BOTH "525" - by agouderia (SSBHM, ~XWG, ~BBW, Dining)

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Island Girl

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Gah! I just want to reach through the Internet and kiss you. Seriously, I've run out of superlatives for your writing. :)
 

agouderia

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Help!!!

I'm totally overwhelmed!

Coming back after a few days on the road to read all the comments and praise for the new chapters almost scares me (Alone the number of 100 posts in a story threading has an intimidating quality). I can't thank everybody enough for your kind words and enthusiasm.

But I'm also worried I won't be able to meet expectations anymore with the continuation of this story - because it isn't over yet (the plot is finished and pieces of four more chapters are already written).

At this point, Christopher has drawn the line to Warren as to what he's willing and able to do, yet actually knows less than ever what his life will look like in the future.
So I hope all of you have some interest and enthusiasm left for that part of his story ......
 

Anjula

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Help!!!

I'm totally overwhelmed!

Coming back after a few days on the road to read all the comments and praise for the new chapters almost scares me (Alone the number of 100 posts in a story threading has an intimidating quality). I can't thank everybody enough for your kind words and enthusiasm.

But I'm also worried I won't be able to meet expectations anymore with the continuation of this story - because it isn't over yet (the plot is finished and pieces of four more chapters are already written).

At this point, Christopher has drawn the line to Warren as to what he's willing and able to do, yet actually knows less than ever what his life will look like in the future.
So I hope all of you have some interest and enthusiasm left for that part of his story ......


I cant wait to see how his life will go. I'm hoping for Stephanie ... ;)
 

Tad

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The great white north, eh?
I cant wait to see how his life will go. I'm hoping for Stephanie ... ;)
If it were not for Stephanie, I'd honestly be content for the story to end here--whatever happens, as a reader now I have confidence he'll come through it well. But that is a giant loose end!
 

fat hiker

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Help!!!

I'm totally overwhelmed!

Coming back after a few days on the road to read all the comments and praise for the new chapters almost scares me (Alone the number of 100 posts in a story threading has an intimidating quality). I can't thank everybody enough for your kind words and enthusiasm.

But I'm also worried I won't be able to meet expectations anymore with the continuation of this story - because it isn't over yet (the plot is finished and pieces of four more chapters are already written).

At this point, Christopher has drawn the line to Warren as to what he's willing and able to do, yet actually knows less than ever what his life will look like in the future.
So I hope all of you have some interest and enthusiasm left for that part of his story ......
Please don't worry about our expectations - you have consistently exceeded them every chapter so far! Just keep writing.

Four more chapters sounds great!
 

fatmac

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You have done so well thus far, where you choose to go will be great. I am just glad you have allowed us to come along for the journey.
 

atwolfe

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Help!!!

I'm totally overwhelmed!

Coming back after a few days on the road to read all the comments and praise for the new chapters almost scares me (Alone the number of 100 posts in a story threading has an intimidating quality). I can't thank everybody enough for your kind words and enthusiasm.

But I'm also worried I won't be able to meet expectations anymore with the continuation of this story - because it isn't over yet (the plot is finished and pieces of four more chapters are already written).

At this point, Christopher has drawn the line to Warren as to what he's willing and able to do, yet actually knows less than ever what his life will look like in the future.
So I hope all of you have some interest and enthusiasm left for that part of his story ......
Are you kidding?!!! He has come a long way and you have answered some very important questions! I think we are all interested in seeing where he heads in life now that he is in control again. Continue on with your incredible story :bow:
 

agouderia

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[Author's note: Official surrender - I'm out of ways to thank all the readers for their great support! So here's an attempt at explaining how Christopher's life goes on ....]

435

“435 different types of cheeses- at least that was how many General de Gaulle once claimed France has to offer. May I invite you to join me when the President of the French Cheese Masters Association comes to the ‘Langdon Residency’ to introduce you to a least a small percentage of this creamy, tasty world? Please accept my sincere apologies for being an unsatisfactory diet case. Maybe this would be an opportunity to experience food in a pleasant, relaxed context as a small compensation.”

It had taken him days to compose this small invitation to Stephanie and he had procrastinated in sending it off until it was almost too late; now he awaited her response nervously, checking all forms of communication almost incessantly. So a small surge of elation hit him as he read her response the next evening: “Sounds extremely tasty! Thanks for inviting me, glad to come.”

Seeing Stephanie again, getting back on speaking terms with her was important to him, for reasons he did not even want to fully explain to himself. It was a muddled mix of gratitude, remorse, the wish to be prepared for eventual further developments and despite all a sizable portion of pure lust.

The latter resurfaced in the form of most pleasing tingles as he observed Stephanie from across the small lobby in front of the large dining room shortly before the begin of the cheese tasting. Wearing her signature black, the dress she had on did its best to increase those tingles: It pushed up her breasts in a tasteful display, perfectly outlined those delicious pumpkin buttocks of hers and the tucked sleeves ended just above charming little dimples in her elbow that almost asked to be kissed. He was so engrossed in his lusty ogling of Stephanie, that he must have overlooked Tricia frantically waving him over for quite some time.

“There must be some misunderstanding, I have to be on the list, I’ll pay for my ticket now,” was the first thing he heard Stephanie say.

“Stephanie, it’s wonderful to see you. Thank you for accepting my invitation,” he put as much meaning into his smile as he could, but couldn’t get her to meet his eye. “You look great.”

“See Ms. Weymouth – it’s just as I’ve been trying to explain to you,” Tricia interjected. “You’re not on our regular ticket list, but on the special invites, to be precise as Christopher’s plus1.”

“That can’t be…. I was invited …. but … but … I can’t be a plus1,” Stephanie had turned beet red, was shaking her head and rummaging for her wallet. “How much does a ticket cost, I’ll pay for mine….”

“There are no regular tickets available, the tasting has been sold out for weeks,” Tricia’s eyebrows were in exasperation mode. “But it’s perfectly okay, you’re on the list, have a seat at the head table. Let Christopher show you there.”

“I need a ticket, I’m not here as a plus1…,” Stephanie muttered and pulled out her credit card, looking profoundly unhappy despite her flattering attire and perfect make-up.

“Stephanie, I’m sorry this catches you unawares. Plus1 only means you’re on the special invites list outside of the regular ticket contingent. I thought that was clear from my invitation – and it doesn’t bother you too much. There are no strings attached to this whatsoever. The cheese will taste just as good, by the way,” trying to give the awkward situation a lighter spin.

“Sorry, I .. I … don’t know … can’t I buy the extra ticket, please?”

Tricia looked at him in questioning, raising her shoulders. “Stephanie … the plus1 means nothing except that you got a personal invitation. Is that such a problem? From your text message I thought you were okay with accepting an invitation from me to such a public event….”

“Not as a plus1 … I can’t be your plus1, or anybody’s plus 1….,” she was frantically shaking her head. “It’s … I can’t …. have a nice evening,” as she turned to walk towards the exit.

For a second he was undecided whether or not to go after her, but only exhaled with a shudder. Claire seemed to have overheard the end of the exchange and now stood next to him, patting his arm. “Poor Christopher, you meant so well – and she’s being so mean. Impossible behavior! What was she thinking? What can we do for you so you’re not too upset?”

“It’s okay Claire, I’m not upset. More bewildered and a bit disappointed. But she’s not being mean – that had nothing to do with me. She’s got some problems of her own with some things … and there’s nothing I can do about that. Come ‘on I can already smell the cheese!”


The incident with Stephanie fit in seamlessly with the many open ends his life seemed to consist of after his split with Warren. He had hoped that the discussion, painful as it was, would at least come up with a clear resolution, letting him know where he stood and how he could move on. But that was less the case than ever.

He had returned to the ‘Langdon Residency’ the next day, feeling numb with a small hard ball of fear in the pit of his stomach, awaiting Warren’s phone call or message any minute that he needed to clear his desk, leave the keys and passwords to never set foot in the hotel again. But nothing happened. No word from Warren whatsoever. Days passed, a week, still nothing.

In the meantime a stack of documents awaiting his signature had accumulated on his desk, Tricia was pestering him she needed decisions and sign offs – but he did not know what to do. Finally he packed everything up, sent it special delivery to Warren and asked how he should proceed. Two days later he got the entire packet back with a small note from Janice to take care of the business as he always had. Uncertain how much proxy this exactly still meant for him, given the open ended situation, he tried to call Warren, only to get Janice who quickly said: “I’ll get back to you.”

A day later he got an e-mail from her stating: “Go about your work as you always have. You’ll be informed of further developments in due time.” As he tried to find out what ‘in due time’ might mean more precisely, he got no answer. What he had expected to be a catharsis, return him to safe footing regarding his professional future had actually propelled him in a worse state of limbo than ever. Not knowing what the next day would bring job-wise, left him in state as if paralyzed, he feared one wrong move and everything might implode in the next second.

Every morning when he walked to the hotel, as soon as it came into view cold unease that this might be his last walk there started trickling through him. The business cool and composure he had shown in presenting his offer to Warren of dividing their joint ownership and resigning from his post as director had been a rare feat of extreme discipline. It had nothing to do with his true feelings whatsoever. The idea of having to leave the hotel, the tasks, duties and opportunities it offered him, the great people working there hurt unbearably so he suppressed these thoughts as soon as they surfaced. His bank called several times to ask about the exact time-line for the transactions, but all he could ask them to was uphold the financing arrangements as long as possible.

In order to not go crazy or to avoid his over observant staff – where he had no clue how he could inform them of his decision without falling apart completely - noticing his anxiety, he kept as busy as possible.
Not knowing whether he’d still be in the hotel the next day, this meant mainly working in the bakery, testing cooking recipes and being very thorough with his back exercise regime. Cooking, baking – and eating a sizable quantity of his concoctions - was a tremendous solace for him. No matter how unsettling his day had been, if he could spend the evening in the kitchen improvising with ingredients or trying a new spin on an old recipe, later savoring the results with a good glass of wine before sitting on the couch, writing down his findings with his well filled stomach resting expansively in his lap he could truly relax and blend out everything else to focus on the immediate pleasures and little achievements.

What kept his spirits at a bearable equilibrium was that he actually was rather productive in these small things. He not only developed a whole set of samples for ‘bread of the month’ in the bakery, starting a much sought after weekly competition in which customers could choose between two bread suggestions to vote one as bread for the coming month. He also interfered heavily with Paul and Marcus’ planning of the restaurant menus, negatively influencing their shaky balance of authority in the kitchen by imposing his new creations or other alternations. The restaurant and the kitchen were the only parts of the hotel in which he continued to go about his work as before – he knew Warren would never pay attention or say anything about that. It also was a way of seeing some progress, since it was his ambition for them to win back their top rankings after the awful past year.



“Mmmmh …. please hold me tighter…,”Mary Helen murmured as she pressed herself against him. Despite already drifting off to sleep in post coital relaxation, he was happy to comply, rolling more of his belly over her and pulling her into it by her plump buttocks. Mary Helen arriving shortly after the disagreeable Stephanie incident for their charity event was a major help in letting him get over it quickly, see it for what it was, irrational behavior that had other root causes than his person.

“You’re so cozy…,”Mary Helen firmly ran her fingers up the inside of his thick upper arms, squeezing through the soft flesh to reach his biceps, pressing her thumbs up against them sending little titillating bolts through him, making him cuddle her even closer. “Mmmh … there’s so much physical comfort about you…. you’re spoiling me silly ….and it’s my last day tomorrow…”

“Don’t think about it, let’s make the most of this..,” he whispered giving her an intense kiss.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she sighed heavily. “Do you know it’s getting more and more difficult for me to go back home after being with you for longer than a day or two? Like last time – I actually recoiled physically when Denis touched me with his bony body… it was so bad he even noticed. I made up something about still having jet lag or so….”

“I’m so sorry…,” he was stricken, not knowing what to say. He had never given the maybe limited, yet still existing physical aspects of her marriage any thought, let alone how she could handle them.

“No, it’s not your fault. After all I’m here in your bed because I love it that you wrap all this soft flesh around me. That I can feel thick meaty muscles underneath, that all of you is so deliciously padded and warm,” she heaved another sigh. “Denis’ body in contrast repulses me more and more. Not only that he rarely touches me …. He’s so scrawny; his skin now that he’s getting older is dry and a bit loose over small hard lumpy muscles. I always bump into some bone when he takes me in his arm…,” she shuddered a bit, instinctively letting him pull her closer again.

Her hand ran along his side, dug deep into his side roles exploring them to end by rolling the very fluffy one under his arm appraisingly between two fingers. “Mmmh … I think you’ve gotten even juicier since the end of your diet. Have you put some of those cuddly 525 pounds back on?” she teased biting into one of his nipples.

Abruptly he flopped on his back, dislocating her and punching his pillow with a frustrated grunt as he shoved it under his head. “Honey what’s wrong? You’ve gained a bit back, haven’t you? Is that a problem? You seem in really good shape again…”

With an irritated shake of his head he snorted and looked the other way. This was one of the many things he did not want to think about. As emotionally grounding and professionally rewarding as his current cooking and baking mania was for him, he saw with dread how quickly he was putting the pounds he had so painstakingly lost back on again. What if Warren did come around to agree to his slower weight loss plan in the end? Why was he undoing so much of his hard work – would maybe have to start over again with longer way to go? Wasn’t it plain idiocy to relapse so badly after having worked so hard to achieve something? Was he nothing but a food addicted loser?

“Christopher dear, what’s bothering you? We’ve been so busy the past days with the charity cooking gala – you’ve dodged telling me how your discussion with Warren went. You’re still here, you’re not on a diet – so I assume everything went well?”

He grunted and turned further over on his side, away from her, but Mary Helen climbed on him, bit into his ear until he yelped. “Honey, we’d established that not talking about things doesn’t make them better or go away. You did such a good job in preparing everything for your argument with Warren – you owe me the outcome!”

Since this was undeniable, he turned on his back, hugged her tight again and after a deep breath stated flatly: “I’ve officially resigned as director of the ‘Langdon Residency’. All contract offers for buying out Warren from our joint business’ are on his desk waiting to be signed. He said either weight loss surgery or go my ways.”

“Okay, but you’re still running the hotel here – you’re not in line for surgery though, are you?”

“No, definitely not. Warren has my letter of resignation, just needs to fill in the date. His office said I’ll be informed in due time when that will happen, whatever that means.”

“When exactly was that?”

“Almost two months ago.”

“Two months ago? What have you been doing in the meantime?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean nothing? What exactly have you been doing to move on with your plans?”

“Ummm … nothing.”

“Christopher – do me a favor and don’t make me worm everything out of you!” Mary Helen with a small exasperated shake pinched his cheek hard. “You’re an articulate guy! You can tell me coherently what happened and what you’re doing now!”

“As I said nothing really!” Her insistence annoyed him, yet he had the uncomfortable gut feeling she was right about asking. “Everything is in limbo, I don’t know if Warren will agree to the buyout offers for the bakery and deli. Nor do I know when my last day here will be. But I haven’t managed to leave on my own. It’s … the restaurant … all my staff … I can’t just leave it like that … So I’m just running the daily business, working a lot for the bakery – and in the process getting fatter again…”

“Why is the latter an issue for you now? It never used to be – and you seem fine to me…”

“Yeah, I feel fine. Being well fed while doing work I love unfortunately makes me feel fine.” After a lengthy pause he mumbled as she prodded him: “Maybe Warren’ll come around, agree to my plan after all …. Then I’ll have to lose almost 30 pounds more again…”

“Even though you dread having to diet again, that’s what you secretly hope for, isn’t that so?” As he could only close his eyes and nod wearily, she took his head in her hands and stroked his hair. “Oh honey, you’re going about this more like the break-up of a marriage than a division of business assets. I understand Langdon is more of a mentor than a boss for you, that there’s also an emotional connect. But in the end, it’s a business deal. You have to work on securing your own best business interests. And if you achieve that, you’ll also feel better in every other respect.”

“But what am I supposed to do if he hasn’t decided yet?”

“From what you just said it seems he has decided that unless you have the weight loss surgery, that your ways will part, or did I get that wrong?”

“Yeah … that’s what he said….”

“In that case, if he has your buyout offers and doesn’t respond within a certain time span, there are legal measures you can take. You should do that, for your own best interest and that of the bakery. After all it’s your family’s bakery, you worked so hard to revive it – you need to protect those assets.”

“Hmmh … you might be right … but I don’t know…,” he sighed. Wasn’t he in bed with Mary Helen to have a good time, instead of this unsettling discussion of all the unthinkables?

“I don’t know any details of how to handle such procedures, I’m no business expert.” Mary Helen patted one of his man boobs energetically watching it vibrate. “But I know someone who is and whom you can trust if I recommend you. Denis’ former chief of staff moved on to a firm specializing in SME law. I’ll give you the contact information and you can work out the details with them.”

“Thanks might be a good idea to hear what they have to say. But what about the hotel?”

“The hotel? Well, you resigned officially. The normal thing to do after splitting up your other assets would be for you to leave then.”

“What about my offer of buying the hotel? And all the great people who work here? And the lovely guests we have – like you. We’d never have met without the hotel.” he kissed her shoulders moving down to her breasts.

“That’s one thing I never wanted to think about – how well you might treat your other guests.” She gave him a wicked grin and a sharp pinch in his most tender parts, letting his face flame with guilt and him gasp in pain. “But that’s one thing I like so much about you, that you’re such a sentimental guy. So you did go ahead and made a bid for the hotel, even though we had agreed you shouldn’t?”

He nodded with a rueful smirk. “It’s my home, the only one I have since the old bakery blew up… especially now, when I was so sick, everybody took such good care of me here….”

“I don’t know how to go about that. All I can tell you is to try to divide the personal from the business level. Langdon doesn’t seem to be much better at that than you are, though. Talk to Brett Norton and his colleagues about how to legally, technically work that out.” His tension subsided a bit as she started kneading and rolling the flesh around his middle, giving his belly little kisses.

Sliding his hands over her hips, his fingers teasing towards her womanhood, he wanted to end the topic. “I’ll try. I promise I’ll go see that attorney you recommended. Hmmmmh….,” he did some small little bites into her stomach, nicely filled with dinner. “What about you? You’re really coming back from Argentina this fall? Starting the first lady campaign? You looked so unhappy when you husband talked about it at the press conference…”

“Yeah … we’re coming back, looks like next year it’ll be the election campaign for governor. The convention is this fall. I think the ‘Langdon Imperial Residency is one of the venues.”

Once more he was struck how defeated she sounded.
“I’ll contact the colleagues there – tell them to make a good offer, take excellent care of you, should you go. Since you’re telling me I need to start my new life – why don’t you do it too? Go you own way, not just do what your husband wants to do?”

“Christopher – it’s not that easy…”

“Well, it isn’t easy for me either and you’re insisting…”

“Come on, you can’t seriously compare my situation to yours! Sometimes you really are a big baby!” Mary Helen was as irritated as he had never seen her. “You only need to get your act together; you can call your own shots. Yeah … there are personal and emotional elements in the issues between you and Langdon, but in essence it’s about business and between adults. Look at me – do you sometimes think about my children, that I’m responsible for three minors? What would a public break-up of my marriage mean for them? And even though Denis and I aren’t the best matched partners, he hasn’t exactly paid much attention to me – I don’t want to publicly humiliate him. So I have to think of a little more than myself – keep in mind that others might get hurt … sorry for the rant. Talking about my future is my least favorite subject right now….”

“See …. mine too,” he murmured, turning off the resentment her words had sprouted in him. In a quick move he flicked her on her back to squish his belly into her. “Let’s make the most of every minute of right here and now….”
 

agouderia

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Next to cooking and baking, traveling was his second escapism of choice while waiting for Warren’s answer and dragging his feet in taking any decisive action himself. The year of his diet he had more or less stayed at home, traveled less than he had since his high school days. Now it was as if he needed to make up for lost time in that field too, attending food fairs, hotel conventions, event development seminars or the like whenever the opportunity arose.

When his mother had the new museum wing inaugurated for the display of the collection’s early Byzantine glass artifacts, he flew up to her small college town to support her and have the buffet catered by the bakery. At the end of the evening she came to give him a big hug, squeezing his thick side roles.

“Thank you, thank you for the lovely buffet, my baby! Everybody just loved it! And you made the little quiches just like daddy used to make them, they tasted sooo good!” her eyes misted over.

“I loved doing that for you. I’m glad I got the consistency right. This new exhibition is great by the way. You and your architect did a fabulous job in designing the building and the display to put everything in the best light. And the collection is beautiful – I also really like the display cases on the slim steel beams, you have to give me the name of the manufacturer for some of our displays.” He smiled down at her.

“You’re so much better than on Christmas, my baby – that makes me really happy. No more beard, you look fresh and healthy – and your appetite is back…,” she patted his belly making him blush involuntarily.

“Yeah- spring is coming, I’ve been outside a lot – I’m much better.”

“Next month I’ve got a lecture on this new collection at a symposium…. I’m staying at the ‘Imperial Residency’ of course. Why don’t you come too, and I can enjoy some time with you and Warren?”

Her question was like a punch in the stomach, making a bit of nausea well up. “Ummm … let me see,” he pulled out his phone and started thumbing through its calendar. “Sorry Gigi, we’re all booked out that week, have two conferences ourselves – I can’t leave….”

“Oh only for a day my baby,” but he shook his head. “Are you really sure you’re feeling well? You’re getting that odd skin tone again, like when you’re sick….”

His mothers wheedling to bring him together with Warren, who wouldn’t even have e-mails sent from his office to him anymore, tipped the scales in favor of going as far away as possible. The best he could think of on short notice was to travel to France for the spring wine fairs, something he hadn’t done now in three years. Getting so far away from his problems seemed like the best idea ever, in addition, it was a great excuse and perfect chance to see Nora again. Just the thought of Nora’s fingers teasing his flab made an entire series of blue movies ignite in his head, causing a physical yearning that stung badly.



Arriving in Paris, he only found out that Nora was on some sort of leave of absence. This confirmed his suspicions that right now anything he tried to achieve, that meant something to him was just bound to go wrong. She had left some notes and small delicacies for him, ironically all health food targeted towards his diet, but good none the less. But that could not make the loneliness go away he felt sleeping alone in the ‘Louis Le Grand’ even though all colleagues there were very inclusive. Natalie, the new sommelière, took him along to several of their tastings at the wine fair and did a good job of being easy going, flirty company, but he was not in the mood for that.

Flying back early was also not an appealing option, so he decided to explore some wineries more in depth and took the high speed train TGV to Bordeaux where he rented a car. From there he leisurely made his way through the Bordelais, moving east to Languedoc-Roussillon and then up north again to the Cotes du Rhone.

At first he was so lonely; the only thing he registered was that he was visiting all these interesting places, drinking this great wine and tasting fine foods all alone, with nobody to share it with. After days, leaving Narbonne to head up to Avignon, he became aware that he was whistling while driving, squinting into the sun and enjoying its warmth on his well filled gut, jiggling and vibrating against the steering wheel.

Unnoticed, the culinary delights he had been discovering, meeting likeminded people who shared his personal and professional passion for excellent food and drink had let him slowly shed the cocoon of frustration he had wrapped himself in. It was a simple pleasure to talk to an expert on how to best mix herbs and wine for certain dishes, or taste a new cuvee in a small family winery, seeing the pride in the young vintner’s eyes – he has plain missed that this past year. Everything had just been about numbers, too high numbers of his weight on the scale, too low booking numbers in the hotel, wrong number of calories he was eating. But for him it was the real things, the products, making and improving them that mattered and satisfied him.

To top off his contentment, Nora called just as he arrived in Avignon:

“Christophe chouchou, I’m so sorry. We have a family crisis, I couldn’t see you. How are you, Natalie said you left so soon?”

“I’m great, really good again,” and he meant it. “Having an excellent professional time exploring your southern French wine regions. How are you doing?”

“Very busy, as I said. Where are you now?”

“Avignon – Cotes du Rhone is last on my list before I fly back.”

“Ouuh, Provence in early spring, how lovely! With the clear light, you must climb the Mont Ventoux, it’s fantastic!”

“Climb Mont Ventoux? You must be joking! I’m way too fat for that! I didn’t miraculously lose 300 pounds on that fucking diet!” His good mood vanished in a flash, how could she be so insensitive?

“Chouchou, it’s a lovely hike with spectacular scenery, not like actually climbing a mountain. You’re such a big, strong guy, you walk so much, you can do it! I’d love to do it again together with you if I were there…”

“Can’t you maybe come for a day or two?” his hopes rising.

“Je regrette infiniment, but with the family right now, it’s impossible,” she sighed. “So please, for me, for us, hike up Mont Ventoux. If you do, go get the small stamp, send it to me. Then I have a wonderful present for you.”


The next two days while enjoying wine, olives and landscape, he kept thinking about Nora’s crazy wish. What was the sense in him trying to haul his four hundred-eighty-something pounds up a 1900m mountain? Driving through Carpentras, he out of impulse stopped to at least find out at the local tourist information what the hike would look like. The portly old gentleman on volunteer duty have his girth an appraising look and handed him rather extensive information, explaining the different trails, their advantages and when there was a bus transfer up or down half the way.

“I don’t know…. you see I’m very heavy…. “he mumbled reddening, thinking this was the most stupid idea he’d pursued in quite some time.

“Monsieur, I’m eighty-one, with some embonpoint of my own,” the tourist guide said kindly. “With the family, I hike up every year, Saturday after Easter, it’s no problem. We drink our new wine up there to a good year and harvest. With those boots, you know how to hike. It’ll be a wonderful experience for you. It’s an exertion, but when you’re up on the crest, drink your wine… you know you’re closer to Dieu…”

The vision of a glass of excellent red to celebrate on top of a mountain was inspiring, so he did find himself two days later parking his car at the lower park and starting to hike uphill on the prescribed trail. The first part was a lot easier than he had anticipated. After three months of regular back exercise therapy, he was in better condition than he credited himself with. His comfortable old boots – which he wore since his first back incident, on recommendation from his physiotherapist whenever he had to walk on uneven terrain to better support his weight – moved upwards on their own accord, letting him enjoy the landscape, observe the many riders on race bikes pedaling up or zooming down the little road close by and take a few pictures. By the time he reached the upper car park, he was puffing and sweating, but still within normal exercise terms.

From there on, the trail went steeply uphill, worse than climbing stairs. After what seemed like an eternity of 15 minutes his breathing was so labored, he had to stop until he caught his breath, his calves starting to burn. Looking back, he was dismayed how little progress he had made. As a group of younger people, three guys and a young women, overtook him with very skeptical stares, his ambition was kindled. He’d show them how tough huge and super-soft looking could be!

A grueling 45 minutes later, he was still a good ways below the mountain’s flat crest, panting as if he was about to pass out any minute. His chest stung and windpipe cramped as they were over tasked in trying to get enough oxygen into his enormous body. His heart was racing, he had side stitches as if a spit was being pushed through him and he wondered what ached more: his back, his thighs, his knees or his ankles. He’d given up on his calves long ago; their muscles were in screaming agony. His flesh wobbled, rolled and jiggled more heavily than ever, sweat running through all his creases making odd little noises. Every step felt like he had to move a ton uphill, not the little less than a quarter ton it actually was.
On a small ledge, he collapsed on a flat rock next to the trail marker, his belly heaving and jiggling madly with his catching his breath. After that was half-way back to normal, he took out one small water bottle and drank it in very measured sips to calm his parched throat. Looking up, he saw he still had the worst steep part to climb, but it was a lot shorter than the ways he’d come. And the girl from the group of hikers was nimbly skipping back down towards him.

“Are you okay?” she asked in English, stopping before him and eyeing him with concern.

“Yeah, thanks, I’m okay,” not looking up, embarrassed at his sweaty, breathless state.

“Are you sure? Can I help you?”

“Yes, fine. You can continue.” He hoped she’d take the hint and leave him alone to rest and decide how to move on. But she didn’t budge, so he glanced up to take a closer look.

“I’m Meret, by the way,” she extended her hand with a friendly smile. “From Utrecht.”

“Yeah … you do look like the little Dutch girl,” he muttered, but her smile was infectious as she flicked her thick blond braid over her shoulder, letting him finally give her a small grin and shaking her hand. “Christopher, from Pennsylvania, nice to meet you Meret. You’re hiking back down now? Where are the others?”

“Oh they’re going on another way. I want to take the bus from the top bus station back down. And not have to jump off a cliff out of boredom.”

“Cliffs of boredom? But the bus is the other way….,” maybe it was the lack of oxygen, but he was confused.

“I wanted to check on you, make sure you’re okay. My parents are very particular of us not hiking alone, it’s not safe. That’s why I had to go with my brother and his mates. All they talk about is computer games and football, why I’m so bored. Even the great scenery can’t compensate for having to listen to the seventieth re-hashed discussion of the Dutch ‘goal of the month’.”

“You really didn’t need to come back to check on me…” he was mortified.
What kind of a mess must he look like if she deemed it necessary to check on him, even though he was a total stranger?

“Oh, no problem. You’ve given yourself quite a challenge here, that’s great. It’s only easier if you don’t do it alone.” As she saw him open his mouth to protest again she quickly asked: “What do you normally talk about?”

“Not about computer games and football,” he smirked, his belly pushed even farther out as he inhaled, letting a wonderfully deep breath in. “I’m in the bakery and hotel business, so cooking, baking, eating, drinking, traveling are my issues … as you can see.”

“That’s fabulous. I study tourism management! I knew I’d find better topics of conversation down here with you. Come on; let’s go up the last few meters!” She took his hand and tried to pull him up, so he raised himself, shocked at how his knees buckled.

They started to climb further upward, she quizzing him about his job, the hotel, travel in the US until he stopped, panting like crazy, sweat pouring down his face, his calves almost dissolving: “Sorry Meret, I’m far too fat for this – the climb is such hell, I can’t talk while trying to do it.”

“Fine, catch your breath. Then I’ll tell you about me – listening should be okay.”

But it wasn’t. Her words couldn’t make it through the hot blood pounding in his ears as he tried in vain to get enough air. His body was about to give up any second, fall apart in a mass of blubber and sweat. With every step he had to push the tonnage of his gut up over his thighs, it slapping back down against them heavier and heavier with each step.

“Don’t stop now, just keep walking, don’t stop,” he suddenly heard Meret from like far away. “You’ve almost made it. Continue climbing, one very slow step after the other. Breathe deeply when you put your leg up. That’s good. Don’t stop. Next step. Next step over there. One more step. Next step.”

In painful, airless stupor he followed her directions, hauled his enormous weight further up the hill until Meret said: “One last step. Look up, you’ve made it!” grinning at him like crazy and clapping.

As he looked up, a gust of wind hit him and through bleary eyes he had an inkling of the vast panorama laid out before him. Sinking onto the small bench, he hung his head, only wishing to recover enough breath to survive. Meret in the mean time slid his back pack off, took out his windbreaker and pulled it on him. “You need this, you’ll catch cold in the wind with your wet polo shirt,” which was drenched with sweat. Then she handed him another water bottle.

After maybe 10 minutes, he had recovered enough to fully take in the breathtaking sight: Down below was the Rhone valley with it vineyards and picturesque ocher-tile roofed houses, to the East the snow covered Alps, the Massif Central to the West and in the far South there was the distant glint of the blue Mediterranean. A sky of crystal clear sky-blue arched of the incredible panorama.
He leaned back, exhaled deeply, letting his gut expand comfortably into his lap, a wave of giddy physical delight hitting him hard. A sense of achievement he had never experienced before surged through him – and happily demanding growling hunger.

Opening the insolated part of his back pack, he took out baguette sandwiches, some cheese, a few little deli salads and the small bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Meret stared in disbelief: “You’ve brought an entire delicatessen with you!”

“Well … this big guy needs his fuel to go the extra mile, as they say,” he gave her a very naughty grin as he slapped his belly several times, just for the jiggly fun of it. “There’s enough for you too. You deserve it, you’ve been a great help in letting me make it up here. You’ve earned yourself a free hotel room in the US should you ever come visit.” He uncorked the wine, poured it into his small glass and her thermos cup and raised it to a toast. “Chin-chin –to great wines and successful uphill endeavors!”

Smiling into the bright sun, sipping his wine with the world far below him, he understood the Monsieur in the tourist information – this felt like being a lot closer to whichever deities. And if he managed a hellish feat like this, hauling his vast weight up a mountain successfully, his confidence rose the he could achieve anything he really wanted.
 

Undine

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I'm grinning like a dolt. I'm so happy for Christopher! This story is truly a wonder - all the little details and quirks make it seem so real. I just love your writing!
 

taco

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oh man! so awesome! the only thing stopping him from trying to climb that hill is him, but when he gets there the rewards outweigh the hardships... and when you push your body it can feel fantastic. major f***ing props to Meret because its people like her who make the world more of a heaven then a hell, they construct instead of destroying... what im trying to say is shes the type of person i would want to be.
 

fatmac

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Another wonderful step towards Christopher becoming the man I am trying to become. A BHM who knows his worth and ability. BRAVO
Mac
 

Xyantha

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I am torn between wanting to rush impatiently to the next installment and hestitating before clicking the last page because each posting might be the last!!!! I love your works
 

agouderia

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[Author's note: Happy belated 2012 everybody! My warmest thanks to all of Christopher's fans - I admit I missed having the time to continue working on his life too. So here's the next chapter!]

6

“6 more miles after our brunch – promise you’ll still bike them! Then you may come with us to eat now - I can hear your stomach growl ferociously. I don’t have more time now, otherwise no brunch or miss my plane.” Cara teasingly poked him in the belly, opening the clip buckles of her skates. “From what you said, that would bring you to the 120 miles you do per week. So be a good boy and promise you’ll do the extra 6 miles. It’s good for you if you’re no longer on a diet.”

“I promise I’ll do the extra 6 miles. I’ve been pretty successful in keeping up regular exercise lately. Now the restrooms are in the back – and we’ll meet up on the 1st floor outside deck – I’ve reserved a table there for us.”
Taking a few deeps breaths, he lumbered through the personnel only door to clean up a bit in the staff bathroom and put on a fresh polo shirt. After his successful mountain hike in Provence, he was convinced that being as active as possible was the best way for him to stay sane in every respect – despite the two major drawbacks this approach had. One was that he went through copious amounts of laundry since he sweated through so many t-shirts when getting going. The second was it fueled his already healthy appetite and hunger even more, so his stomach now was growling insistently and his only urge was to get something between his teeth, pouring down a small bottle of water was not enough.

Joining Cara and her photographer Jack Baines on the outside deck balcony of the bakery’s main café with the waiter in tow, he quickly had two table-top, stainless steel whatnots heaped with food along with a bottle of champagne, fresh fruit juices and an overflowing bread basket placed in front of them.

“Bon appétit Cara and Jack. I opted for the champagne breakfast version for us- hope that’s okay for you.”

“Wow, looks great – so many different things to taste and sample,” Cara’s smile was delighted. “They’re only two – but one is way too much for one person to eat….”

“Yeah, one whatnot is intended for two people,” he gave her a wicked grin, despite feeling his cheeks redden a bit. “But I’m two people – so I need a whole one for myself,” he pushed out his gut rubbing it with his stomach growling again in agreement. Then he dug in, starting with the salmon omelet seasoned with dill weed, piling some of it on a baguette spread with herb cream cheese and grilled zucchini and wolfing this down hungrily. Afterwards quickly moving on to the small bacon pancakes and miniature cheese strudels.

“Whoa… slow down, nobody is going to dare eat anything of yours,” a smooth hand was laid on his. “Are you okay, Christopher?” there was more concern than teasing in Cara’s voice.

Guiltily, he looked up and saw the major dent he had already made into his breakfast spread in comparison to the small amount missing from Cara and Jack’s whatnot. “I’m sorry, I was really hungry. I only had a yoghurt before going to meet up with you.” he muttered in embarrassment.

“But that looked pretty desperate. And it was way too fast. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m honestly fine,” remembering how sincerely sympathetic Cara had been, seeing her skeptical expression now, she deserved an attempt at an explanation. “You were right last year – I was going about my diet in the wrong way, couldn’t handle it any more in the end. Tried to lose too much weight too fast with pills and such. So I got pretty sick, not only my back as I told you, but also a rather painful gastritis. As a left over from that period, I guess I still panic a bit when I’m really hungry, my stomach starts growling. It’s a sort of uncomfortable flash back, reminding me how much it used to hurt when I was hungry ….. It’s silly, I know –but I somehow can’t help it.”

“Events and experiences you find extremely uncomfortable can be truly traumatic, even if others might find it ridiculous,” Cara nodded thoughtfully. “But you seem to be in good shape again – are you at least being sensible and healthy about not dieting?”

“Yes ma’am. As best I can. You see I exercise very regularly, I try to stick to balanced meals … even though quality control always worked a lot better than quantity control.” He sighed a bit, taking a bite of turkey salad baguette. “Right now so much is going on in my life, I’m busy with so many new projects … I simply can’t face the diet issue. It’s a physical, emotional no go for me right now. I’m concentrating on feeling good, staying healthy and channeling my energy into projects that get me somewhere.” His voice had a defiant quality to it in the end.

“And I’m impressed with your projects. That beer garden down there is positively humming, even though it isn’t quite noon yet,” Cara smiled encouragingly, obviously willing to change the subject.

“Definitely. We should’ve done this years ago. The inner court yard behind the main bakery outlet was always deserted. Now I got a local micro-brewery as partner on board – and Maynard’s bakery and deli in cooperation show everything they know about fresh, quality and thus healthy fast food.” He couldn’t help beaming with pride as he overlooked the line of people waiting to get their sandwiches, salads, and small dishes from the grill. “I created a new bratwurst filling with lots of herbs … oh, and the biggest hit is the beer keg challenge.”

“A beer keg challenge?”

“Yes – you see we have a small selection of staple salads: green wonders, Mediterranean, potato and pasta. Then we have a salad of the week – like turkey-cauliflower, or asparagus or whatever. We have a license for the beer garden for 15 weeks. So if you come every week, eat the salad of the week, get a stamp in your beer keg challenge pass – then you get a free 2.5 gallon keg of beer at the end of the season. It’s ridiculously successful – so many people are participating, I’ve lost track. The brewery is moaning, they’ll have to give away too many beer kegs at the end of the season - but they can’t complain either. After all 9 out of 10 people have at least one beer with their salad. The investment in the set up of the beer garden already paid off after three weeks – not even in my wildest dreams had I imagined that…”

Suddenly he was distracted as he saw a large figure in white made its way to the beer booth – Marcus shaking his curly mop and unbuttoning his cook jacket. What was he doing here at this time of day – there was a big wedding anniversary in the hotel today?
“Cara, if you’ll excuse me – I need to check on something…”

Shuffling his girth down he from afar saw Marcus pour down a beer rapidly to wave for a second one. This was extremely unusual, since he was one of the young, professionally trained chefs who had been reared in the strict discipline of not drinking while working – the prevailing approach these days since too much alcohol on the job had often been the downfall of many a great chef and restaurant.

“Marcus, hi – what’s up? You’re here drinking beer? Not in the hotel kitchen? Is something wrong?”

Marcus eyed him wearily, poured down half of his second beer. “Paul.”

“What’s with Paul? You had some sort of argument with him?”

“Ummhuu. Over the ingredients for the menu – he wanted to use real caviar. And he told me my Pak choi roles with the pineapple-chili chutney were not classy enough for the starter plate… and I was unqualified … and too fat … and too slow…” Marcus downed the rest of the beer.

“F***, I thought you were doing okay – and Paul had his tantrums half way under control. Right now is high season until 4th July – this is awful timing for such rows,” he groaned. “What now? Paul can’t get by with one person less in the kitchen, especially not you. You’ve effectively done the restaurant kitchen management lately, don’t think I haven’t noticed. So how’s that supposed to work today with two big events?”

“Claire…” muffled by a deep sip of his third beer.

“Claire? Claire is the chef of the deli bistro now, no longer works for the hotel. Paul can’t simply ask her to come. She’ll overwork herself – and what about the work in the deli bistro? You shouldn’t allow that, you need to take better care of her, not let her do your work…”

“Don’t think I haven’t thought of that,” Marcus spat at him angrily. “You try to stop Claire from helping someone she cares about … you’ve profited often enough from that mania of hers! Paul called her behind my back, probably before he actually started the quarrel. She was already there before I could do anything. She insisted, said we could solve the problems another day, when the events were over….”

“Yeah, those are too important guests of ours today in the hotel. She’s probably right – and nobody knows how to keep Paul in line as she does. Even I have no means against that. So we’ll have to take care of that Monday.”

Seeing Marcus wanted to order another beer, he waved it off, signaled for a salad, a ham pretzel and a large apple cider-soda instead. “Getting wasted here and now is not a solution though. You’re going to have lunch here, then go home, get some rest, exercise or whatever – prepare something nice for Claire to compensate. Will you do that?”

After blinking at him and swallowing hard, Marcus nodded. “Yes sir. And thank you for not firing me.”

“Don’t be silly, you’re an excellent chef, no matter what Paul says. Actually you have more potential than he has. We’ll work this out,” clapping him on the back.

Returning to Jack and Cara, they were already in the middle of discussing the food and fashion photo shooting. “I so glad it’ll work out for this holiday season – especially as a 24 page spread. It’s a real treat to plan and shoot something like that.”

“Sorry we had to postpone that for a year – but last holiday season I was out of it, had no capacities for new food projects….” Slightly shuddering with inner dread as he thought of how awful he had felt towards the end of his diet.

“Actually, it was good we had to wait, sometimes that pays off. We have more budget now, better placement and three more top notch designers on board….”

“I can’t wait – making out with one of your gateau in a ball gown,” Cara giddily fidgeted on her chair.

Half-choking on a chocolate croissant, he looked at Jack Baines in surprise, who in turn went dark red and rubbed his nose, not looking at Cara. “Umm Cara … you know you’re my favorite model, I love working with you…”

“Yes?” Cara eyed him from the side.

“Well …. you know … Christopher and I’ve agreed … we’re not doing this shoot with models. We’re doing it with food professionals, actresses, women who have some personal relation to good food…”

“But I have a personal relation to good food – especially Christopher’s food – I love it!”

“Sure you do. That’s not the point – you’re mainly a professional model. You don’t convey the right look – high end modeling is not the look we’re going for…”

“Which look is it then?”

“As I said, we want food fans and professionals, who look the part, are convincing in their love of food, more voluptuous … you’re simply too much model, are too thin for this shoot. It wouldn’t look credible…”

Cara looked stunned and pulled her sunglasses over her eyes, squaring her jaw. “Fabulous, the first time I’ve ever been told I’m not too fat, a shoot I really care for – now I’m too thin.”

“It’s not so much you’re too thin – you’re too professional, too much model…” Jack tried to explain looking at him for support. He could imagine how awful she must feel – he had come to know the vice-versa situation all too well, being considered too fat for whatever, knowing there was little to be said in such a situation that was truly credible.

“Well, you can discuss the rest on your own – I’m out.” Cara got up, gave him a per functionary hug and one love handle a slightly vicious pinch. “Do your six miles, don’t eat a second whatnot and see you next month when I’m back in town.”
 

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