BHM Available in all Sizes - by agouderia (~FFA, ~BHM, Drama)

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So...I've been counting down the days- any chance that your project is over and you've been inspired to write a delicious new chapter, agouderia?
 

berlin-girl

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thank you SOOOOOOOOOO much for this very delicate, moving, sexy story, agouderia!!!
if it wasn´t so well written, it would remind me of some of the troubles between my big beautiful boyfriend and me... hey, it even has some "germanisms" in it! + my love comes from belgium, around Brussels... ;o).
hope things turn out fine for your characters too *chrossing my fingers*!
and best wishes for you & any further writing you´re gonna do!
 

agouderia

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So...I've been counting down the days- any chance that your project is over and you've been inspired to write a delicious new chapter, agouderia?

Help - I thought I could at least live without deadlines when it comes to my hobbies! ;)
Seriously, I'm very moved anybody might actually be waiting for a new chapter - sorry it's taken so long, but my last project was a total mess. I'll do my best to finish off Philip&Antonia's tale by the end of the year.

thank you SOOOOOOOOOO much for this very delicate, moving, sexy story, agouderia!!!
if it wasn´t so well written, it would remind me of some of the troubles between my big beautiful boyfriend and me... hey, it even has some "germanisms" in it! + my love comes from belgium, around Brussels... ;o).
hope things turn out fine for your characters too *chrossing my fingers*!
and best wishes for you & any further writing you´re gonna do!

Herzlichen Dank - it's also always intrigued me how often I find almost unsettling parallels to my own life in fiction, mostly where I least expected them...

But now to the next chapter ....
 

agouderia

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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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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.”

“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…..”
 

Tad

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The great white north, eh?
It is a cool, rainy, gloomy Monday morning. Someone at work decided to waive a test limit over the weekend without getting authorization for it, a planned design change is showing some problems, my wife's bike light was stolen off her bike last night, and it is voting day for city government but none of the candidates particularly impress me........

And then I found this update. Now I'm :) :) :)
 

Island Girl

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Happy happy happy happy! Thank you for another chapter. :) When I found you had updated, I waited to read it until right before bed when I could savor it.
 

Amandy

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You really make us FEEL the yearning... la douleur exquise!
 

agouderia

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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.
 

agouderia

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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.”
 

Island Girl

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Well happy Thanksgiving to me indeed! :smitten: Thanks for another wonderful installment! (And haptic is a great word, by the way.)
 

Undine

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Oh, wow...this story...wow...SO awesome... My heart just aches for Philip; you've done a fantastically convincing job of showing just how messed up our lives can make us. I can't wait for the next installment!
 

agouderia

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Oh, wow...this story...wow...SO awesome... My heart just aches for Philip; you've done a fantastically convincing job of showing just how messed up our lives can make us. I can't wait for the next installment!

Thank you very much - I appreciate your praise particularly since you are such a brilliant writer and I love your stories!

Somehow I have lost track of your blog address - is there anything new? Have you finished the Xander story?
Hope to see something new from you here or somewhere I can find asap, please!
 

agouderia

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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.”
 

agouderia

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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.
 

Undine

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Thank you very much - I appreciate your praise particularly since you are such a brilliant writer and I love your stories!

Somehow I have lost track of your blog address - is there anything new? Have you finished the Xander story?
Hope to see something new from you here or somewhere I can find asap, please!

Aww, such flattery! :blush: Thank you! And thank you for the new addition!

After about a year of refusing to write because I just hated everything, I've actually just started working on that story again - like, literally, two nights ago. So I should have some new stuff posted within the next few days. The blog address is in my profile. :)
 

Tad

Dimensions' loiterer
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The great white north, eh?
AAAAAACCKKK!!!!!!!!

I hope you get lots of writing time soon, because I hate to have them hanging in that situation! You do a fantastic job of writing ups and downs into the story, it is just rough when a section ends on such a down beat, without knowing how long until the next section :eek: :p

But more seriously, thank you for the new chapters, fantastic as always :)
 

agouderia

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.... writing ups and downs into the story, it is just rough when a section ends on such a down beat, without knowing how long until the next section :eek: :p

Life mainly consists of ups and downs, doesn't it??

In Antonia's opinion, their story is over. She prefers a clear cut over trying to piece things back together, especially since she has lost faith in her ability and Philip's willingness to make him move forward in a positive way, while being afraid of her growing emotional dependance on his erratic affection.

So I guess that's the end ... isn't it?
 

Paquito

don't July to me
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Life mainly consists of ups and downs, doesn't it??

In Antonia's opinion, their story is over. She prefers a clear cut over trying to piece things back together, especially since she has lost faith in her ability and Philip's willingness to make him move forward in a positive way, while being afraid of her growing emotional dependance on his erratic affection.

So I guess that's the end ... isn't it?

Don't you do this to me.
 

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