaningful case and closure, may recover some funds and saves us the waste of time of a Belgian criminal investigation and court case. Everybody was convinced of this approach.” Antonia beamed at him.

“Well, it was your idea to look for ways of circumventing the Belgian legal system and finding a loophole for redress in another EU country,” Pauwels winked blushing, “But you may kiss me anyway,” making Antonia laugh as her mobile rang.

Wonderful good morning Toni – how do you feel after last night’s triumph?

“I never would have made it without you helping me so much with the financial stuff, mon amour. I’m still thinking of a way to reward you for that.”

Excellent coincidence – I can tell you what I currently would appreciate most: Meet me today, 14h at Arts-Loi for a late lunch.

“Oh Philip I’d love to, but I have to finish the minutes today from the meeting so I can mail them to all board members, have them sign it off so we can file our law suit in front of a Dutch court. Tomorrow I have to prepare everything for my trip to Rome next week to AltaModa….”

Only a quick late lunch Toni, 14h, that’s not asking much, is it? Bring your netbook in case you can’t quite finish the minutes, then I can check what your colleagues have done to your budget proposal..

“You’re right, a quick lunch won’t hurt. I’ll hurry up and be there, doux baiser..”

Looking up, Antonia was taken aback to see Stefaan Pauwel’s jealous and crestfallen expression – asking herself whether he might have developed a crush on her. He had been sent by their law firm to work on the case after Christmas and they had hit it off very well – she had instantly liked his quick wit, EU legal expertise, energetic optimism and voracious, unabashed appetite, which was a welcome respite from Philip’s eating issues. The latter made him very rotund, but not instantly her type: Since he was rather short, an inch or two shorter than she was, white-blond and had an unfortunate penchant for baby pink dress shirts, he always reminded her of Captain Link Hogthrob of ‘Pigs in Space’, which indeed was sort of cute. But as much as she had liked the show, she was a teddy bear and not a piglet girl, so now she felt a twang of guilt seeing his hopeless look.

“Stefaan thank you so much for bringing this here. I’ll make sure to have everything ready for you by tomorrow afternoon. Can you maybe pick it up and we can drink the champagne then? I’ll get us some good canapés to go with it,” she tried to show him her appreciation. Nodding briefly he packed his things to leave: “Good idea. Champagne is better on Friday afternoon than Thursday morning.”

Motivated to finish at least the first draft of her minutes before lunch, Antonia took the two metro stops to Arts-Loi to search for Philip there, getting slightly irritated because she had to go up, down and around twice until she turned a corner, to be caught in a one-armed bear hug. “Bonne anniversaire!

“It’s not my birthday!” she gave Philip a quick kiss. He handed her one cappuccino and with a dramatic gesture spilled some of the second over the floor before leaning in for an ardent kiss. “It’s our first anniversary; I spilled coffee over you exactly here a year ago today.”

Looking into his beaming eyes, Antonia returned his kiss passionately: “This is one of my best surprises ever! How sweet of you to remember! I hadn’t thought about that at all – it’s been some year, hasn’t it? In moments like this I always know why I tried so hard to win you over, you’re worth every second of effort,” kissing him again, so deeply moved she found it hard to breathe.

“Now finish your coffee, we have to get going,” Philip blushed and steered her to an exit and into a waiting taxi.

“Where are we going?”

“How do you Americans say – another step down memory lane?”

“You know I only have time for a quick lunch….”

“Don’t worry, everything is arranged,” distracting her again with a loving kiss and artfully stroking own every curved line of her body making her tingle pleasantly. She only noticed they were heading out of town and surprisingly quickly pulled up in front of the main terminal at Zaventem.

“Lunch at the airport? Is there some new lounge or so?”

Philip only responded non-committally “Mmmh, we need to go through security there,” then hurrying her on along the endless walk-way to the flight gate section, fending off her questions until they reached gate 23 with ‘last call’ blinking for a flight to Rome. He was puffing as he showed the attendant 2 boarding passes and Antonia was a little out of breath too.

“What’s this Philip? We can’t fly to Rome? I’m going there next week! I have to be back in the office at the latest in half an hour!”

The attendant signaled them on and Philip energetically took her hand, tugging her down the gangway, until she halted at the air plane door protesting: “Philip this is impossible, I don’t even have a tooth brush with me!” he gave her a quick breathless kiss saying softly “Shut up chérie. Let me explain in a minute.”

Settling in their seats, Antonia was too confused and uneasy to enjoy the little spectacle of Philip squeezing himself into his seat, she could only think of the many things she needed to do respectively did not have with her for a trip, but somehow did not dare say anything more, waiting for his explanation.

Still breathing heavily, he wrapped an arm around her, his fingers moving her hair behind her ear, his lips murmuring and kissing into it: “Since it’s our first anniversary of meeting, I thought we should celebrate. We did our first business trip together to Italy, to Milan. So in memoriam, since you were going to Rome on Monday anyway, I rebooked your flight, so we could have a little mini break there for the weekend. Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“It’s a lovely idea,” she kissed him with all her heart in response to show how much she appreciated the gesture. “I hate to say it, but there are some practical problems. I don’t even have a tooth brush with me … I’ll need to fly back Sunday to get my things for next week ….”

Philip gave her a rough throaty kiss and tugged her hair. “You seem to think I’m bl*** imbecile! Do you honestly think I’m sending EAFR’s Sec Gen to AltaModa Roma without even her own nightgown?”

“Well … I guess … but how am I going to get my things…”

“You luggage for the whole week is down in this plane’s cargo trunk – if these blokes here at Zaventem didn’t blunder. I enlisted Heather and Saskia to pack your things for you this morning. Heather has your key, but she asked me to let Saskia pack your clothing and styling paraphernalia stating she had no fashion sense and didn’t want to embarrass you in front of the Romans,” making Antonia stare at him speechless.

“Do you mean everything I need is down there?”

“Not everything, Saskia made me pack some valuable essentials like your spare contacts right here into my carry-on. Only so far this here is missing,” as he clasped something around her wrist. “Happy first anniversary, merci de tout mon coeur for the maddest, best year of my life.”

Transfixed, Antonia looked at her wrist, now circled by the grey pearl bracelet matching her necklace and earrings, letting out incredulous small laughs, shaking her head in disbelief until the tears started flowing. “What have I done to deserve you? I love you from somewhere deep inside of me, I don’t even know from where…” him ending her sentence in an encompassing kiss.

After she had calmed down, while drinking their in-flight champagne she smirked slyly: “If you ever get fed up with financing, you could start a romantic consulting business for all those blokes out there who let their girls live in constant frustration because they couldn’t even spell r-o-m-a-n-t-i-c on the best day they ever had. You’re a genius at this, making me feel really special. How did you come up with this idea?”

“Playing lots of romantic 19th century piano music really helps,” Philip blushed and shrugged with a grin. “It makes all these notions seep into my mind, like what would George Sand and Chopin have done? It’s good to see those old dead composers still work their charm in our times….”

Their weekend in Rome was the happiest, most relaxed they had ever been together. Philip was visibly content, laid back and went along with everything she suggested, be it sight-seeing, shopping, food; taking the lead in love-making and church acoustics with her visiting more organ recitals and practices in two days than she had in all her life. She was incredibly proud of him – and herself, for being so smart to call ahead of time to check whether they had it in his size – as she managed to persuade him to try on and accept a stylishly cool black leather jacket she had seen at a small local manufacturer’s in Via Nazionale as her anniversary present. All the way back to the hotel, she beamed at him, smugly noting how many gorgeous Italian women checked him out before insisting he made love to her just with the jacket on because he looked so hot in it, making him bashfully comply, murmuring: “Maybe it is a magic jacket, it makes me feel better than my other clothes do.”

Whatever the calendar said, the mild sun did not feel wintery at all, on the contrary, very inviting for an ice cream as Philip and Antonia strolled onto Piazza Navona with tired feet after a long walk through the city.

“Now to one of the best chocolate things outside of Belgium – ‘Tre Scalini’s tartuffo con panna – dark chocolate ice cream, so dark, you need the whipped cream to go with it.”

“Mmmh, we had a very nice lunch, a dessert is not necessary…”

“Philip, this is not about a necessary dessert. This is about working on your list of ‘1000 chocolates you must taste in life’. Now sit down here, I’ll go get us two portions. Sitting on their terrace doubles the price, and I prefer sitting next to Bernini’s gorgeous fountain’s better anyway.”

Coming back with a ‘tartuffo con panna’ on its little silver shell shaped paper plate in each hand, Antonia halted in her step gazing in loving amazement at visual tableau before her. She had always loved Bernini’s fountain of the four rivers, with the four powerful naked river gods. Now Philip was sitting in front of it, in the same laid back posture as river god Ganges behind him, only without a beard and some more belly, but the same shapely flesh and alluring physicality. He had to call out to snap her out of her rapt reverie: “Toni, why are you standing there like a Vestal holding the ice cream like they hold their lamps?”

“I’m definitely not a Vestal, you see to that on a regular basis,” she kissed him with a smirk, handing him the ice cream and sliding an arm around him. “I was contemplating how truly divine Baroque gods are, in flesh as well as in marble…” making him blush furiously after maybe a minute.
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:04 AM   #20
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It was difficult to imagine she had only known Philip for a year now, Antonia mused as she cut the green beans into her beef in red wine stew à la Provencal for dinner, looking anxiously at her kitchen clock because she was running late. So much had happened in the past year, she had the feeling it was ages ago they had literally run into each other. Their few delightful days in Rome now again seemed light years off again as the daily routine took over, bringing mainly professional hassle for her.

The conflicted situation on her board after the fraud investigation continued to simmer and was supplemented by a highly controversial issue on the level of the member associations: The European Commission’s new proposal concerning tariffs on textile and shoe imports from China, in the overall current highly conflictive trade negotiations. Within EAFR a number of positions were at odds with each others: While the large multi-national retailers, who by now produced a significant share of their collections in China, were vocal about free trade and open markets, country associations with fashion industry of their own were militantly for protectionist measures to help their struggling colleagues and also to stop Chinese traders from becoming competitors on their markets. Antonia so far had postponed meeting after meeting with the Commission representatives because they could not achieve any sustainable position within EAFR, making it hopeless to start any real political action.

After changing into a comfortable house dress, she checked whether the beans were done to notice Philip was over half an hour late, so she rang him up on his mobile, only to get voice mail. Trying his office, then his home phone, she only got voice mail two more times; leaving him a quick message saying dinner was ready. Five minutes later she received a simple SMS: “Sorry can’t make it, enjoy your dinner,” making her fume. Her own day had been long and hard enough, if she rushed home to cook dinner for their scheduled evening, she hated being set up. With their busy work schedules, she fully understood they both needed down time on their own; often enough they just talked on the phone in the evenings. But despite all the understanding she tried to summon for his issues, she was getting seriously alienated by his scheduling non sequiturs leaving her decidedly belligerent this evening.

Pulling on jeans, t-shirt, maxi-cardigan and ballerina slippers, she put the pot of stew into a basket, the orange-mousse into a small cooler, grabbed her car keys and drove to ‘signC’ – only to find a dark and empty office. Thinking for 30 seconds, she did a u-turn and headed towards Philip’s private address, where she had never been before. It turned out to be an unattractive 1950’s building in a dull stretch of Evere out towards NATO HQ where she had trouble finding the entrance, until an elder lady coming back from walking her dog informed her that ‘Monsieur Philippe qui joue le piano’ lived in the adjacent rear flat part of the building. As she turned the corner, she could hear a piano being played and after finally having located the buzzer in the dark, rang the bell. No response – so she rang again.

“One moment”, it called from inside, before Philip, stuffing his shirt into his pants with one hand, in the other arm a struggling large fluffy ginger cat, opened the door, only to half recoil. “Toni? I thought it was Mme Jospard….”

Bon soir Philippe, ce n’est pas Mme Jospard, c’est seulement moi, Mme Langley, si vous vous souviendrez,” not being able to resist the irony.

"What are you doing here?"

“If you can’t come to dinner – I thought dinner can come to you. And don’t you think it’s long overdue to introduce me to Chopin?”

Still staring at her in shock, Philip held onto the scrambling cat and fully opened the door to let Antonia in. Finally stuck in the desired situation of getting to know Philip’s apartment, she suddenly was reluctant to invade his privacy, very slowly entering, surveying everything discreetly from under downcast eyes. Scanning the unattractive faded yellow floral wallpaper in the small hallway, she became aware she had never made a mental image for herself how she expected his apartment to look like. Generally having negative stereotypes and experiences with British interior decorating, finding it often gloomy, outdated, and stuffy – having been raised in the firm belief in Bauhaus – she hadn’t expected much. But the sheer ugliness and barrenness of the apartment left her shaken in a mix of embarrassment and pity: Even though it obviously was very clean, the overall impression was rundown. The wallpaper was faded and mismatched, the limp curtain leftovers were yellowed or grayed, the few odd furnishings stood around in a happenstance manner. The large living room contained only a very battered leather easy chair in front of a TV set, a desk with a notebook computer and chair in one corner, several neatly stacked boxes of books, some bookshelves containing music and CD’s, a very professional looking stereo system. The only thing of beauty was a glossy black grand piano with a wide bench in front of it, upholstered in red leather. Good taste, style, comfort and coziness were conspicuous by their absence.

“Thank you for letting me in,” was all Antonia could mumble. Since Philip just stood there helplessly, she finally swallowed, seeing no table and chairs: “Where would be a good place to have dinner, maybe in the kitchen?”

Shaking his head silently, he showed her the way. The kitchen was dimly lit, a 1970’s pea green fitted kitchen with chipped edges and outdated appliances except for a new microwave. On the small table there was a vast array of empty or more or less empty take out cartons and other food wrappers, 2 pizza boxes, a small trash bag with some ice cream containers. Antonia took in the scene, once again, as in Milan feeling like an evil intruder, words getting stuck in her throat. A persistent scratching and meowing brought her back to reality, looking down, she saw Chopin pawing and sniffing at her basket with the beef stew in it. Kneeling down, she rubbed his ears and tickled under his chin, making him start to purr. “Oh you are such a cute, fluffy fuzz ball,” Antonia whispered, “Are you hungry? Unfortunately this isn’t kitty food, it’s got wine in it.”

A ghost of a smile played over Philip’s weary expression, “In contrast to his master, Chopin knows it’s worth waiting for the really good food in life.”

Looking at him closely now, Antonia observed how puffed up and distended his belly was, filling out his shirt, confirming the evidence on the kitchen table. Fighting the strangled feeling caused by the many unspoken words in her throat, she backed out of the kitchen muttering: “I’d better be going now, I see you already had dinner. I regret disturbing you. Please excuse me. Bonne nuit.”

She had almost reached the door as Philip draped his arm around her from behind, resting his head on her shoulder: “Please stay, since you’re here. I’m so sorry, today was disaster… Franck came to talk about his contract, Saskia was in tears …. And I, when he was gone… I can’t explain…”

Setting down her basket, she turned awkwardly and tried to cuddle him, but he held her at arm’s length away from his belly. “It’s normal to have awful days, Philip, mine wasn’t great either. But please, can’t you call or text me saying you need down-time before I start cooking or wait for you? Or if you prefer food and company, it’s perfectly fine with me if you come to my place to raid my refrigerator. I can cook you two dinners, if that’s what you feel you need. Just don’t leave me in the dark, waiting – that’s something I can’t stand.”

“I didn’t mean to, somehow, happens again and again, I don’t know how … I can’t..” Philip muttered, looking at her in mute pleading before taking a deep breath. “Next time – well, as you can see, the only nice thing here apart from Chopin is my piano. Can I at least play for you, so you get something out of coming here? And Jean-Luc brought me some good St. Emilion from his cousin, how about opening a bottle?”

Antonia nodded slowly, before asking: “Can I put the food in the refrigerator?”

“Yes, of course. Let me do that. Please sit down.” Philip took her basket, asking shyly, “Maybe we can have it for lunch tomorrow at the office?”

Closing her eyes in resigned frustration, because that meant she would have to complicatedly reschedule a lunch meeting she had, she nodded again.
Settling herself on the far end of the piano bench, Chopin immediately hopped into her lap and curled up, while she petted him.

“How about Antonin Dvorak for Antonia this evening?” Philip looked through his music.

“Why not? I trust your expertise.”

Chopin stretched and purred as she fondled him, making Philip eye him and grumble as he sat down on the bench next to her, “Lucky cat.”

“I have two hands, you know. Enough for both of you,” Antonia gave him a wry smile, reaching over to run her hand down his back, over to his side and further around, but Philip caught and placed it on Chopin’s back. “Take care of him, he deserves it, in contrast….” before he started playing heaving a sigh.

Over time, as she sat there leaning against Philip, the weight and purring of the fluffy cat in her lap, feeling the live music creep almost physically into her system, Antonia’s anger and frustration, transformed into a kind of aggressive arousal. As much as she felt for him, she now resented always having to be considerate, careful with Philip’s sensitivities and insecurities – while he seemed oblivious that she too might have some sensitivities he should consider every once in a while. So what if he probably felt like guilty shit right now – she didn’t feel much better, having worked all day, cooked to make him happy to have all her efforts rebuffed. Since she was here, his warm thick body pleasantly teasing her, the strong wine loosening her up, she should make the best of it and at least thoroughly unwind with a naughty romp.

Draining her glass of wine, Antonia set the cat on the floor, which let out an indignant squeak, slipped down and kneeled between Philip’s well planted apart thighs half under the piano. Pressing her hands into the sides of his bloated belly, she tugged his shirt out of his waistband with her teeth, and deftly started biting open the small buttons, moving up, in the process kissing, licking his belly and rubbing her face in its abundant flesh.

Philip stopped playing and tried to stop her, pulling her hands from his belly: “Please, Toni .. no! You mustn’t, not today, really … I can’t…”

Feeling up the telltale bulge in his crotch with explorative fingers, Antonia let out a small evil laugh: “This feels more like you not only can, but actually want to badly too!” continuing her bitten ascent up his shirt, noticing how much his stuffed stomach, firm and heavy under the stretched flesh of his belly turned her on, so she bit hard into one of his nipples as she reached them.

“Don’t…” he tried to push her away carefully, but she raised herself and half-straddled one of his thighs, jestingly bounced his belly so she could reach underneath to grasp his belt to open it before unhooking his waistband with a fierce tug. “Don’t …. no, don’t humiliate me like this,” Philip let out a low groan, trying again to fend her off.

“Nobody’s humiliating you; I’m just having a little fun. I deserve it after an evening like this, don’t I?” Antonia cocked an eyebrow mischievously. “And this poor stuffed tummy is crying out for some loving attention,” she cooed, nibbling on it affectionately before reaching up to kiss Philip hard. He relented slightly, but as she started to massage his swollen stomach, he grabbed her hands and pulled back, breathing hard: “No, it’s so repulsive, leave me, no.”

“Well, I’m seriously turned on, not repulsed. You have no idea how tantalizing your fleshy bulk is in my hands,” she leaned in for one more hungry kiss. “You owe me, now relax, I can feel your hormones working,” as she feathered her fingers up and down his erection. She sensed his physical and mental instincts were fiercely at war, lust battling self-conscious guilt – with lust winning over as she threatened to slip off her wobbly perch on his knee, making him catch her into his bulk, kissing her voraciously, his hands groping under her t-shirt, his fingers expertly easing her breasts out of their bra cups, plucking her nipples. Then he started fumbling haplessly with her jeans, letting out a snort of frustration: “Your skirts are much nicer; they’re easier to unpack…”

Doing some mock belly dance moves, Antonia shimmied her way out of her jeans, discarded her t-shirt in a rodeo flourish and slid back deep into Philip’s lap, lifting his heavy, puffed up belly onto her own lap, bouncing and rubbing it in intensive slow motion while kissing him. He winced, she couldn’t tell whether in pleasure or in discomfort but she was not interested in finding out.

The mixed sensation of his very soft underbelly with the weight of his overly full stomach above it triggered a wild haptic eroticism in her, making her push up the soft flesh against the hard weight in firm circular motions, re-vibrating against her breasts, making her insides convulse in anticipation. Philip seemed to feel the same against his will, because his breathing turned rugged, his erection dug painfully hard between her thighs and he bit her sharply into her neck. She had already rubbed herself soaking wet as he slid his hand under his belly and started teasing his manhood tautly against her, making her come frantically. With a deep groan, he pushed her back on the bench, her head tipping over the side, her hair spilling down and rolled over her in reckless abandon, pulsing himself into her deep and hard, making her squeal in agonizing pleasure, hitch her knees over his shoulders to arch herself more into him until he came with an elephantine grunt.

Both panting with exhaustion, he held her tight against his sweaty torso, not looking at her until they were interrupted by a disapproving “meow” as Chopin turned and stalked out, bottle brush tail up in indignation. Antonia had to giggle and whispered: “Don’t you have a more comfortable place to snuggle then this bench, like maybe a bed?”

Sighing, Philip nodded and led her over into a dark room, dimly illuminated by the hallway light. Her curiosity getting the better of her, Antonia had a look around, only the notice the room was no more attractive than the others. A French bed in one corner, a walk in closet next to the door, a chair, a wardrobe and a light-bulb hanging from the ceiling. What she could see of the wall paper actually made her grateful for the lack of light because the dark camouflaged what seemed to be a ghostly design.

Focusing her attention back on Philip, her urges told her she had not yet had enough of him for the night. Playfully shoving him back on the bed, she pounced on him, straddling him so he couldn’t get up and started a flowing, rhythmic wave dance between her pelvis and his buoyant belly globe until she was pleasantly wound up again and started massaging his privates until he was erect enough again for her to guide him inside her, shuddering in delicious hurt as his thick hardness flexed inside her. This time, since the edge was off her hunger, she wanted to make it last as long as possible, like licking a dense mousse au chocolat off a spoon in slow motion to prolong the flavor explosion on her taste buds until it was too much. Rocking him against her alternating between fast and slow she lost sense of everything around her except his hot self in her, making her almost unconscious with the wave of release as she finally let it out.

“F***ing unbelievable!” Philip puffed.

Antonia sank down on his belly, seeing blissful exhaustion in his face: “That nails it!”

As Philip had to stifle a belch exhaling, his expression instantly changed to one of acute shame making him turn his back to Antonia, curling up on his side. She automatically spooned against him, gliding her arm around him to her favorite position, the fold between his man boobs and the upper curve of his belly, now with his full stomach especially broad and inviting. But he wouldn’t let her, took her hand, pushed it away and held it in a firm grip by his side. Lying there against the broad wall of his back, not able to really snuggle into him, getting no response, a strong sense of disillusionment overcame Antonia, wiping away the physical elation she had just experienced in a flash. She had never felt so alone despite having Philip physically close never had been more pessimistic regarding the odds of making their relationship honestly work for both of them. The extreme shift from high to low was difficult to process, letting her swallow her sobs, but not stopping her tears from streaming quietly down her cheeks and onto the smooth, firm padding over his shoulder blade.

After a few minutes he must have noticed his back was getting wet because he whispered: “Toni, what’s wrong? Are you crying?” Getting only a small sniff as a response, Philip turned, carefully fit his arms around her and cradled her gently. “What’s wrong with you, Toni? Did I hurt you? Why are you crying?”

“What’s wrong with me? Nothing is wrong with me! The question is more what’s wrong with you! As far as I can tell we just had awesome sex, even by our standards! Wasn’t it wonderful for you? And all you do is turn away, go all cold on me and won’t even let me touch you anymore? That’s too much for me!” she let out the sob pressing her face into his soft belly, while he cringed visibly, soothingly stroking her back. Not receiving an answer, she looked up in despair: “Philip, don’t you think it would be easier not only for me, but also for yourself if you let out what’s wrong, talk about it? You cannot solve a problem if you can’t even name it, have no words for it.”

Looking at her true distress in his eyes, Philip swallowed, opened his mouth, but not a sound came out. He fidgeted, tried again, sighed before pressing out: “.. it was too wonderful, that’s the problem,” turning his head away.

“How can anything, especially something so intimate be too wonderful?” Antonia asked incredulously. Philip shook his head, gave her a quick kiss and got up, coming back a minute later with bottles of wine and water. He offered her a glass of wine, but she shook her head and took a long drought of water instead, so he drained it, pouring himself a second before settling back on the bed, now holding her in a warm embrace. Snuggled into his body, her ear against his chest, listening to his heartbeat and slight gurgling of his stomach, Antonia physically calmed down, cherishing the erotic sensation of the soft mounded flesh of his tummy in her hands, which he for once let her fondle rather indiscriminately.

“Better now?” he murmured after a while.

“Mmmmh, so much better, feels so good…”

“That’s the problem, it’s not supposed to feel so good, it’s all wrong, I must feel awful, I’m disgusting, you should hate me being … instead.. bl***y shit, what am I saying,” Philip unexpectedly blurted.

Raising herself, Antonia eyed him in puzzled concentration, before asking quietly. “Let me try to understand this: You feel all sated and satisfied now, right? I feel good, sensuously satisfied, snuggled into your cozy cuddly self. Yet you are berating yourself because you think our current state of physical happiness is wrong for some reason?” Philip screwed up his face nodding. “Why Philip? That’s beyond absurd – please try to explain that to me.”

Shaking his head once more, Philip emptied the bottle of wine and smothered Antonia against him. Carefully, she started pawing his chest again, kissing his chubby jaw line, now giving his distended middle a more therapeutic baby stomach rub until his tension subsided a little. Studying his expression, seeing how shamed, apprehensive and vulnerable it stayed, she continued caressing him, nuzzling his plump cheek, yet decided not to pursue the issue. “Cheri, everything is fine, you have nothing to be worried or ashamed about. That was a perfect way for making up at the end of a shitty day for both of us, wasn’t it? It’s late, let’s sleep now, surely tomorrow will be a better day, sweet dreams.”
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:13 AM   #21
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Part 14 – Cul de sac

Mon cher chat – how are you this evening?” Antonia plopped down on her bed to start tickling Chopin, who rolled back and forth in delight, trying to catch her fingers, before she picked him up to hug him tight. “Did you have a nice day with Mère Bear and her cubs? Have any new mice tried to immigrate illegally?”

“Meow”, was Chopin’s only answer as he luxuriously stretched his neck to make the most of her tickling him under his chin. Since Philip was on a business trip to the Eastern European capitals all week and Mme Jospard had to take care of her hospitalized sister, Antonia had volunteered to take him in, since she only had a day trip to Luxemburg. After a minimum of initial fuss, Chopin had strongly taken to her apartment, his favorite place being lying on top of her featherbed between Mère Bear and her cubs, voicing his agreement to Antonia cooking more fish while he was there.

“Monsieur Chopin – how come you really appreciate my bed, notice how good it is, while your Master has taken to avoiding it?” she fondled his ears and the sides of his head, to receive only a purr. “At first I thought it was creative and cute that he started wanting to have sex everywhere but in my bed – but by now it’s more annoying and disturbing. He doesn’t sleep over like he used to. Last week, I did coax him back into my bed, it was so sweet and cozy, and then I woke up in the middle of the night to find him asleep on the couch. What’s wrong with him? ”

Chopin shook his ears and hopped off her lap to wander towards the kitchen. “Okay change of subject – I understand. Being castrated, you seem to begrudge Master Philip any sex life at all, let alone have to discuss it with me. What would Monsieur Chopin like for dinner?”

As she was putting a piece of salmon into her oven to have it with fennel in white wine and mashed potatoes, her phone rang. “Bon soir chérie, Cracow airport in a snow storm calling! Flight delayed by minimum three hours – if I’m lucky it’ll leave at midnight.

“Oh pauvre chéri – Chopin and I miss you so much, we were so looking forward to having you back tonight. Well, text me as soon as you take off so I can pick you up.”

Don’t bother Toni. It’ll be earliest three in the morning before I get into Zaventem, I’ll take a taxi.”

“Are you sure, I can get up to pick you up?”

No, really that’s not necessary. Can we see each other tomorrow for lunch?

“Tomorrow I’m doing girls Saturday with Heather, shopping, outlets in Lille and Roubaix, I told you, didn’t I?”

Yah probably forgot. Then tomorrow evening?

“We’ll be late – but I’ll call you as soon as I am back. Anything you would like from France? Send me a text as soon as you arrive safely, no matter what time it is, have a good flight.”

Stepping out of Sephora in Lille the next day with Heather, Antonia’s mobile rang. “Salut chéri – where are you right now?

“Lille, pedestrian zone, shopping for girlie stuff. Did you sleep well after you finally got in, you poor thing?”

Slept fine. Guess where I am right now?

“No idea, sitting at your piano?”

No, completely off. I’m at Gare Lille-Europe, where can I meet you?

“You’re here in Lille? Why?”

I missed you so much, wanted to see you ….”

“Philip, you know I’m here with Heather, this is officially girl’s day.”

I’m sorry; I didn’t realize it was girls only. Shall I take the next train back?

“No chéri, since you’re here, we’ll pick you up – we want to drive out to the big mall in Villeneuve d’Ascq next anyway.”

As she stopped in front of the train station, Philip almost bodily pulled her out of the car in his eagerness to give her a deep kiss and a fierce bear hug. “Oh I missed you so much too, chéri, even though Chopin tried very hard to be a good substitute. It’s a sweet surprise of you to come.”

Heather interrupted their embrace after maybe tactful three minutes. “Salut Philip, I understand you missed Antonia – but you need to learn ground rule number one: Girl’s days are for girls only! No boys allowed!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think. Shall I leave again?” Philip looked at her uneasily.

“No – since you came all the way here, which is sweet, I agree, you might as well stay. Just remember for next time.”

Entering the mall, they headed towards the vast entrance of Auchan, as Philip stopped short before going in. “Umm, there’s a FNAC over there. They always have interesting music. I guess I’ll go there while you girls go to Auchan.”

“Don’t you want to help us select a few nice things to eat for you next week? Some new wines we can try? I saw they have a big tent in the back with a ‘foire des vins’ from all French provinces, we can do a small wine tasting.”

“You know what’s best – I trust your taste. I don’t want to disturb you girls more than necessary.”

“Are you sure? I’d love for you to pick some of your favorite foods, give me some ideas of what to cook for your or sample some new offers.”

“No, I’m fine, I prefer looking for new music, get some samples for the band.”

As Philip briskly walked into FNAC, Antonia sighed, turned to Heather and went diagonally across the mall to enter Auchan, getting a large shopping cart for each of them on the way. She noticed Heather scrutinizing her critically from the side, before she finally asked: “Are things between you and Philip really in best order again?” seeing Antonia shrug and nod simultaneously, she went on: “I don’t mean to pry, but I’m a bit worried. Alone his coming here, the way he looks at you – Philip loves you like crazy. And he’s so touchingly, innocently, palpably obvious about it as my two little boys are. I can’t remember seeing that in a grown man- and I know it’s difficult to be firm and draw lines with that kind of affection. But I do not get the feeling he is aware of what he really needs to do to turn love into a working relationship.”

“Since he came to pick me up in Florida, I think he has been more aware of the issue, I think he is trying,” Antonia realized with a touch of guilt there by now were things between her and Philip she would no longer discuss to protect his privacy and trust in her. Having always been very open and honest with Heather, this startled and irritated her a little.

“Well, from my most recent experiences at trying to talk with him, he is still completely unable to address his issues. And this scene we just had doesn’t leave me overtly hopeful regarding the success of his presumed efforts.”

“Why do you think so? Because he wants to shop for music instead of groceries?”

“For you it’s groceries, Toni, for him it’s food,” Heather sighed. “Food, the substance he has an agonizing love-hate relationship with, his best friend and worst enemy, where he fears his will-power in controlling his eating will break-down if he simply sees it.”

“Come on Heather, you’re exaggerating.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I am. In contrast to you, who has never had an issue with relatively easily maintaining a normal weight while being comfortable with good food, I know what it feels like if you’re dieting, denying your body things it craves or simply needs, fighting constant guilt. While I still was perpetually dieting, there were days I left the house without money or never entered a place that had food to be sure my resolve wouldn’t weaken and I wouldn’t start stuffing myself again.”

“But nothing’s wrong with eating a bite on the go if you’re hungry. I could hear Philip’s stomach growl – probably he’s been trying to starve himself again today.”

Heather shook her head: “No Toni, that’s exactly the problem. For people who are fat and dieting, the normal healthy mechanisms for dealing with food, hunger, eating don’t work anymore. If you get hungry here at the mall, you go to the bakery, buy yourself a sandwich or piece of cake, eat it – then you’re no longer hungry and forget about it. You’ll wait till you’re hungry again, or eat less at your next meal if you’re still full - the process has no further implications for you. But for a fat dieter, hunger is an almost constant companion – giving in to hunger is failing in your diet resolve. That leads to guilt and frustration, often triggering a vicious cycle like ‘now that I’ve eaten two cookies, it doesn’t matter anymore, I might as well eat the whole pie’, increasing the feelings of guilt, frustration and inadequacy.”

“That’s awful! I know he has overeating issues – but I never suspected it to be so difficult for Philip. Is there anything I can do to help him?”

“Knowing you, you probably cook him healthy, tasty, filling meals as often as you can, encourage him to eat regularly, show him incessantly you love him as big as he is – there is nothing more you can do. He has to do his part, work on getting out of the vicious cycle of dieting and binging, nobody can do that for him.”

“What helped you get out of that vicious cycle?”

“It was a mix of many factors and people – and it took years: Getting away from my parents, who are loving but very critical of my size. Meeting Benedict, who never gave me a second of doubt he loves all of me. Meeting you, who showed me that a good bra does more for a girl’s figure and self-esteem than a 10 pound loss. Getting pregnant, that really forced me to think about what, when and how I eat because I carried the physical responsibility for another human being. Living here with the French food culture with its strong emphasis on quality and the celebration of healthy indulgence in good food. But everyone has to find his or her own recipe for working it out,” Heather gave her a skeptical smile.

Antonia nodded and let out a sigh of frustration, looking undecidedly at the large counter with a sheer endless assortment of different cheeses: “I hate to say it, but in this moment, I miss Matteo. It was such easy fun going food shopping with him, discussing what to buy and how to prepare and eat it.”

“That’s because Matteo is perfectly fine with his big belly and loves pampering it,” Heather asked in a low voice: “Are you thinking of breaking up with Philip?”

Antonia felt as if she had been punched and stared at Heather in shock: “No, of course not! Why do you ask? What makes you think that?” realizing that simply the idea of not having Philip in her life anymore made her feel almost sick. Heather gave her a long look and shrugged her shoulders.

As Heather had predicted, Philip was waiting inside the FNAC, sitting on a sofa with a stack of bought CD’s, reading a magazine, welcoming Antonia with a delighted smile, a very possessive hug and a loudly growling stomach. “Here you go: a banana, a small box of rosemary crackers and a bottle of water to tide you over. I’m not listening to that stomach growl all the way out to Dunkerque where we’re going for fish dinner, to test a new restaurant.”

“Is is honestly okay for you and Heather if I come along? Don’t want to disturb your girl’s day anymore; don’t really need a big dinner.”

“Yes you do. Since you’re here, you’re naturally coming along. Now please chéri, help us with these overfilled shopping carts.”

Heather’s words often rang uncomfortably in Antonia’s mind over the next days as she was preparing Philip’s birthday. Since the day was an inconvenient Thursday and she had had the uncomfortable premonition it might be a potential emotional minefield for him, she had very carefully, but openly asked. As expected, the idea of a birthday party got abject horror as a response, his official excuse being that it was one of the Thursdays on which he was in Antwerp to play with Wouter’s small band. Highly approving of Philip having a life apart from her and work, she had in the end convinced him of a small birthday menu à deux at home on the eve with champagne and presents at midnight.

Decorating the table with candles and flowers, Antonia once again was guiltily aware that she had more or less lied to Heather regarding the state of play with Philip and her relationship. After she had given respectively translated the information and therapy suggestions from Traudl to him in Brussels on returning from Florida, he had taken them, said he would look into it – and they had never spoken of it again. Despite not knowing any details, she was pretty certain he was not doing any serious program or therapy, but was attempting to remedy things on his own, a bit with her help. He was obviously trying to eat lightly; with her doing her best to cook tasty, balanced, lean cuisine of which he would eat up whichever decent portions she set in front of him fearing these were the only real meals he was allowing himself. He had gotten a little better at keeping arrangements and coming over, though now she understood why he refused to shop, or he did not like having her in his depressing apartment – and there was the awful new addition of his evading her bed.

Nevertheless, she postponed making a serious effort of talking to him about the issue repeatedly, afraid of his hurt, distressed or aggressive reaction. On their anniversary weekend in Rome it had been on the tip of her tongue a few times, hoping the happy, relaxed atmosphere might help – but seeing him as content as never before, she didn’t bring it over herself to burden him with uncomfortable questions. And today on his birthday was just as awful an idea.

“No, Chopin, no! Bad kitty – down!” Antonia scolded him since he tried to reach up to the kitchen counter where she was preparing rainbow trout stuffed with ginger and spring onions foil baked in sherry-soy sauce vinaigrette as a main course with mixed rice and winter greens on the side. “This is Master Philip’s birthday fish – if you are a good kitty, he will certainly give you some to taste.”

Chopin retreated into the hallway and sat by the door, sticking only his head into the kitchen to critically monitor the events. As Philip came, he haughtily stalked past him into Antonia’s bedroom to hop on the bed and half drape himself over Mère Bear.

“You disloyal bastard of a cat,” Philip kissed Antonia in greeting before going over to pull Chopin off the bed, bundle him under his arm and take him over to the living room where he settled on the couch, energetically massaging his ears. “Forsaking me for home cooked fish dishes and lots of cozy bear friends to hang around with, probably being spoiled silly by Antonia.”

“Meowmmmph”, Chopin let out before pleasurably purring as Philip rubbed his cheeks. “Don’t scold him Philip; he’s been a very good kitty. How about a sherry for you as an aperitif? And white wine for dinner? I have an interesting new S. Cristina Lugana from Lake Garda.”

“Since its birthday eve dinner, I guess both are fine.”

As a starter Antonia had prepared stuffed, baked artichokes on colored winter salads, followed by the rainbow trout of which Chopin did get his taste. Philip had asked for the dessert birthday cake at midnight, so they were comfortably lounging on the couch, cuddling and kissing a bit as the time drew close.

“Toni…ummm… you know birthdays….” Philip’s fingers played along her neck, through her hair.

“What about birthdays?”

“Ummm….well.. aren’t you supposed to have birthday resolutions?”

“Birthday resolutions? Yeah, some people have them, some don’t. I guess it’s optional. Are you thinking of one… or several?”

“Could … you think, maybe as my birthday resolution… how about…. well, shouldn’t I have that surgery done we talked about in Florida?” Philip garbled quickly, hiding his face in her shoulder.

Instinctively pulling him tighter, Antonia let out a small moan: “Cheri, you shouldn’t torture yourself on your birthday! That’s asking for bad luck. We can talk about it some other day. Look –only 11 more minutes to open the Prosecco!”

“But it’s at least an occasion,” Philip mumbled. “Imagine … next year this time… you’d have a normal guy sitting here….”

“I have a wonderful guy sitting here right now, that’s all I need and want.” Antonia gave him an affirmative, tender kiss. “I’ve noticed you’re trying very hard to eat healthy, and I think you’re doing a pretty good job.”

“Do you think so? I don’t really ….”

“At any rate, I still don’t think surgery is a solution. All in all we have a good life Philip, try to see it as what it is – instead of trying to fulfill abstract social standards that don’t fit. Maybe you could try one of those therapy programs Traudl suggested. Things might be easier for you if you worked seriously on a more realistic, relaxed approach to yourself.”

“All that talking, all that therapy stuff … I can’t, how should it work for me, it’s hopeless….will not get me anywhere…”

“Cheri, two things: First – only surgeons have the naïve conviction that it’s enough to cut something up to fix it. Even with a broken bone, there’s more to it than just operating on it – you need to stick to a rehab program, physical therapy and the like to really get well again. Second – if you don’t feel like a classic therapy, why don’t you ask Heather, she knows a lot from personal experience, knows how much patience one needs to come to terms with …”

“Okay, just so you know, I’m still willing to try surgery… now it’s almost midnight, you can get the Prosecco…”

Antonia opened the Prosecco and lit the candles around the Bellini tarte she had made in her heart-shaped cake pan, setting it in front of Philip: “I’ll spare you a totally off key birthday song – a very happy birthday chéri! I think I’m better at expressing how I feel like this ….” leaning in for a long, loving kiss.

“Mmmh… best birthday song ever,” Philip murmured, letting her feed him a bite of Bellini tarte. “Mmmh… fabulous, best birthday cake ever, you made this last summer, too, didn’t you?”

“Yes I did. I remembered you really liked it. The taste is only from the combination of fruit and alcohol, so it’s not very rich. It was quite a hunt to get the right peaches this time of year….”

“Mmmmh … second piece …. second kiss.”

“You stay here with Bellini and Chopin while I get your actual birthday present,” Antonia went over to her study, unlocked the door and pushed a large bicycle into the living room: “Happy birthday, bonne anniversaire!” only to see Philip’s eyes go wide in horror.

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“It’s my birthday present – it’s a bicycle, a really good one, model is called ‘Utopia’, it should have the right measurements for you.”
“How could you…!”

“You don’t have a bike, do you? So this is a new good one, you need one here in Belgium, we can go biking in the summer, along the canals, the coast….”

Philip lurched up spilling his glass of Prosecco, shaking his head violently: “How dare you … a bicycle …. I can’t …. never again … oh f***…. good night, thank you for dinner … a bl*** f***ing bike….” more or less running out of the room. Antonia stared after him helplessly, the familiar cold lump of lead spreading in the pit of her stomach.

Chopin woke up, stretched himself, looked after Philip and let out a very disapproving ‘meeeeoooow’. “You’re absolutely right, my dear fluffy, that is no way to behave on receiving a birthday present.” Antonia pulled him into her lap, absentmindedly petting him, once again at a loss for thoughts or words.

It took her sometime to pull herself together before she started clearing everything up and packing the leftovers into the refrigerator. She had just gone to bed, Chopin curled up against her backside as she received a text: ‘So sorry – forgive me – P

The actual evening of Philip’s birthday Antonia spent on her sofa trying to eat a few leftovers but not being able to stomach them, she made herself a big pot of hot chocolate instead. Definitely having already congratulated him, she did not feel obliged to call him. On getting home, she had hauled the bike down to her basement with difficulty, to literally get it out of sight and had gone to her water-aerobics class to unwind with some violent splashing around. Now Chopin sat in her lap purring contentedly: “Hmmmh, you darling fuzz ball, you’re the uncomplicated Watherwood male, maybe I should stick to a relationship with you?” at which the cat let out a very decided ‘meow’ with a vain flick of his head, making Antonia smile: “You have no confidence issues whatsoever, do you? You know you’re big and fluffy and cute - and proud of it, show it off at every opportunity, know nobody can resist petting you. Why can’t your master be only a little bit like you?”

To get her mind on other things, she started reading her new French novel and was already at the second chapter, as the phone rang. “Allo?”

C’est moi,” Philip’s voice was thick and tired. “Shit Toni, don’t know what to say … just got back from Antwerp … played some music with the guys, they got me a few rounds of drinks for my birthday…

“Well, happy to hear you at least had a little impromptu birthday party…” Antonia had trouble keeping the edge out of her voice.

I’m so sorry I ran out last night, I overreacted again. Ruining birthdays seems to be a great talent of mine …. probably because my own always were disaster,” he sighed audibly, interrupting her attempt at a soothing ‘It’s okay’ directly to continue muttering: “At home I had to get on the scale every birthday morning, was only allowed to celebrate if the numbers weren’t … almost never had a birthday party, later at boarding school I didn’t even register for having one anymore.”

“It’s okay,” appalled to speechlessness again, Antonia only reiterated the stupid, meaningless phrase once more to her own dismay.

No, it isn’t. You had such a nice dinner for me and I ruined it, I apologize.

“Thank you for being so honest and telling me this,” sensing that he must have had a significant amount to drink before he reached this level of candor. “I’m not angry, more sad, for you and a bit for me. Now rest, sleep tight, maybe we can make up for it on the weekend. Next time we should talk more before a birthday what would be best for both of us. Bonne nuit.”

Shaken by his story, Antonia pulled Chopin close for some warmth to control her shivers as the phone rang again five minutes later. “Moi again. I miss you and Chopin, could you maybe come over now? I know it’s late,… please?

“It’s 11:30, that’s really late….”

Please, I miss both of you so much … it’s still my birthday…

“Oh alright, I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she didn’t have the heart to say no to him after what he had just told her. Stuffing a protesting Chopin into his carrier before he knew what was happening, she drove to Evere to be almost crushed by Philip’s embrace, who smelled of smoke and wine.

As Chopin’s angry meowing reached siren volume, she pulled back. “As much as we appreciate you’re so happy to see us, Chopin thinks you should let us in all the way, he highly disapproves of sitting on the cold floor in the draft.”

Philip picked up the carrier and tried to let out Chopin in the living room, but he dug his hind paws into the netting refusing to budge. “Ever since he has come to know your place, he highly disapproves of my flat in general.”

“Umm, there is no place here for all three of us to sit comfortably, except your bed. I’m sorry too. I should’ve asked what you want before getting the wrong present for you. Probably a comfy couch for here would’ve been a better idea. I’ll go return the bike, if you want we can hunt for a nice couch you like instead.”

“No, it probably was a good idea. It’s my problem,” Philip sighed. “The other guys tonight said it was a great present, they were envious, said they never got such good gifts from their girlfriends. Sorry I somehow-well I overreacted..”

“Don’t worry Philip. It would honestly be fine with me if we exchanged the present, think about it. It’s cold, it’s late –why don’t we go to bed directly, to cuddle a bit?” she gave him a soft kiss.

Chopin grudgingly was willing to settle on Philip’s bed, who gently undressed Antonia while she pulled off his clothes before they huddled together on the rather narrow bed. She was already slowly drifting off to sleep in the drowsy warmth as he mumbled: “It’s not your fault, it’s mine. You couldn’t know, I’ll try to explain… don’t want you to think…”

“Cheri, it’s really okay. You don’t need to explain anything if you don’t want to. I want you to be happy with, to fully enjoy my first birthday present to you, that’s all. So we can go exchange it next weekend if you like.”

“No, you’re right, all the guys also said I need a bike here, everyone has at least one,” he clasped her very tight, nuzzling her breasts. “Well .. only.. my last bike ride was with Annette …. Jean-Luc told you about her, didn’t he?”

“A little,” Antonia murmured, tensing up.

“We wanted to bike out to Waterloo, with people from her music class…,” Philip took a deep breath; as he didn’t continue, she gently stroked his soft cheek and neck, until he rattled off: “To make a long story short, my bike frame collapsed and some spokes broke. Raphael said … well, he and everybody else laughed at me. I walked off; never saw any of them again. That’s where this scar is from,” indicating at a small line running along the inside of his left arm on both sides of his elbow, shuddering. “Didn’t notice I was so badly cut until a lady on the train back pointed out I was bleeding all over the place. Shit, I need a drink now.”

“No you don’t, you need a kiss, my pauvre chéri. First here…” Antonia kissed along the fine line of his scar, lightly sucking the tender flesh, moving up to his lips, kissing them reverently. “now here. Thank you so much for telling me, it means very much to me, I know how hard it is for you. Had I known, I’d never have gotten you such an insensitive present… we’ll definitely trade it in for…”

Philip stopped her flow of words with a surprisingly energetic kiss. “No, we will not. You meant so well, you couldn’t know. And I know it will not happen again with your bike – Bart told me so.”

“Who’s Bart? How can he know?”

“Ummm… from some registration form, Wouter knows my birthday. So they had a small party prepared this evening along with our regular band practice, about the last thing I wanted. They all asked about your present, so I had to tell. Bart, well he runs the fashion café where we rehearse in the back room, sometimes plays the sax. He’s ummm.., he’s sort of like me…,” dismissively gesturing at his belly, “so he asked more in detail. He said you had chosen the best bike possible, ‘Utopia’ is the model for us big blokes, I’d really enjoy it. He and the others all want to meet you, they’re sort of jealous because Wouter knows you. Would you come to one of our public sessions?”

“Of course I will. I’d love to. Still, I don’t want to impose anything on you with …”

“Toni, it’s a lovely present, you wanted only the best. I always liked to bike very much. Back at boarding school it was one of the few things I was allowed to do on my own. Or in Bruges, at College d’Europe. With a good bike, with you, it’ll probably be alright again. I promise I’ll try, maybe sometime this summer.”

Antonia kissed him again suddenly giggling. “Always remember – at Waterloo, in the end, you Brits won big time … with the support of us Prussians.”
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:21 AM   #22
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Sitting at her desk at EAFR in her dark office, only the small desk light on, Antonia had her head buried in her hands, groaning to herself. The meeting with her board to pass the new annual budget had been a disaster. It looked like their new accountant had made some major formal and financial mistakes she had not discovered in looking through it – but some members of the board had, including Reg Harrington, whose cutting remarks still stung in her mind.

Looks like this time our SecGen is not even capable of decent fraud” and “being able to assess the work of your subordinates is the most basic skill required” – had made her smart especially since she was keenly aware she was not able to answer their questions competently. For the first time she had a real sense of how it must have felt for Philip to discuss fashion and sizing matters in a meeting, but that did not help much. Sensing her own deficits and mistakes in the process, she had refrained from pointing out that the new accountant had been selected based on the recommendation of the auditor Harrington had chosen. Now she had the problem of coming up with a new budget without a competent accountant, not knowing where the flaws were herself to try to get out prove wrong the typical stereotype of the female executive who naturally knows nothing about numbers.

Her phone rang. “Toni chérie, are you still up in the office, I’m down here waiting.

“Sorry Philip, I can’t come, I still have to work on this thing here.”

Well okay, I’ll come up then, no use waiting here in the rain.” Before she could protest, he had hung up and rung the door bell. Knowing it was better to tell him personally to go home since it would take too long, she let him in.

“Nice office,” Philip stated looking around.

“It’s the only bright point in the day that you finally came to see my office,” Antonia mumbled, leaning against him tiredly.

He gulped a bit and then looked at her desk. “Budget problems again? Can I help you with that?”

“I hate to say it, but I probably will have to accept your help with it again,” she groaned. “I don’t know anyone better, but I don’t want to burden you.”

“Stop being ridiculous, that’s what I’m there for.” Philip picked up the papers and scanned over them. “Wow, your new accountant is a bl***y idiot! You should’ve shown me this before you tried to represent, it’s god awfully unprofessional!”

“Thanks for letting me know you think I’m a professional failure!”

“Toni, don’t be absurd! You should simply ask for professional help in the fields you are not so good at before making and publicizing such mistakes.”

“Well who’s talking – Mr. I’m-so-perfect-at-realizing-where-I-need-help-and-accepting it!” she snapped at him, vaguely noticing she was venting her disappointment in herself on him unjustified.

Philip turned bright pink and did not meet her eye any more, only to collect the papers and stuff them into his briefcase. “Come on, let’s go, maybe we can look through this better in your sitting room in peace with a good red wine.”

“Only if you promise to sleep over, spend all night in my bed!” Antonia looked at him with a challenging glint in her eye.

“Umm …well…think it’s better, do this …Chopin and my piano… send it back … ready sometime..,” Philip muttered, hurrying out before she could say another word.

As she groggily boarded the Thalys to Paris the next morning for three days of fashion shows, shivering with cold, Antonia was full of remorse, even the nicely served complimentary breakfast selection in first class with fresh fruit and croissants as well as newspapers in six languages couldn’t cheer her up. She felt guilty for having seriously hurt Philip last night, for having been unfair. In addition she was angry at herself for her presumptuous belief she could assess the budget work of an accountant, for her unprofessional obstinacy at not getting competent advice and for making an archetypical female fool of herself in front of her board.

To at least start coming to terms with her failure, she sent Philip a SMS: “Miss you so much, love you, so sorry I was so mean to you yesterday. Thank you for always helping incompetent me out with financial stuff. Hope to hold you asap.

Philip’s response came by e-mail late that evening together with the revised budget: “Miss you too! Come to me earlier next time in finance matters. Fire your accountant, I’ll take a look around & write you a short list of good candidates. Kiss you asap.”

His words together with the option of sending her board the revision so quickly calmed Antonia’s nerves and let her half way enjoy the shows despite awfully wet and cold weather. Getting ready on her third evening for the reception of the French Haute Couture institute, her mobile rang: “Bon soir chéri, grande surprise – I’m here in Paris too, out at CDG – flight back from Oslo was re-routed courtesy of Belgian air traffic controller strike! Where are you?

“Getting ready to go to a reception. Can you come into town? Can we meet?”

It’ll take a while till I’m in, but I can pick you up there – text me the address.”

Giddy with happy anticipation, Antonia almost skipped down to the Musée de la Monnaie where the reception was being held, slipped her high heels on there and went through the reception genuinely beaming at everyone, impatiently checking her mobile every few minutes in case she might have missed Philip’s call or text.

As the text came, she grabbed her coat and ran out, to be swept in the big teddy bear cuddle she yearned for. “I’m so so happy you’re here. Hooray for air traffic controllers on strike!”

Philip only gave her a deep, tender kiss and held her close wordlessly before asking after a long silence: “What now?”

“We can go somewhere – it’s a bit late for dinner, but we can get you a bite to eat at some bistro…”

“No, I’m fine; they served us all kinds of food to make up for the re-routing of the flight. Somewhere near here there’s supposed to be a Brazilian bar with good live music … how about that?”

“Lovely. What’s the address?

“Rue Grégoire de Tours, it says in Wouter’s text.”

“Oh, I know where that is, it’s not far at all. Just let me put on my walking shoes, these high heels are not made for Paris walking distances.” Balancing herself on his protruding broad belly, cherishing the feeling of comfort it gave her, Antonia quickly changed shoes before they set out.

Wouter’s recommendation turned out to be a good one and they were laughing and tipsy as they left the bar at closing at 3 o’clock in the morning after many fruity drinks and a lot of salsa dancing. Wrapping her tightly in his arm, Philip said: “I’ll walk you up to your hotel, so you get there safely. I can take a taxi to mine from there; it’s on the other side of the Seine.”

“You have your own hotel room here?” Antonia looked at Philip in disbelief, who blushed, nodded and looked at her uncertainly from under lowered lashes. “Is there still the option of you spending it in mine? After all that dancing together, I don’t feel I can let go of you just yet!”

A true smile with dimples showing, a nod and a kiss was Philip’s response.

The next morning Antonia set down the breakfast tray on their bed, waking Philip by holding a buttery smelling warm croissant under his nose. Starting to spread some baguette, she couldn’t help asking: “Philip- why is everything with us so much easier, less complicated when we are travelling together than when we are at home in Brussels? You feel that too, don’t you?”

“Ughugh,” Philip took a long sip of coffee and a bite of his croissant. “You’re right, but I don’t know why.”

“Let’s try to figure out what it is, yes? So we can make it work at home too, so we have a better, happier time together.”

“If I was Philip, I’d ravish you on the spot in that dress,” Heather teased, looking at Antonia in admiration as she hooked up the back of her complicated dress. “As far as my limited fashion sense can tell, it’s fabulous with the jewelry he gave you.”

“I think so too – I’m a big fan of monochrome outfits, with different shades and textures in one color. Remembering Gaultier has done a number of interesting pieces in all hues of silver I hunted down this vintage one in all the Parisian off-season stores I know of. “Antonia turned in front of the mirror, rather pleased with what she saw. The antique silver dress beautifully reflected the pearls, the complicated bodice, half corset, half Grecian wrap, showed a lot of cleavage and her classic up do gave the entire ensemble a formal touch. The only splash of color she allowed herself was a small dull-matt fuchsia clutch with matching lipstick. “Okay, I’m ready – now Philip can come!”

“Well, I’ll run then. Doing a girls outing to the hair dressers together was a good idea – talking while being pampered, we should do that more often.”

“Definitely, thanks Heather for helping me into this hellishly complicated dress!”

As the minutes passed and it was only five more until the scheduled time for the transfer shuttle to the annual reception of the Fashion Department of the Belgian Royal Academy of the Arts in Antwerp and Philip had not yet arrived, Antonia started getting nervous and tried to call him, only to get voice mail. She left him a message, sent a text, no response. The well-known icy dread once again started emanating from her abdomen as she saw the shuttle pull up in front of her house, making her have to leave.

On the entire drive to Antwerp, she hoped against hope Philip would call or meet her there, had maybe gone with Saskia but as she arrived, he of course was nowhere in sight.
The first person she ran into was Wouter Dehaenen, who cheek kissed her warmly: “Antonia you look ravissante, way too sexy for a royal reception! Where’s Philip? What am I supposed to do in case our piano player passes out again? Next year we’re actually thinking of having our band play here at this event, by then we should have enough practice.”

“Philip’s running a bit late for business reasons, I’ll tell him to meet up with you if he still makes it,” Antonia’s smile was slightly forced and she was grateful as someone else immediately addressed Wouter.

The next half hour before the fashion show was not too bad since many professional acquaintances greeted her in her function as EAFR’s Secretary General, none of them aware of Philip or his whereabouts.

Settling on her reserved seat for the fashion show, she watched it in a daze, an increasing mental numbness spreading through her. She hoped she could get away quickly with maybe two glasses of champagne and a minimum of honneurs, taking the first shuttle back. The plan was halfway working; she was already on her way out as she ran into a beaming, pink-cheeked Saskia accompanied by Arthur Trapper. “Here you are, I’ve been looking for you all evening! What a fantastic dress! Vintage Gaultier, isn’t it, maybe something like 1999? Where’s Philip?”

“Thank you Saskia, you look great too – ultramarine is the color with your blond hair. It’s wonderful to see you’re having such a good time.”

“Everything is perfect! Guess what, the royal academy is doing a special class and exhibit with female designers only – and I’m allowed to do one part on adapting haute couture trends to main street fashion! It was so stupid of me never to go to these events, I missed so much!”

“That’s the spirit. Now if you will excuse me, I still have to check on…”

“But where’s Philip?”

“Ummm, he couldn’t make it, was detained by some work related problem,” Antonia prayed they wouldn’t ask more questions, but no such luck.

Arthur’s eyebrows immediately furrowed. “Oh dear, hopefully no more problems with that Chinese order. Shall I call him? Or drive back to the office?”

“No Arthur, have a nice evening. Philip said he’d manage, said to tell you not to worry and enjoy your evening if he couldn’t come.” Antonia put as much sincerity in her voice as possible. “Excuse me now please; there is a member of the French trade association I still need to talk to.”

As she tugged hard to open the rickety foldable lattice closing the ancient elevator strongly resembling a chicken basket in her apartment house to reach her door, Antonia mind went blank as she saw Philip sitting on the steps. He looked weary and apprehensive, a half empty bottle of red wine next to him.

“Good night Philip, I’m exhausted. I need time alone, please go home.”

“Toni, let me explain, I’m awfully sorry.”

Unlocking the door, Antonia shook her head. “Please, I can’t see you now.”
But with a quick move, Philip pushed his broad frame into the closing door. “Give me a chance to explain. I didn’t mean to…”

“Which convincing explanation might there be? You’re here now, so you’re not on your deathbed. I can’t think of one plausible reason why you couldn’t have been here five hours ago to go to the Antwerp reception with me.”

Antonia sighed and went into her bedroom, slipping out of her strappy sandals, putting the clutch on her dresser and taking off the jewelry to put it next to it. Philip had followed her and now wrapped his arm around her. “Don’t touch me. If you have something to say, do it at two arm lengths. You can’t cuddle everything away.”

Swallowing visibly, letting his arms hang, Philip kept his distance. “I was getting ready, then, well then … my dinner jacket didn’t fit!” he finally blurted.

“What? That’s your reason for not coming, for standing me up? Your dinner jacket didn’t fit? It didn’t fit last year either, and you looked great in your black suit! I can’t believe it! Even by your standard’s that’s the lamest, most ridiculous excuse I’ve ever heard! Why on earth am I putting up with this kind of crap?”

“It’s not like that!” Philip had turned dark red, looking mortified. “I wanted to surprise you…”

“Standing me up unfortunately no longer is a real surprise, Mr. Watherwood!”

“No, not that way. I mean by fitting into my dinner jacket, I wanted to surprise you, look good for you, make it better than last year – you look so beautiful tonight, next to you I’m ….,” his green eyes pleading.

“The best surprise would’ve been if you’d told me I look beautiful on coming here to pick me up so we could go together! We had such a wonderful time last year, you looked so good with the specially made shirt. Who cares about a stupid tux?”

“I had hoped to show you by fitting back into my dinner jacket that I was somehow improving, my efforts were working…. Do you know how awful it feels if something doesn’t fit, when you have to go an event, show yourself there, have people scrutinize you?” Philip muttered glumly.

Antonia exhaled, sighed then took a deep breath before asking very quietly: “Have you ever thought about how awful it might feel to be dressed up to the nines in a dress you spent a long time looking for to match the jewelry given to you by the man you love – and then he doesn’t come, with no word, no real reason? Instead you have to go to the biggest event of the year alone – and even lie to others about your man’s whereabouts, make up excuses for him?”

“Shit no, I’ve never thought about that!” Philip looked truly stricken. “I’m sorry; I didn’t want you to feel bad. But I was so inadequate again not fitting, I couldn’t..”

“For chrissake Philip, we all feel inadequate sometimes, not up to facing a situation! Grow up! You’re no longer fifteen; you have to be able to get over that. You’re not the only one with insecurities and sensitivities! Other people have them too, I have some too! Can you imagine that it hurts me if I’m constantly left in the dark, or waiting? That makes me feel insufficient, worthless – not like an honestly cared for girlfriend?”

“But I never want to hurt you! I love you so much, please believe me,” his voice was plaintive by now.

“That’s not the point,” Antonia sank down on her bed in exhaustion. “I believe you that you love me. But nursing your self-loathing seems to be more important to you than your love for me most of the time. Love is not enough; it needs a few more things like a certain amount of trust, commitment, reliability, patience, compromise to make a relationship work. I’ve tried my best with you, but it’s hopeless. You’re somehow not willing or able to match my attempts at patience and compromise with more trust or reliability on your part.”

“I’m honestly trying! You’ve helped me so much. I lost 4 kgs since I was in Alpsee, I know it’s very little, but it’s better than I’ve done on my own in a long time. We still have the option of surgery I’ll do that to make things work….”

“For pity’s sake Philip, you don’t even try to get it, do you? This is not about your weight! I don’t give a damn whether you lose or gain 4 or 40 kilograms! I can’t think of anything less important to make our relationship work than your weight! You know I love you just the way you are! I wouldn’t even care if you gained 40 kilograms as long as you were finally happy and content with yourself! Are you so simplistic to think weight loss surgery will miraculously make you satisfied and confident? If you don’t have food anymore as consolation, what would it be instead – maybe drink? With your attitude to yourself, you’ll flunk any serious psychological assessment done before ethically sound bariatric surgery! I’ve run out of patience and understanding for dealing with your negative self-obsessions, I give up! Go find yourself someone a hell of a lot more patient than me!” she started to sob struggling with unhooking her dress in the back.

“You can’t be serious? Here let me do that,” Philip had helpless shock in his glance, quickly unhooking and untangling Antonia’s dress strap, lightly running his practiced fingers over her back, up to the nape of her neck, pressing gently. He gingerly kissed her shoulders, his belly fully touching her bare back.

Antonia let out a small groan. “Don’t do that … thank you,” to pull the dress over her head and go into the bathroom.
As she came back out in her bathrobe, her hair down, running a large comb through it, Philip was sitting on her bed. “What’re you doing there- I thought you hate my bed? Go home, please will you! I’m beyond worn out.”

“Come here, you’re so tired…,” he pulled her down into his lap, his fingers expertly massaging her shoulders and the back of her neck. “Lie down,” as he turned her onto her stomach, pulling her bath-robe off.

She tried to raise herself, but he had already positioned himself behind her, his bulk lightly pinning down her backside as he in delicious firm slow motion kneaded up her back. “Stop it – I want you to go…”

“Shhh, it’s okay. Relaxing you a little is the least I can try doing, I’m so sorry about today,” he continued down her sides in circular motions, ending by pressing her buttocks against each other rhythmically. His warm body and talented hands had Antonia quickly melting physically despite the voice in her head which kept telling her to keep her cool and kick him out. As he massaged her buttocks, moving down to the back of her thighs, the tingles between them started getting insistent, throbbing, begging for his fingers or other parts of him to move in.

“Philip, don’t … I don’t want…” she turned on her back squirming only to feel the weight of his belly sink on hers as he bent done and started kissing and kneading her breasts, making her insides clench in anticipation. His lips wandered down to her stomach, while his fingers pranced along her groin, squeezing her pubic mound in titillating frequency, until she moaned and arched herself up, without means of controlling her excited wetness. “Stop, why … aughh,” a new lusty jolt in her privates left her inarticulate pushing herself closer into his competently burrowing fingers. As he leaned over her, she couldn’t help herself but went in for a hungry kiss, her hands frantically rubbing along his fleshy sides.

Feeling the eager anticipatory ache of her insides heighten sheer unbearably, all the while Philip kept teasing her, she grunted: “Now you’ve gotten me so far … uahh … get into me!”

“No, it’s okay… better now?” he breathed heavily against her breasts.

“Don’t act f***ing considerate … you’ve got me where you want me again, so do it right…,” Antonia snapped in frustration, tugging at his belt under the bulge of his stomach. Holding her tight with one arm, kissing her intensely, he used his other hand to alternately continue playing with her while undoing his pants, his erection popping out with a sense of urgency. But he deliberately measured his moves, pushing her thighs apart, pulling her onto him carefully.

“This okay for you?” he growled gently, pushing himself in deeply with exquisite timing.

“Mmmhmmmh,” she concentrated on matching his pace, her lingering resentment fueling her mind with an evil fantasy: Caressing his round, soft belly, she imagined what it would be like to feed him to bursting while he played with her – chicken drumsticks, pesto stuffed gnocchi, spicy Turkish köfte, succulent Chaource cheese on baguette, rich crème brulée, chocolaty éclairs – to them force him to get on the scale, show her how fat he really was and poke his stuffed gut making fun of him. She was dimly aware she was probably running his worst nightmare through her mind, but that only turned her on all the more, making her come twice in an ecstatic squeal.

With a deep sigh, she curled into his cozy flesh, only to hear his questioning: “Hmmmh….okay?”

Squinting up into his face, she saw real fear in his eyes. Not yet wanting to put him at ease, disturbed that his artful approach to physical intimacy, the heavy powerful abundance of his body were so irresistible for her, she didn’t say anything, rested her head back on his belly and for once was grateful she perceived the world around her just as a dim, darkly colored blur. Philip started carefully stroking her, finally clearing his throat to whisper: “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”

Lying there with a feeling of profound bodily pleasure, Antonia ruminated why her state of mind was more one of sadness and defeat –sadness because it looked like sex was the only 100% reliable element in their relationship and her purposes had once again been defeated by her inability to resist him.

“Toni… is everything okay?” he asked again, now with a quaver of uneasiness.

“Ummhummmh,” she nodded, before looking at him: “Isn’t this about the time you normally leave my bed, move over to the study sofa?” unable to keep the sarcastic edge out of her voice.

Blushing so strongly even she could see it, he shifted very uncomfortably a few times before softy answering: “If you prefer, I’ll stay right here as your pillow. I’ll do anything you ask me to.”

“Pillow isn’t a bad idea,” Antonia acquiesced, settling herself around him, his warmth, regular breathing and her own limp satisfaction quickly letting her doze off.

Awaking sometime in the early morning hours feeling cold and alone, she grunted trying to wrap herself into her featherbed as he settled back next to her. “I’m here, snuggle up if you want to, I’ll do anything for you, I need you so much…” she heard him murmur from somewhere far away, as he placed little kisses on her face. She pressed herself into his bulk, her hand around his middle, falling asleep again firmly hanging on to one of his love handles.

The loud chiming of the eleven o’clock Sunday bells woke Antonia with a start the next morning, to find her head on Mère Bear, who was holding a note in her thick white, paws: “Please forgive me. Need to pick up Chinese delegation from airport. Could we maybe talk late tonight?

Shaking herself to try to clear her foggy mind, she put on her bathrobe and glasses and stumbled into her kitchen to make coffee. As she tried to pour the coffee into her mug, she let it slip, it crashing down to the floor into over a dozen pieces. Looking at it, she saw it had been her favorite bear mug, Heather’s first present to her, a big cuddly bear holding a little bear protectively in his paws, the image now broken in two. Sliding down between the shards, Antonia broke into gulping sobs, making it difficult to breathe, tears of hurt, disappointment, hopelessness and frustration, constantly swallowed over the past weeks, streaming over her cheeks.

Not aware how long it took her to get up, she did pour herself a new cup of coffee and hurriedly took it over to her study. Rummaging through her desk, she found the print-out of her Philip&Antonia Ltd. business plan. Grabbing a red ink pen, she skimmed through it, crossing out things that had not worked, red flagging missed business opportunities, creating a negative cash flow for herself before finishing it off with two posts it on the first page. One read: Antonia files for bankruptcy - patience assets insolvent – not able to run this business under chapter 11. Still- do not regret giving it a try, more luck with you next ventures. The other said: Do not call me, text me, e-mail me, come near me or try to get in contact with me any other way. Leave me alone for the time being – I will inform you when I can face casual contact again.

Writing this was difficult since she had trouble seeing through her tears. As soon as she finished, Antonia put it into an envelope, called Brussels Airlines to reschedule her flight to Munich, planned for Tuesday’s business trip, showered, packed her bag and dropped the envelope into Philip’s mailbox on the way to the airport, hurrying like crazy to stop from thinking.
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:25 AM   #23
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Epilogue - Part 15 - Plan A

“Open up, here comes a bite of one of the best dark chocolate cakes on planet earth, maybe even in this galaxy,” Antonia steered a spoon of “Les Brigittines” signature dessert towards Matteo’s plump lips, who willingly opened his mouth and closed his eyes with a slight moan of pleasure.

Si perfetto, just as fantastico as I remember it! Having lived in Belgium, I confess chocolate is the one weak point in Italian cuisine,” Matteo smiled at Antonia, who tilted her head thoughtfully: “In general you’re right, apart from ice cream. As you know, I’m convinced Tre Scalini’s “Tartuffo con panna” is among the top 10 chocolate things in the world. It’s so good to have you here again!” She leaned against him on the dark wooden bench fondly patting his enormous belly, which had moved somewhat closer to his knees since she had last seen him, while he laid his arm protectively around her.

Matteo had been Antonia’s first boyfriend when she came to Brussels – they had had a two year wonderful uncomplicated affair, both being new in town, he on a temporary posting from his regional administration in Emilia Romagna, enjoyed fine food, fun and EU politics together. With their very different plans in life, it had been clear that they would part ways again but had stayed good friends after he returned to Italy to eventually marry his high school sweetheart. Now he was back in town on a two week assignment for the Committee of Regions; Antonia was grateful to have him around to talk to, cook for, snuggle against for warmth –finding comfort in his light-hearted outlook on life and sympathetic ear.

In the past weeks she had made every effort to block Philip out of her life: She had been on business trips as much as possible, had her calls at EAFR screened, no longer took calls without caller ID, deleted Philip’s texts and e-mails instantly, aggressively rejected all attempts of Jan, Heather and even Jean-Luc to speak to her about him, even though they all tried extensively. Keeping as busy as she could, the main result of this was she had the constant uncomfortable feeling of having a festering hole in some part of her body that ached with longing every time she got too close to it.

She continued feeding Matteo the dark chocolate cake, now and then pinching his abundant flesh while he related in comic length the problems the Catalan regional radicals were causing, until he suddenly interrupted himself: “Pardon monsieur vous désirez?

Antonia turned – only to look up into Philip’s plump face, scowling at them. The sad yet angry expression in his green eyes sent a painful sting of guilt through her. “Good evening Antonia how are you?”

“Good evening Philip.” Antonia sighed. “May I introduce: Philip Watherwood, CEO ‘signC’ Europe here in Brussels - Matteo Bertinotti, Regione Emilia Romagna.”

Matteo looked up in keen interest, scrutinized Philip critically, who looked very uncomfortable half bulging out of one of his biggest suits, telling Antonia he had gained weight: “Ah, the Englishman who was so hard on carissima Antonia here!”

Per favore Matteo lascìa!” Antonia felt her face grow hot.

But Matteo continued, shaking his head: “The problem with you English, you don’t know what’s good in life – food, drink, style, women. You find a wonderful woman like Antonia- but you’re too stupid to see what a ‘tesoro’ you found. You do not do everything to hold her. “

“Pardon me? Stupid?” Philip bristled. “No adulterous Italian is telling me I’m stupid! You’re wearing a ring, so you’re married – who’s hurting Antonia here, leading her on?”

“Philip, apologize to Matteo this second!” Antonia said in dangerous quiet. “You’re completely misinterpreting the situation. Matteo and I are old friends. I need a true friend right now. It’s none of your business anyway!”

Philip blushed deeply, lowered his eyes mumbling: “Sorry.”

“Is there a better adjective in English than stupid for a man who will not see and take the best he could have in life?” Matteo asked.

Philip glared at him, shook his head, turned and walked away heavily.
Antonia closed her eyes, sank back against Matteo’s shoulder with a small moan, who gently stroked her hair murmuring: “Ecco- the problem in Brussels, you always meet the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The rain pattered against the window pane in dull monotony, a look outside was like a study on shades of gray. Antonia leaned her forehead against the frame, tried to convince herself to get going, at least get dressed to go out for normal staples shopping on this dreary Saturday morning. She had just answered Stefaan Pauwel’s text message, inviting her to a ‘Pankoken’ lunch in Leuven, with a polite ‘no thank you’. He had been intensely fawning over her ever since he found out about the break-up, but she had no intention of raising his hopes by letting him offer her an otherwise welcome, easy-going distraction. The awful weather was the perfect excuse to stay inside and mope around – doing nothing was what currently seemed most appealing. She keenly felt the void Philip had left in her life: Even though they never made it to a fully functional relationship he had occupied her intensely for a good year with work, emotions and worries. She missed him more than she even admitted to herself, talking to him, doing something for him, asking his opinion. And she craved his intense physical closeness, his unique aptitude at warming, calming and exciting her all at once. Now she needed to find something new, hopefully more achievable to obsess about, to get over him.

The inner door bell rang – probably her neighbor, who continuously forgot to buy her own coffee, so she grabbed her coffee tin, opened the door, only to see Philip, red in the face, breathing hard leaning against her doorframe, a large folding box in his hands.

“What are you doing here?”

“Can I come in?” Philip panted. “This box is slightly heavy! I had to carry it all the way up – your elevator broke down again.”

“If you have to. What on earth is in that box? Why are you here? I’m on my way out!” Antonia felt a strong unwillingness surge in her to re-start communication with Philip, who went into the kitchen setting the box on the table. Taking a closer look, Antonia was irritated to notice it contained a wide assortment of groceries. She stared at Philip taking off his backpack, his big belly heaving with labored breathing unpacking several “Pain Quotidien” parcels.

“Could I please have a glass of water and a cup of coffee before we start packing some things away?” he asked, not looking at her.

Mutely, Antonia handed him water and coffee to watch him gulp it down.
As he handed her a pack of French cheeses to put into the refrigerator, she shook her head: “I would like an explanation why you come here unannounced, against my explicit wish loaded with unasked for groceries before I start packing anything away.”

Philip sank heavily on a chair that creaked dangerously, hung his head with a bit longer hair, shaggy because of the humidity, fiddled with his hands, starting: “I wanted to…” before sighing deeply, shaking his head and getting back up, pulling Antonia, who went rigid, in a bear hug. He didn’t let go until Antonia said: “Philip – this does not answer my question.”

Looking at her through lowered lashes, he said quietly: “Please give me a last chance to act like a nice, normal bloke around you. There never has been anybody I wanted to be part of my life as strongly as I want you to be. I don’t want to, I don’t know how to live anymore without seeing you, talking to you, being with you, touching you, have you touch me…” ending in a helpless shrug.

“Why all of a sudden? Why do you come here like a, indeed, normal bloke on a weekend, go grocery shopping … like any regular, thoughtful guy? What did you have to drink this early in the day?” Antonia sighed, crossing her arms in front of her chest with an abrasive look, her defenses going up.

“I haven’t had a single drink since we met at ‘Les Brigittines’,” Philip’s voice was calmly determined, making Antonia exclaim in astonishment: “But that’s almost three weeks ago!”

“I had to think a few things through,” Philip eyed her from the side. “Drink isn’t my addiction, you know that. It’s food – here are 3kilos more in the past 3 weeks from compensating anxiety with too much chocolate,” sticking out his belly even further, patting it to Antonia’s intense surprise. “Want to feel how heavy it is?”

Antonia impulsively stretched out her hands, only to pull them back, clasp them behind her back in the last moment: “Oh no, you know I can’t resist, but you won’t get me that way! What did you need to think about since we had that meeting I would choose to forget?”

Philip took a deep breath folding his hands over his belly: “When I saw you with this Italian bloke having dessert in the restaurant, I was so jealous. You both seemed so happy, content, enjoying yourselves - he’s even fatter than I am. It looked so easy, I realized it could, it should be me sitting there, being fed and petted by you, not caring if everybody sees I’m a fat man who likes eating.”

“What made you realize that? Why can you suddenly talk about all of this? I’ve never heard you call yourself ‘fat’ before – you’ve only made vague references to your weight before when you were more or less drunk!”

Philip looked at her candidly: “I’m seeing that therapist you sent Saskia to for overcoming her shyness. And I met Heather and Benedict at the College of Europe Bruges Alumni event yesterday evening.”

Antonia’s eyes almost popped out of her head: “You went to Solange? Why?”

“Now that’s a surprising question,” Philip grinned at her faintly for the first time. “I thought you were convinced I need therapy badly…” making Antonia blush and not meet his eye. “Please Toni, can we put away this first – there’s Marcolini crème brulée ice cream in here.” Antonia shrugged undecidedly, packed away fruit, vegetables, a chicken, ice cream, anything he handed her.

“Would you like another coffee?” Antonia asked, pouring him one as he nodded. “We might as well go over to sit in the living room.”

Philip shuffled his feet a bit in front of the couch looking under himself: “Can you sit here next to me? It’s easier for me to explain if I don’t ….- I can’t stand the situation of someone sitting across from me, observing me, talking about personal matters, it brings back terrible memories. Please?”

Antonia sighed, settled next to him, hanging on tightly to her favorite Berlin bear coffee mug. Philip immediately wrapped his arm around her, in the process tentatively slipping it the gap of her bath robe, sliding it around her waist, brushing over her naked skin, making small shivers run down her spine.

Burying his face in her hair Philip murmured: “You understand I’m unable to talk about myself, my feelings, my weight. But I have to. Try to get one last chance. I know nobody has cared as much for me as you have – not even my own family. Nobody has ever accepted me as overweight as I am. I can’t comprehend why you do, why you even seem to like me being this … heavy. But I don’t have to understand it. It’s enough if I am simply very grateful for it. And that I in turn have to learn to live with myself so I can openly, consistently show you that you mean everything to me.”

“Why are you telling me this now? What made you go to Solange? What did Heather say? Can you imagine this is difficult for me because I’m in the process of closing the book of Philip?” Antonia sighed, yet set down her coffee mug to slip her cold hands in automatic mode under Philip’s sweater to warm them, running them under his soft belly overhang, making him inhale sharply, finally nestling them in the folds over his love-handles resting her head against his fleshy chest. Philip held her tight breathing an almost imperceptible sigh of relief.

“Seeing you and this Matteo showed me I had no more time to lose.” Philip lightly nuzzled her neck. “You might find a new guy any day, somebody who immediately recognizes that you are the best that could happen to him. Matteo calling me stupid – and being right about it was what hurt the most.”

“Stupid? It hurt you Matteo called you stupid?” Antonia sat up, incredulously.

Philip shrugged: “It sounds odd – that was the worst. Nobody has ever called me stupid. My feeling of self-worth has always been founded on my confidence in my intellectual abilities, my academic credentials – that’s my anchor. I’m used to people calling me fat, tubby, porky, lard-ass, glutton, undisciplined, repulsive, gross, whale, what have you –even though it still cuts deep into life-long wounds every time, I’m not able to brush it off. My consolation has always been that I knew I not only have a bigger belly, but also more brains. That’s what kept my head above water, so to say. Now someone shows me I’m plain stupid because I do not try to understand or make a serious effort. I went to Solange the next day after I talked to Jean-Luc.”

“Why did you talk to Jean-Luc?”

“He’s known me longer than anybody else here has. In his very discreet, reticent manner, he’s always been a good, reliable friend for me.”

“What did Jean-Luc say then?” Antonia asked as Philip didn’t continue.

“I asked him whether he too thought I was stupid.” Philip gave her half a crooked grin. “He answered that he actually thought I was unbelievably stupid – even worse that he had seriously lost respect for me. He said I hadn’t matured emotionally at all since he met me in college – and that was an extremely poor showing for someone with my intellectual potential. You know Jean-Luc’s cool, quiet voice – when he says things like that, it stings worse than if someone shouts at you. Then he asked me how I would judge him if he spent his life whining about the fact that he was short and bald and hadn’t married his wife because of that. He wouldn’t let me try to explain – he said blaming everything on my weight and the awful way my mother treated my size was slowly getting grotesque at my age. That I now was in the process of losing the love of my life, the woman with whom I could be really happy, over my obstinate refusal to develop adult coping mechanisms. It was long overdue that I came to terms with myself – and that did not mean having weight loss surgery, but developing some auto- emotional intelligence. Then he simply ended: ‘If you’ll now excuse me, I have a meeting with our CEO and head accountant,’ curtly letting me know that was all he was willing to discuss with me in private. Right afterwards I looked up Solange’s number, called her for an appointment. After all, her work with Saskia has been pretty successful- it was the best I could think of on short notice.”

Antonia was too confused to say anything, quietly rubbed his soft round stomach mound, which let out a hungry growl: “You didn’t have breakfast as usual, right? Do you…”

“Yah,… too nervous about talking to you,” Philip cut her short. “Now I want to finish what I have to say …. then it would be wonderful if we could make lunch together with some of the things I brought. I’m starved for your cooking. Afterwards I would enjoy a nap on the most comfortable bed I know, if possible with you in my arms.”

Antonia looked at him in amazement. “Okay, I know you like my cooking. I always was pretty sure you enjoyed our love-making – no matter how reluctant you were about admitting it. But from some point onward you inexplicably rejected my bed, although you had at first said how comfortable it was.”

Philip let out a small moan hiding his face in his hands: “That was because I discovered the special construction of your bed – the normal and the heavy duty frame and mattress under the joined mattress cover. I wanted to buy one for myself, because it indeed is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. I was so embarrassed when I found out what kind of set up it is.”

“But why Philip, why?” Antonia let out a groan of frustration. She pulled Philip’s hands from his face, looking him in the eyes. “It’s normal to physically need certain products, sizes, whatever. Everybody is different. Look at me, I’m almost blind without thick glasses or contacts! But why should I hate contact lenses because of that? After all, they help me. You see negative and critical things that objectively don’t even exist! My cousin and her husband, they’re 60 kg and 85 kg, they have the same bed with two different frame/ mattress sets. It’s the orthopedic concept of the bed to make everybody as comfortable as possible by taking into account even small differences in height, weight and build! I have this bed because I love having a big cuddly guy in it – and want him to feel great when being in it with me. I don’t want a 75 kg skinny herring! Why can’t you simply see it as something that’s good for you?”

Taking a deep breath, Philip cradled her close. “You couldn’t be more right. I’m trying to learn to see that. Rationally I know that, but emotionally I’m not able to relate positively or even realistically to anything that has to do with me being fat – which unfortunately is an awful lot in life. That’s the core of my problem says Solange. Do you know what she made me do? She asked me to write a list of all moments in which I had felt physically content, comfortable in my body. Only terrible episodes came to mind. So I wrote those down, try to exorcize them, talked to her the next day…” Philip paused, picked up his coffee pot to drain it.

“What did Solange do with your negative list?”

“She took only one glance tore it up and threw it away,” Philip chuckled lightly, making Antonia woozy with pleasure as she felt his abundant belly vibrate against her. “She said constantly wallowing in negative memories was not going to get me anywhere; they’re overbearing anyhow. She sat me down, prodded my memory, got me to write a positive list. What came up as the most content physical moment in my life, when I had felt happiest with myself and my body?” looking Antonia deeply in the eye until she shrugged her shoulders: “No idea.”

“The first morning I woke up here in your bed – I had slept so well, was physically so satisfied… then you came with that wonderful breakfast tray, we had more sex, showered together...,” Philip kissed her softly, longingly on her temple. “I felt fantastic that day, like I could finally start a normal happy life – until I got home where I saw the scale in my bedroom. That immediately made me feel guilty, like I had no right to feel good about myself. And when I got on, it telling me I was fatter again, I was all miserable, inadequate once more, like I was being duly punished for feeling too good about myself…

“Funny, I’d always thought the situation you felt best about yourself would have been the EAFR-finance disaster sex we had in your office…”

Philip laughed: “That came in second. That was fabulous, you, great sex, good food, wine and really messed up finances – all my favorite things in life in one parcel. Almost everything about me feeling content, comfortable with myself has to do with you. Do you want to squeeze my fat roles?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well … I understood you want to grab and squeeze my fat, that it’s a pleasure for you – while anybody pinching into my flesh is one of my phobias. I have to overcome them. You’re the best person, because I fully trust you mean it as something positive, so please do.” Philip guided Antonia’s hand to where his belly was overhanging his belt and willed her to squeeze it.

Inadvertently Antonia dug her hand in deep, instantly tingling with desire, automatically letting her other hand wander up his fleshy side in kneading motions. She could feel he had put on quite a bit of weight over their break up, he was softer, rounder to touch and she reveled in his more pronounced roles and bulges. Losing herself in the physical sensations she reached up for a kiss to which he quickly responded by teasing her with his tongue, pulling her tightly into his body with his meaty arms.

As his hand touched her naked breast, caressing it, she jumped back as if scorched, pulled out her hands, untangled herself from his embrace to settle next to him and wrap her arms around her knees, breathing deeply a few times to regain her composure. “No Philip, no, stop it. Whatever physical insecurities you might have, you know full well I have trouble resisting you. Your warm strong softness turns me on far too much – I can’t keep my hands to myself or think straight. You’re far too intelligent to not have noticed that, actually I think you’ve been exploiting my weakness to your advantage over the past months. This is no way to start over it’s just sliding down the same muddy, rocky slope once more.”

Blushing guiltily, Philip gave her a naughty smirk: “Pleading innocent might suffer from lack of credibility! Apart from the fact that I’m mad about touching you, I noticed you probably feel the same way about me. After I had convinced myself my imagination wasn’t deluding me, I admit to having used this to my advantage. You’re not angry, are you?”

“No, it’s as much my fault as yours. And all is fair in love and war,” Antonia sighed, frustrated with herself that she had let herself literally get wrapped up in Philip again so quickly, against her resolve, while his stomach let out another loud hungry protesting growl. Standing up, she gave his belly a reassuring pat: “Okay, we need to change the order of things. It’s past 12h00, I’m getting dressed then I’m going to cook you lunch, you need healthy nourishment. You can talk to me while I cook.”

Antonia went into her bedroom, pulled out a simple empire line lilac sweat-dress and after some pondering did put on the matching lace bra and French knickers underneath, purposefully refusing to acknowledge why she chose these. Pulling her hair into a pony tail, she put on contacts and went into the kitchen.

Checking the supplies Philip had brought, Antonia quickly cut a few slices of multi-grain baguette, spread them with olive paste, tomato, mozzarella or apple, camembert, walnut, grilling them and handing them to Philip on a small plate together with a few vegetable cuts: “To tide you over while I cook. As a quick fix: how about radicchio risotto and as salad mache Nantaise with marinated champignons and seasoned ham?”

“Thank you, I’m really hungry. Menu suggestion sounds perfect,” Philip took the plate adding with a wry smile, “You love being in charge, don’t you? You’re not really comfortable if you can’t control the situation?”

Antonia took a few deep, gulping breaths and chopped shallots furiously for a few minutes before answering: “You’re right … one of my faults probably is that I’m obsessed with doing things my way, often thinking too late what this might mean for others. I’m immensely afraid of losing my independence – in every respect. That’s also why I have doubts about us starting over ….or finally starting a real relationship, whichever way you want to see it. I’m worried I would impose things on you again, making you start to evade me if you’re not comfortable with it….What really hurt me, made me realize our case is probably hopeless was that you once compared me to your mother…” wiping some tears off her cheek which followed readily from onions and emotions.
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:26 AM   #24
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Philip stepped next to her, carefully dabbed her cheeks with a tissue and lightly stroked her back, saying softly: “I regret that most because it’s so awfully wrong. You only have one thing in common with my mother – you both told me what you think I should do. But while my mother put unbearable pressure on me to change ….,” he swallowed very hard, unable to finish his sentence, before he inhaled and continued: “You’ve only been incredibly loving, tolerant, supportive and patient; I cannot tell you how patient you’ve been. Everything you did, bought, made me do was nothing but good for me. You encouraged me to live a normal life being as big and fat as I am… in some ways, I’m much more near-sighted than you are, because I refused to see that. All I hope for is you have some of that tolerance, support, love and patience left for me.”

Not knowing what to say, Antonia started cutting the fresh mushrooms into their marinade before she set to cleaning and washing the salad. Philip’s massive physical presence next to her was making her uneasy, so she gently asked: “Would you mind sitting down at the table? The counter here is a tight fit, I’m afraid of spilling something all over you.”

Continuing to stir the risotto while washing and arranging the salad, she glanced over at Philip fleetingly every now and then. Despite him being as heavy and handsome as ever, she observed a few subtle differences that appealed to and cautioned her simultaneously: His increased girth wrapped itself thickly around him, the big mounded belly pushed his legs apart – new was that he leaned back instead of hunching over, his powerful shoulders in line with his thick thighs, making him look broader, adding an air of command to his appearance, while he as accustomed let his elegant fingers dance over the table. He no longer seemed like the plump cuddly teddy she had fallen in love with, this was more a big strong bear, biding his time to catch her with a strike of his paw like a hapless trout. Corresponding was the unfamiliar line of determination in his chubby jaw and the challenging spark in the usual eager, adoring look in his green eyes.

To end the uncomfortable silence, with only the background noise of running water and blubbering risotto, she asked: “You mentioned you met Heather, what did she say?”

“She said two things – one of them brought me here today. First she said what she had told me several times already: That it’s my job to find out how I can be comfortable with myself, how I can handle being fat. That nobody can do that for me, not even you and that it was long overdue I tackled that.” Philip interrupted himself by drinking some water and eating three olives. “Second she told me that you still love me, I better hurry up getting back to you, prove to you that I’m working on my issues, as she says. She’s never seen you love any other guy as much as me, invest so much – I must make the most of that before it’s gone.”

“Tattle tale,” Antonia muttered indignantly. “So much for best friends! What makes her come to the conclusion I might still love you?”

“Heather said you refused to talk about me. She said that only happened when something was very important and sensitive for you, when you were not over someone or an incident yet.” Antonia felt her cheeks burn and furiously grated parmesan before frying the small cubes of seasoned ham and sprinkling them over the salad she placed before Philip.

“Would you like some white wine with lunch?”

Philip shook his head slowly, inhaled, and then said in a small voice: “I want to be honest with you Toni. It’s the only way things will hopefully work between us again. You asked whether I had anything to drink because I can talk about my weight and such…. well I didn’t. But I did take one of these light anti-anxiety pills Solange prescribed for days like these. They’re supposed to help keep my stress level manageable when I have to face situations, topics, words I dread – let me stay calm enough to think rationally, not overreact in physical panic. They’re part of the initial phase of the therapy; to see some progress before we move on to other, non pharmaceutical methods of stress relief. It’s considered unsafe to have alcohol with them, so I’m staying off drink.”

“Okay. But I poured a shot of wine into the risotto, is that a problem?”

“No, of course not. That’s very little and it’s cooked.”

Antonia leaned her head against the kitchen cupboard, closed her eyes and gulped silently. Philip’s confession made her awash with two wildly conflicting emotions. His words had sent burning hot love and pity flooding over her, knowing if she turned around now, looked at him, the next thing would be she’d be back in his arms, hugging and kissing him, telling him she loved him and would do anything to make his therapy work, make him and her happy. On the other hand, the idea of a serious, medicated therapy intimidated her because she had little confidence in her abilities at handling such a situation, icy fear trickling down into her stomach. She knew she was good, caring and supportive with normal everyday problems, but she felt awkward and incompetent around real medical issues, had always left these to her little sister.

Noticing she had been manically stirring the parmesan into the risotto, she quickly added the radicchio with a final few turns and then gave Philip a plate, who had already eaten over half his salad. “Mmmmh, delicious as always, nobody makes as good a risotto as you do, I never order it in restaurants anymore because I’m disappointed every time,” he rolled his eyes and quickly spooned down a few big bites.

“Thank you,” Antonia murmured and tried to get her constricted throat to swallow a spoonful herself. “And thank you for being so open and telling me this. It’s very brave of you.”

“Don’t know whether brave is the right word,” he shrugged. “It’s more a mixture of desperation and determination.”

“Desperation and determination? In which sense?”

“You breaking up with me left me pretty much in despair, can’t you imagine that?” he looked at her openly while she couldn’t look back, just nodded, shrugged and blushed all in one. “Yet I was determined to get you back. You’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, for once I couldn’t simply run away from a difficult situation because then I’d never get another chance. Even if it’s hopeless, I want to make a serious effort, not have to blame myself later for not at least trying. The only thing was I didn’t really know where to start.”

Philip finished off his plate of risotto at high speed. “Would you like a second helping? You don’t need to tell me anything if you don’t feel comfortable with it, I understand it’s difficult.”

“Thank you, more risotto is more than welcome. No, I want to tell you about … well … about what I’m working on so we might have a second, or is it a third chance. You always told me I should talk about everything. Solange says the same; she wants me to talk about myself. She put up with me writing down things because I couldn’t say them at first. We spent my entire tenth session practicing me saying: I am fat. It is okay that I am fat. It took me over half an hour to say the sentence straight for the first time.”

“Pauvre chéri, pauvre chéri,” Antonia murmured, stroking through his hair before sitting down.

“Do you know what – it’s easier for me talking to you than to Solange. You always listened so patiently, even to the things I couldn’t say. You’d hold me when you tried to make me talk, that made it seem so much safer. You’re the first person to ever give me the idea I might be not be a failure. There actually were days, like when we were together in Rome, or in Paris, or our last days in Florida when you made me forget that I’m an ‘Untermensch’ as you say in German because I’m fat. I was simply content to be myself and to be with you.”

“I tried to show you that you have every right and reason to feel good about yourself… seldom got the feeling with any success.”

“The thought was alien to me all my life. Growing up the only message was: Nothing is worth anything if you are fat – being thin is the only thing that matters. It was not only my parents, at school, doctors, society in general does not make growing up and living as a fat person an uplifting experience,” his voice was full of bitterness. “My mistake only was I had imbibed this belief so strongly, I couldn’t see beyond it, develop my own set of criteria for assessing a situation, something I’m normally good at when it isn’t about me. I let my mother’s paradigm guide and judge my life long after it no longer was adequate in any respect, except for making me feel miserable.”

In the meantime, Philip had finished his risotto and salad, while Antonia was still picking at hers. “Hey, you’re not eating; you should finish your risotto.”

“No, I’m fine, I had a late breakfast. Do you want to finish it, as well as my salad?” she indicated at the two small, barely touched portions.

“Hmmmmh, I never should, but I would like it. It’s my first meal of the day, it’s healthy, it tastes fabulous, so give it to me,” Philip sighed, and then smirked at her. “You know how much I weigh, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t … and I don’t need to know,” Antonia muttered blushing.

“Of course you do. Your calculation on my first day at ‘signC’, when you set Franck’s estimate in stone right in kilograms, was within the margin of statistical error. I actually thought you must be good with numbers at that point,” grinning at her fondly, making Antonia utter a muffled groan of embarrassment. “So, how much do I weigh today?” Philip leaned back comfortably, stuck out his belly and patted it, but Antonia shook her head, only briefly looking up. “Antonia, please, show me the only calculation you seem to be good at.”

To her surprise, his eyes were teasing so she mumbled: “About 20% more. Sizing is the only type of calculation I can handle.”

“Again within the margin of statistical error – I might be able to teach you numbers after all,” he patted his belly again. “That’s one thing you taught me, being fat is easier to bear if you regularly pat your belly, it’s soothing and calming, before you started doing it, I never dared. Despite that number, my first decision was I would no longer pursue weight loss surgery to win you back.”

“Why did you ever think that would help win me back?”

“As I said, that belief had determined my life until now. After you had scorned me for it and literally everybody I talked to about it said it was the wrong approach, Solange, Traudl, Jean-Luc, even Wouter…”

“You talked to Wouter about weight-loss surgery?” Antonia’s voice went high-pitched in surprise.

“Well, not directly. On the first Thursday I was in Antwerp with the band after you breaking up with me, I got drunk, I mean drunk. Wouter noticed something was wrong, he’s a good guy, all in all ….so hmmm… he got me to tell what happened. And I told him I was flying to Baltimore to research weight loss surgery to win you back. He shook his head that would be the measure least likely to win you back. Instead he said I should think about what you had said, what I should do, what would be good for me… follow that path.”

“Pewh, now I’m full,” Philip had cleaned Antonia’s plates; leaned back even further, rubbed the big curve of his tummy. “Do you maybe have an espresso?”

“Naturalmente. With a spoon of sugar and a shot of milk?”

“Yes please. After I sobered up, Wouter’s words set me thinking. Before starting a business you collect all information you can get regarding its success chances. Should all different sources you tap into – no matter under which aspects they study your case – tell you that your business will most likely fail, naming similar reasons, then it’s not worth starting it. Whoever I had talked to – my physicians here and in Britain, Traudl, you, Solange, Jean-Luc, Heather – everybody said I would most likely not get the desired results. In addition, I’ve never had surgery before – I’m afraid as shit of actually being operated on. So I gave up on the idea. It’s the first time I applied my business knowledge to my own life.”

He looked at her expectantly and she showed a small smile: “I’m honestly relieved to hear that. So you decided to go to Solange instead?”

“I made that decision a little before I saw you in the restaurant. I was totally at a loss what to do at that point in time. Then I met you and this Matteo … yah, and that made me go to Solange.”

A leaden silence followed in which Philip finished his espresso, took Antonia’s hands into his, lightly rubbing and kissing them. “Chopin misses you and the polar bear family so much. He refuses to sit anywhere in my flat except on my bed - and there only on your pillow.”

Tears started dropping out of Antonia’s eyes, making her blink hard and stare out the window, before she choked out: “What do you expect from me? It can’t be a good idea going through all this therapy because of me!”

“Toni chérie, it’s not only because of you. You and hopefully soon again us is only one reason I’m doing it. Where I come from, therapy is still not considered to be serious medical science; it’s something for wimps and at best women. Seeing how Saskia has been developing in a very positive way for herself, her career and ‘signC’ as a company has shown me that there might be more to it. Let me get you a tissue,” he got up and lumbered back from the bathroom with a box of tissues in his hand, rubbing Antonia’s back while she blew her nose. “I’m doing it for myself. I’m tired of feeling rotten all the time, of being afraid of everyday situations. I don’t know whether I’ll ever reach a normal weight, I mean, I’ve never been below 120 kgs in my adult life for long. But I finally would like to have a state of mind that corresponds to my actual circumstances.”


“Well, you always told me I have a good life – I do, especially as long as you are part of it. You Americans have the right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ – but for my old world self, happiness is too big a word. Your Kraut-part probably understands that better, since you Krauts are champions at having ‘Angst’ and being unhappy, genuinely reveling in those lousy feelings. So, simply being proportionately content would be good.”

“That’s a good goal,” Antonia sniffed and nodded. “Ja, Angst … that’s part of what I feel now. Angst … because I don’t know how to patch a relationship back up. Angst … I might not be able to help you in with your therapy, might do something wrong, not have the necessary patience. Angst…. we might have all the love, but no real trust in each other anymore – after all, I’ve run out on you twice. You’ve made me happier as well as unhappier than any other guy. You’re the most loving, considerate man I know – and at the same time you can be the most unapproachable and unreliable. It’s also Angst … that I can’t handle our emotional ups and downs anymore.”

“Toni, I know I’ve not done my part in our relationship – what I’m asking for is the chance to show you I can learn to do it. I can’t promise you miracles, all I can promise is I’ll try my very best,” he clasped his hands around hers. “I’ve seen couples get back together were much worse breaches of trust happened … be realistic, is there really that much mending necessary in our case? Don’t we still have enough of a common ground to concentrate on the future – like in any good business, where the prospects count?”

Antonia shrugged, shaking her head and nodding in small uncoordinated movements before murmuring: “This is a new idea for me, I was just trying hard to forget you. I need some time to think about it, maybe see how you manage with your therapy, how I might fit in. Please, give me some time.”

“Of course you can have some time. I came today because of what Heather had said – and because I’m leaving tomorrow for 10 days in Asia, business trip with Craig and the US colleagues to check several new manufacturer options.”

“Do you want me to take in Chopin while you’re gone?” this came out without thinking, making her blush.

“Is that a serious offer?” a sweet wondrous smile of surprise made the dimples appear in Philip’s round cheeks.

“Why not? Why should the poor kitty suffer because we’re at odds? I can do my business on day trips, come back from places like London and Düsseldorf in the evening, in that time period.” Antonia tried to sound as nonchalant and uninvolved as possible. “Would you like another espresso?”

“You’ll have a very happy cat here – and I’m very grateful. I’d prefer a cappuccino now, if that’s possible.”

“Sure. I’m sorry, I don’t have any real dessert, don’t make them for myself only. Do you want me to fix something? A plate of fruit?”

Philip shook his head. “I’m no longer trying to diet; Solange said therapy with medication would be stressful enough without a diet. That’s generally her approach, find ways to reduce unnecessary pressure, concentrate on relevant things. So two days ago – on her advice - I threw out my scale and all clothing that doesn’t fit me right now. After all - there is nothing easier in our business than getting new clothes – is there?”
Antonia grimaced and nodded, making Philip grin slightly. “Looks like you’re currently getting more samples than even you can handle. Solange also advised to play piano an hour a day, she said that probably was best for me; it would save us a lot of time and trouble finding new means to decompress further on. One part of the therapy naturally is learning to listen to what my body needs, eat three healthy meals a day until I’m full, satisfied, not stuffed – that does mean a lot of food, you know my appetite. Can we maybe go for cake, or so later, I loved that with you in the afternoons?”

“Here’s the cappuccino. Solange’s approach sounds very good and sensible. But what about your therapy if you’re gone for ten days now?”

“You don’t believe I’m serious?” he sighed wearily. “In the past three weeks, I’ve done the initial round of 20 therapy sessions. Normally that’s done in a clinic, but I couldn’t get away, also I’m done with clinics in this life. And I preferred Solange as a therapist. For my business trip I’m scheduled 5 telephone sessions with her as well as made sure I can play piano in every hotel for an hour at the bar. When I get back I’ll continue going twice a week for a minimum of six months, and then we’ll determine the interval to the end of the twelve month period. Is that good enough for you?”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be critical…. I do get the feeling you’re serious…”

“Toni – what’s really the problem? Do you already have another guy?” She shook her head violently, sending her pony-tail flying. “No, of course not, no!”

“You say that you still care for me, and our problems are solvable. Why do you worry so much about whether you’ll fit into my therapy? That’s borderline absurd - I know nobody better than you to help me. You’re the best eating therapist I’ve ever had. Remember last summer? When you were still at ‘signC’ and we were revising the strategy – shit, that seems centuries ago! You’d take care of our meals; I’d eat only the food you’d prepare since we had such long days. And it worked for me – you had such a fabulous variety of dishes, nice portions, I didn’t feel I needed anything else. I didn’t lose much weight, but I didn’t gain any either – and when I got to Alpsee on summer holiday, I had a very good blood test; Traudl praised my better eating habits. That’s one reason I was so shocked when you left ‘signC’ as I came back….”

Tears were welling up again in Antonia’s eyes, so she got up and started to clear the table, stack the dishes into the dishwasher, half muttering under her breath: “I never had the impression I was getting anywhere meaningful with my efforts to support you, make you feel good ….”

“I didn’t understand what was really good for me, what I needed. So I couldn’t show you how much everything you did means for me.” Philip sighed, once gain had the so familiar look of helpless discomfort in his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that! Don’t be so defeatist! Don’t think I’m not worried too this therapy will be another failure – that I’ll never be able to handle food half-way normally. I’ve always loved to eat, had a big appetite, here in Belgium I learned a lot about good food … but there’s also … well… food was always ‘bad’, made me fat, was forbidden… I’m absolutely f***ed up as far as that goes.”

“Philip, I think this therapy with Solange is a realistic and helpful approach, but as you said yourself, it’ll need time, patience, work, overcoming set-backs.” Antonia once again felt love and tenderness battling the fear of history repeating in her. “What makes me a bit uneasy is well … it’s so absolute again… it’s … how can I say … what’s your plan B?”

“Plan B?”

“Yes, plan B. You’re plan A is to go to therapy in combination with – if I understood you correctly – of us getting back together. But what if I say ‘no’ definitely, what do you do then, what’s the plan B for that situation?”

Looking shell-shocked, Philip had the expression she knew so well, the one he mostly had before he bolted out of the room. Now he stood in the middle of the kitchen, hung his head and took a few very deep breaths before he looked up at her uneasily. Yet the streak of determination in his jaw line was back as he shook his head: ‘I don’t have a plan B. I don’t want to need a plan B. I don’t know what I’ll do if you say no. I’d probably not stay here in Brussels. Maybe I would have the bariatric surgery done and then start over somewhere else, differently…. Are you just giving me the definite ‘no’?”

“No, no, no – that’s not what I meant,” Antonia couldn’t stop shaking her head. Philip yawned and rubbed his eyes to step behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist, cradling her breasts from below, pressing himself against her so she leaned comfortably into his big pillow of a belly, resting his head on her shoulder, swaying her slightly in keeping his balance. Closing her eyes, she was overwhelmed by the customary feeling of being loved and protected, her body telling her it wanted to stay in this embrace forever. “There must be more to a relationship than perfect physical harmony, Philip! You know you can get me to jump out the window, do anything for you when you hold me like this… but that’s not enough as a foundation….”

“Solange seems to disagree with you – she was seriously shocked to hear we had no problems whatsoever with physical relations…”

“She was shocked we have sex?”

“Present tense?” Philip’s eyes lit up, while Antonia turned beet red and shook her head again. “No – when we talked about when I had felt comfortable with my body, she was extremely surprised it was often related to actual physical relations with you – she said this was very unusual, mostly that's the last step in developing a positive body image. But it showed that you must be a very loving, sensitive women; the ideal match for me. And that it increased my chances of developing an overall realistic self-image tremendously if this aspect did not need to be worked on.” He yawned again and leaned heavier on her.

“That’s all good and well, but we can’t spend our life together in bed. We have demanding stress full jobs, two households, diverging social lives, I have family on the other side of the Atlantic….,” Antonia twisted herself out of his embrace. “Maybe all these factors also got in our way, may not be the adequate fit for a relationship between us…”

“That’s part of plan A…” Philip tried to stifle another yawn.

“You’re pretty tired, aren’t you?”

“Ummmhugh, didn’t sleep very well in the past days, thinking too hard about what to tell you… and these pills do make me a bit sleepy…”

“I need to think about a few things you said in peace and quiet too. Why don’t you go take that nap in my bed while I bake us a cake? It’s still pouring outside, so no fun going out – and I have a new recipe for a Venetian apple cake with orange marmalade and Grand Marnier I want to try out.”

“Don’t bother Toni, that’s too much work. Or do you want me to help you? And I still have a few things we need to talk about… that was not all…”

“Let me first digest what you told me on my own,” she gently shoved him out of the kitchen into her bedroom, where she pulled out his set of bedding and quickly put on fresh cases. “You rest while I bake. Baking is therapeutic for me, like playing the piano for you. It’s creative, it’s a manual activity, but I can let my mind wander and sort itself out.”

He started to undress, shyly as always turning away from her. Wanting to respect his privacy, she went back towards the kitchen: “Philip, only one thing. Please give me the actual physical space and distance to think things through as long as I need to. Please don’t try to coerce cuddle me back to you, okay?”
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Old 06-28-2015, 04:28 AM   #25
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loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.loopytheone has ascended what used to be the highest level.

After putting the Venetian apple cake into the oven, setting the timer Antonia wandered into her bedroom, stood at the foot of her bed watching Philip sleep. He looked so peaceful, so adorable, his long lashes on his rosy round cheeks, his hair tumbled, his belly – more expansive than she had ever seen it – spread out fully relaxed, softly rising and falling in the rhythm of his breathing, his boxers had slipped down a little showing a ready to grab portion of soft ass cheek. Feeling emotionally drained, she craved nothing more than to snuggle up and fall asleep, but resisted since this would definitely lead to her giving in to him again. Despite knowing it would be best to go lie down on the sofa, she curled up on the far end of her side of the bed to take a short nap until the cake timer rang.

Antonia woke with a start, fearing her cake had burned smelling warm baking in her apartment. The warmth she felt was not the oven, but she was half draped around Philip, cheek pillowed against one of his fleshy man breasts, her arm over his belly mound and one leg flung across his thick thighs, secure in the nook of his arm.

“My cake… why’m lying like this?” she mumbled drowsily, struggling to sit up.

“Shhh, it’s okay, the timer rang but you didn’t wake up. I took the cake out of the oven and set it out on the grid to cool. Was that right?”

“Uughh huh,” Antonia stretched a bit, an uneasy mix of physical comfort and mental discomfort rising in her. “Why am I in your arms again?”

Philip chuckled, intensifying the feeling of physical comfort as his flab quivered under her. “I can’t answer the why question; you have to answer that for yourself. But I can tell you how. After you didn’t wake up when the timer rang, I went for the cake. As I got back into bed, you rolled over and snuggled against me shivering. Thought it was my duty to warm you,” lacing his other hand with hers on his belly, squeezing it gently.

Moaning, Antonia pinched his belly hard making him flinch, “That’s my problem, your physical closeness always outsmarts my conscious by illicitly teaming up with my subconscious.”

“That’s because your subconscious is smarter than your conscious, it knows best what’s good for you…” Philip teased, his lips grazing her cheek.

“You’re moving pretty fast from ridiculously unfounded insecurity to hubris,” Antonia grumbled.

“I hope your final assessment someday will be more like healthy, realistic confidence,” he smirked. “You asked me what my plan B is, which I don’t have; do not want to have. In my opinion, my plan A as a re-launch of your Philip&Antonia Ltd. is the best one I’ve ever developed. But I haven’t finished telling you everything about it yet…”

“Okay, let’s get it over with…”

“I’ve told you about my personal plans, what I need to do for myself and us. I want us to stay together, really together, emotionally, physically and in daily life. I’m willing to do anything for that, I’ll go to therapy as long as necessary … and hope you’ll continue helping me as you have all along, maybe even do a few couple therapy sessions with me … would you do that?”

“Ummm, I need to get a better picture of all parts of plan A first….”

“The second part of plan A is the chapter real estate…”

“Real estate?”

“You were right when you noticed everything worked so much better with us when we were travelling, not at home here in Brussels. You know what my flat looks like. I’ve never had a happy home. It’s always been better everywhere but home. Your flat here is a real home; it’s chic and stylish but also comfortable and cozy, even the bear-y over-population is somehow welcoming. I was such a gigantic idiot to get this mattress phobia, it’s bl**** unbelievable…..”

Antonia gulped in surprise: “Wow, okay, thanks, for the compliment.”

“Now the big flat two stairs down in this building is for sale. It’s a good neighborhood by local standards. If you agree, I’ll buy it, and it would be wonderful if you could turn it into a home for us…” Philip made a pregnant pause.

Antonia sat up and stared at him, lightly shaking her head in disbelief before she finally asked: “Does your plan A have more equally shocking chapters?”

“The shock hopefully is more that I went about this like a normal, reflective adult or as professionally as I would with a real business plan, not the content,” Philip rolled his eyes. “Plan A does have a third chapter – professional life. To be honest, me coming to ‘signC’ as CEO was all in all a mistake…”

“Are you serious?”

“Yah- apart from being with you which is the best that ever happened to me. But have you ever thought about how much easier things might’ve been between us if we had just met again in private to solve the damages after I spilled coffee on you at Arts-Loi?”

“Hmmm, you might have a point there. Would you’ve honestly had the nerve to meet me again in person?”

“I would’ve been quaking in my shoes, but I’d have tried to meet you again. After all, you’re the first and only woman who has ever really flirted with me … I needed to find out more about someone who is so crazed…,” Philip leaned down to kiss her intensely.

Antonia gave into the kiss, slipping her hands under his t-shirt to fondle his fleshy chest, “I was only the first to be so blatantly obvious that my flirting managed to penetrate your armor of warped self-perception,” she chided him. “What about plan A professional? There seems to be more than I expected.”

“As I said, ‘signC’ was not right for me, for two reasons. Even though things are better now than they were with Franck, the fashion culture kills me. I always feel totally déplacé, hate the looks I get when fashion people see my size. It’s not a good environment at all for seriously trying to come to terms with my fatness. Also – you sometimes tease me I’m just a finance bloke. That’s true – numbers and notes are the two things I like most, am best at. I don’t care for all the CEO, general manager fluff; it doesn’t interest me or is difficult for me.”

“You’ve really worked hard on thinking about yourself, what you want in life. That’s a very good thing. So what do you plan on doing, go back into finance?” Antonia couldn’t help but look up at him in fond admiration.

“Maybe. Right now I actually have 2 new job offers. One is head of M&A at this Franco-Belgian bank here they just bailed out – very similar, but with more responsibility than what I did at Green*Star. The other one is again a CEO/CFO of European operations position for another US company…”

“Didn’t you just say you weren’t interested in that type of work?”

“Normally not, but this would be the EU CEO/CFO for Cosmos Music!” Philip looked at her with shining eyes. “That’s the one product I would love to market, I know something about, an industry I can relate to. Plus – in the music business there are enough big fat blokes as musicians and producers, I’d no longer feel like the lone hippopotamus in a herd of gazelles. Their operations are also a lot bigger than ‘signC’, something like eight times the turnover.”

Antonia felt as if a hard knot inside her was dissolving, seeing how excited he was by these prospects, stroked his chubby cheek and through his hair. “That sounds fantastic for you! So that’s what you’re doing?”

“I haven’t made up my mind definitely yet, even though Cosmos Music is the much more tempting offer.” Philip hugged her so tightly it almost hurt. “There’s only one thing I’ve decided on – I’m definitely leaving ‘signC’ – and I’ve already selected my successor and talked to Craig.”

“Who is it? Jean-Luc? Or Arthur?”

“No- it’s the most qualified person I know – Ms. Antonia Langley.”

“But, but ….,” Antonia struggled to get out of his embrace, but he held her tighter than ever. “Let me go … I have a job….”

“Shhh,” Philip kissed her playfully but did not loosen his hold. “Listen to me, don’t kick – this is also something I’ve put a lot of thought into.”

“Why me? I’m not a CEO, I have my work at EAFR….”

“Oh yes you are,” Philip let loose a bit, turned Antonia on her back and rolled the full weight of his belly on her, his fingers expertly playing over her under her dress like on a piano. “From my start at ‘signC’, when I watched you work, I kept thinking you would be the much better CEO. With the exception of finances, you’re just as good and in most crucial fields much better than I am.”

“Are you serious? I was always worried I was being overbearing…”

“No, you were simply behaving like an executive who knew what she was doing. I was glad you went ahead with many things, since you knew more than I did. Also you often overstepping your competencies gave me more options of working directly with you, something I wanted more than anything even back then…..” Philip leaned over her heavily for another kiss. “I’m not squashing you, am I?”

Antonia dug her hands deeply into his belly to wobble it energetically. “You’re a manipulator! You know I’m wild about feeling all of you on me. How am I supposed to say no to your crazy plans while you’ve got me blissfully smothered in your sensational bulk? Especially now there’s even more of you I’m finally allowed to really cuddle! This isn’t fair! You said it yourself, I’m clueless about finances, so I can’t be CEO… anyway, I’ve been with EAFR only for half a year…”

“Total bullshit, Antonia, stop belittling yourself. Look at all the things I was clueless to completely incompetent in at ‘signC’. Sure, you’re about as awful in finances as I am in communications, but Urs is a great accountant – and I’ll be there to help you with the financial reports. That is – if you in turn stay around to help me with personal and professional communications …..,” he grinned down at her lovingly.

“Regarding EAFR, you’re already getting bored and restless there, aren’t you? As far as protocol goes, it’s a great position – but you know better than I do that there isn’t all that much work you can actually get done. EU legislation doesn’t offer much leverage in the field, it’s still either national markets or cross-national retailers and franchisers – not enough for you to do as an association. Whereas with expanding ‘signC’, you can really make things happen. As an EU-American, with your knowledge of the markets and the pleasure you take in fashion, you’re the perfect fit for the position, and the entire team will love working with you..”

Looking up at him in awe, Antonia didn’t say anything. “What’s wrong, haven’t I convinced you of the merits of plan A?”

“You’ve really planned a whole new life for us together, haven’t you? You’ve also thought a lot about me, what might work best for me…”

Philip shrugged and nodded bashfully: “At least I honestly tried. You’ve always done so much for me and us, I feel I needed to do something too to make our little business together really work and be profitable. So, what’s your assessment of plan A? Can you finally see yourself investing in it?”

The End

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