Moving on - by agouderia (~BHM, ~~WG, Romance)

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ashblonde

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I'm really enjoying this story! And not just how adorable I imagine Uli is ;) but there's some nice character development and psychology. Please keep this one going, it's very, very good :bow:
 

agouderia

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I'm really enjoying this story! And not just how adorable I imagine Uli is ;) but there's some nice character development and psychology. Please keep this one going, it's very, very good :bow:

:bow::blush: - A great start for 2010 - I can't tell you how delighted I am you like the story and how much your praise means to me!

I've always loved and admired your stories - actually "She said, he said" was the one which won be over for the whole BHM genre.

I'll do my best to keep it going!
 

chubsixtysix

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Ich liebe Uri!! Keep writing, Uri has years of his ex-wife's brainwashing to overcome. I cant wait to see him really accept himself like some of his new friends and his son have done. :bounce:
 

agouderia

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Ich liebe Uri!! Keep writing, Uri has years of his ex-wife's brainwashing to overcome. I cant wait to see him really accept himself like some of his new friends and his son have done. :bounce:

.... how do you know it's Uli's ex-wife ??? :blink:

..... by the way, I'm till waiting for the end of your Christmas magic story I also enjoy very much....
 

chubsixtysix

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Ich liebe Uri!! Keep writing, Uri has years of his ex-wife's brainwashing to overcome. I cant wait to see him really accept himself like some of his new friends and his son have done. :bounce:
 

agouderia

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[Author’s Note:] It's January. So here's the chapter matching the month.

Part 7 – Breaking free

January is never a good month – cold, dark, a new year but almost never a fresh start. My January in Chicago, after 10 days in the sun and over three weeks with André was no exception. It was freezing cold; I was all alone, even Dimitri was no longer there as company. My knee started hurting again and healing progress was as slow as it always gets at this stage –life strongly resembled a very gloomy tunnel with no light at the end in sight. After the holidays, the general state of mind strongly resembled a mental and emotional hangover, nobody wanted to party, go out, have fun, everybody sobered up drastically and got back to hard work, if they still had it.

Gratitude for the latter saved me – seeing the much worse fate of several of my US colleagues, who were laid off at the end of the year or in the course of the month. Not only did I still have my exchange job but I also knew I had a permanent, decently paying one to go back to in 8 months time. This motivated me not only to get a good daily work load done, but also to revise and finish the first draft of my novel and send it to my publisher for review.

The combination of freezing cold and a lot of work naturally asked for comfort of some kind – and as often, food was my choice of solace. After I was surprised to have only put on only 2 lbs. over Christmas, January was less kind. My daily routine of working all day with a light lunch, but no longer resisting the brownie, cookie or cake with coffee and cooking a healthy, but always big dinner – like making half and not one-fourth of a classic 4 person recipe for me alone – before settling back at my desk with a warm, stuffed belly to work on my novel or blog, made my waistline expand back to my all-time high of 118 kg/260lbs in no time.

But since it did not matter to anyone else – why should I care? There was no love life in sight that would be worth making the effort to control my weight. The only thing I continued conscientiously was going to the gym three times a week after work to do my rehab muscle building exercises since I was seriously afraid of maybe not being able to walk properly because of my knee injury, but none of it was exactly fat-burning.

Most depressing for me on coming back to this icy January was finding out that I would no longer have the regular opportunity to nurse my hopeless crush on Stella. On returning from the South, there were no more physiotherapy appointments scheduled for rehabbing my knee, just the special exercises Stella had set up at the regular gym.

So I called her practice, only to hear the assistant say, “Sorry Mr. Rheinstein, your rehab is over, you are no longer on our list of current patients.”

Slightly panicking, I asked, “Could I please speak to Stella about this, I think some mistake must have occurred.”

“Sorry Mr. Rheinstein, she is in therapy right now.”

“Can I try and call again later?”

“Sure Mr. Rheinstein, have a nice day.”

When I called again later, she was in another therapy, the next time she had already left for classes. As I called again two days later, she had her assistant tell me that indeed my therapy was over and I should simply continue with my gym exercises.

Totally torn between my strong desire to have a chance to continue meeting Stella regularly and the fear of making myself completely ridiculous in her eyes, it took me two days before a hurting knee convinced me that desire and need were stronger than the fear of ridicule.

So I went to her practice to try and arrange a new series of appointments directly. Her assistant was clearly irritated, but nevertheless told me to sit down and wait if I insisted on speaking with her. As Stella came out, she was surprised to see me, and gave a normal friendly but impersonal greeting. “Uli, nice to see you, how are you?”

Knowing that the socially expected “fine” would not get me anywhere, I launched into a lengthy description of how exactly my knee still pained me and that recovery was not as good and quick as I had hoped. “I looked it up with my German insurance – normally they would have paid for 4 weeks of full clinical rehab. Doing only practice sessions from home they cover up to 80 sessions over an up to 6 month period. So far I have had only 25 therapy sessions…and I feel they have helped me more than anything...” feeling mounting embarrassment under Stella’s raised eyebrows and the critical scrutiny of her assistant.

“Thank you for your praise of my work, that’s very kind. But that is not in the regular rehab plan we laid out for you; it normally covers 6 weeks after the accident – and you even had 8 weeks. And I’m pretty booked, I don’t have time for you as an additional patient right now.”

The horrible disappointment that swooped down into my stomach must have been visible on my face, as I stammered, reddening, “But - my knee, really hurts, mistake in gym exercises, too uncoordinated,” before my voice faded.

Stella smirked. “So you’re insisting we take advantage of the famous, generous, full-coverage German health insurance system and give your knee a little more of my personal therapy than our standards determine?”

Not sure whether she was serious, I mumbled something like, “Um…necessary…if possible”

“I’m sorry, that’s out of the question, and my schedule is already way to full,” Stella started, before she stopped short, shaking her head. “How am I supposed to say no, when you sit there looking at me like a lost puppy? Okay, I give up – you get a final round of 10 sessions in the coming 6 weeks!”

“Really? Is that possible?”

“No – it’s not really possible! But Beth here will somehow carve out 10 appointments for you. See you then!” Stella concluded and turned to the next patient who had appeared in the door in the meantime.

Trying to mask my extreme relief, I arranged the 10 sessions with a grumbling Beth, who clearly did not agree with Stella’s decision. At least I would still get to see Stella now for a while once a week – but I did not dare make any new overtures at inviting her to anything in private after she had turned down my invitation to make up for my missing the restaurant’s Epiphany party.

We still talked regularly during my therapy sessions, but I was careful not to touch personal issues since I noticed that Stella herself stayed very neutral. In one of our last sessions, we were talking about new movies; I mentioned that I was going to see the new Theo Angelopoulos film “The Dust of Time” in a Sunday matinee.

“Wow – Angelopoulos, that’s hard core art house,” Stella said. “I’ve only seen 2 of his so far, I find the imagery spectacular but the storyline sometimes difficult to follow. And I have only gone with a friend from Athens so far, who - as cliché as it can get - happens to be a gay Ancient Greek professor specializing on poetry from Lesbos.”

Laughing I casually asked her, “Would you like to come along on Sunday?”
“Why not?” Stella half-shrugged. “That at least gives me a good reason to hurry up and finish grading those papers for my course on Saturday.”

This win fall set me thinking of how to make the most of this unexpected opportunity. Having lunch together afterwards would be a bit late, so I decided to try and introduce Stella to my personal favorite for Sunday afternoon, extensive German ‘Kaffee&Kuchen’. In preparation, I baked my mother’s best apple cake with Marzipan-topping and Astrid’s easy to make but wicked chocolate Cognac cake – soaked with no less than half a pint of Cognac.

As we came out of the movie at 2:30, it was snowing lightly and Stella asked, “So, how about a coffee?”

“Hmm, actually,” I stammered, reddening as always, “actually I would like to invite you , in Germany at this time on Sunday, we have ‘Kaffee&Kuchen’, we bake a lot in my family , and it’s always been my favorite part of the day, as you can unfortunately see,” looking down at my largest-size ever belly.

“Okay, why not? Let’s do coffee German style,” Stella smiled. “Where are we going to get that ‘Kuchen’ you were talking about?”

“Ummm,” taking a deep breath, “I baked some. I’m not as good as baker as my mother or sister, but it’s at least their recipes.”

Now Stella blushed lightly too. “Oh – that’s really cute. I’ve never had any guy bake a cake for me.”

So we took the ‘L’ and then walked back to my apartment, where I slipped on the snow at the doorstep slightly twisting my injured knee. “Ouch!”

“What’s wrong Uli, your knee? I’ll look at it as soon as we are upstairs.”

As we got into the apartment, Stella sat me down and examined my knee. “I don’t think anything is really hurt, but it is not fully stable yet, so you might have some swelling. Now sit down, prop it up, put some ice on it and tell me what to do to fix coffee.”

Stella quickly set the table, made coffee and burst out laughing, as she saw the two cakes. “I don’t believe it - you baked 2 cakes for us!”

“Well, having no variety is considered poor style in Germany if you invite guests,” I defended myself. “And I can take the leftovers to the office tomorrow.” Seeing Stella smile, I confessed. “My sweet tooth and love for cakes and cookies has always been my biggest weakness – with all the negative consequences for my weight. I know it’s also not very masculine.”

Stella smirked. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. You’re right that many men try to convey the image of not liking sweets, maybe because it is somehow considered effeminate. But in reality, most men I know would live off meat and sweets if they could get away with it.” Tasting the Cognac chocolate cake, she exclaimed, “Holy cow, are you trying to get me drunk!?”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware it’s that strong.”

“No, it tastes great, the first bite was just a total surprise,” Stella stated after her third bite. “You totally have to give me the recipe so I can make it for my father, he’ll absolutely love it.”

“Sure, I’m glad it’s eatable and you like it.”

Seeing me wince as I tried to get up to pour her more coffee, Stella said, “Stay put Uli, let me get the coffee. I’ll give your knee some manual therapy before I go, that should help.”

“Please Stella, don’t bother. It’s your Sunday, you mustn’t work here.”

“It’s not work, it’s helping a...well, friend. And don’t you dare suggest charging it to your German insurance,” Stella cut me short. “Since its better done lying down -why don’t you put on gym shorts while I put the dishes away?”

Stella followed me into the bedroom and started working on my knee in silence. Lying in the comfort of my own bed, with a warm belly full of cake and therapy from Stella’s hands, this required an overload of willpower to try and control my physical responses, making me very tense. If Stella noticed, she didn’t say anything at first but after some time remarked, “Are you okay? Relax a little, Uli!” looking at me with an expression I couldn’t read.

All I could do was nod and look at her with what must have been adoring eyes. She smiled slightly and twisted her lips, before suddenly stroking my cheek with her finger, ending under my chubby chin , lowering her face to mine and kissing me, starting by softly sucking my under lip. Needless to say that months of pent up emotions wiped out any rational thoughts and doubts - I was immediately incapable of controlling my physical reactions anymore but got an instant hard on, pulling her down into my arms and hungrily responding to her kiss, running my fingers through her thick curls.

Stella did not let me hold her forever, but raised herself back up, murmuring with a mischievous small smile. “I think somebody here really needs full body manual therapy badly. We’ll starting by moving up a little from the knee,”

I inhaled sharply at her touch moving up the insides of my big thighs and wanted to protest, but she put her finger on my lips murmuring. “Don’t speak. I know what I’m doing,” then moving further up, teasingly circling my groin, which almost killed me, before starting to unbutton my shirt, running her hands slowly underneath my t-shirt, sensually starting to grab her way up through my belly fat. By now, I was indeed incapable of speaking – I sucked my gut in as far as possible, shook my head and firmly grabbed her hands out from under my shirt pulling her up close and kissing her again.

Stella returned my kiss, at the same time nimbly taking off my shirt, then her own sweater – revealing her beautiful plump breasts in a dark pink body suit – and then pulling my t-shirt over my head in one quick, hurting tug before I could offer any resistance. She ran her fingernails across my detested thick man-boobs before sharply pinching first one and then the other nipple, making me almost cry out, before bending down to kiss my chest.

One of her hands wandered back down across my again painfully sucked in belly but I caught it, moving it up to my shoulder. “Uli, exhale, let go! Doctor’s orders! That belly of yours needs some good manual therapy too.” Now letting her hand wander along the sensitive underside of my belly, kneading it’s fat in rhythmic circles and pulling up the waistband of my shorts to tease my raging hard erection with her fingertips, feeling me all up, making me groan and forcing me to totally concentrate on not immediately coming.

Shifting her position, Stella pulled off her jeans and let me catch my breath for a second before stretching herself out again on top of me, kissing me and then moving down with her mouth to my nipples and belly, at the same time continuing to stimulate my groin firmly but in tantalizing slow motion with the knee she had wedged between my thighs. My hands grabbed her buttocks, for the first time feeling round but firm ones, started kneading them, pulling her hard against me.

I arched my back in trying to keep control and Stella used this second to pull off my shorts in a flash, exposing me fully. But she didn’t give me a chance to think about it, with the same speed, she unhooked her bodysuit, pulled it up to her waist, straddled me and brought herself down with hot, tightly contracting muscles engulfing me. All I could do was claw the blanket and groan to not explode before she expertly started moving over me, jiggling my belly against her pelvic bone – though I was too far gone to care in that moment – until I very quickly could not hold it any longer and had a deep, shaking climax.

Stella carefully let herself down on my belly, resting her head on my heaving chest, tickling my face with her curls while I gasped for breath. As I had halfway relaxed, she rolled off of me to my side and I pulled her close.

As soon as I was able to say something again, I opened my mouth. “I’m so sorry...”

But once again, she put her finger on my lips, nibbling on my ear and whispering, “That was just fine, I know how hungry you were for me. That was my little therapy. Now relax, then it is your turn to give me some ‘manual therapy’.”

Exploring Stella’s body was such a change from Sabine’s, who had a slight, almost boyish figure with no real curves – so just running my fingers from the indention of Stella’s small waist over the dune shape of her hip was arousing, as was having full breasts with very delicate nipples that filled my hand. Her backside was round and silky to touch, and the inside of her thighs was unbelievably tender.

I fear I almost ate her up that first time, kissing, licking and nibbling on what felt like every inch of her body. She felt and tasted so good, I got completely lost in stimulating her with my mouth and fingers that I started when she suddenly dug her heels into my back and arched herself up before convulsing in short pants.

By now, I was pretty hard again and I led her hand down so she could feel how badly she was wanted. Her practiced fingers gave me a breath taking massage while I sucked her breasts before she tried to pull me down on her – but my last shred of reason warned me not to squash her with my heavier than ever body. So I turned on my side and pulled her in front of me, entering her by spooning in from behind, my big belly resting on her shapely backside and holding her tight over her pubic mound to increase the pressure of my thrusting. First slowly then with increasing speed until I climaxed and we both fell in a panting heap.

As a man, you can never tell with certainty how a woman really feels, even if you know her very well, but as Stella turned around, snuggled against my chest and rubbed my chubby cheek, she was kind enough to my ego to smile sweetly.

We lay there wrapped around each other for some time, before Stella shivered slightly and said quietly. “I’m cold.”

I pulled out a blanket and wrapped her in it, gently rubbing her again and then cleared my throat, not daring to look at her. “Why did you do that for me Stella? Why did you make my dream come true?”

“Always the why question? Is that a professional deformity?” Stella grinned. “Well – first of all, I couldn’t help noticing from our very first therapy session on that it most likely was a dream of yours I could make come true. It’s intriguing and flattering for me as a woman to see a man who so totally and over months has the physical hots for me, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. Also, I was pretty sure you would never make a direct move, no matter how many dinners, movies and so you invite me to – so I had to make the first move myself to find out more.”

I kissed her again so I didn’t have to respond to her not exactly uplifting assessment of my confidence, before she went on.

“There is the question of professional ethics though…you still are my patient, even though your therapy is almost over. It was easier for me to overcome that barrier because you are a foreigner, I was pretty sure you would never even think of suing me for making a pass at you, right?” Seeing me shake my head, she added while starting to knead one of my thick love handles, “Also, I really like you and have come to care for you. I can talk to you about many things I’ve never been able to talk about to any of my exes, and you try so hard to meet my expectation, that’s really sweet.”

“Thank you Stella, I can’t thank you enough for what probably was the best night of my life, even though it’s only afternoon, Kaffee&Kuchen plus sex , that's so dreamy. I never even dared fantasize,”

“So, you think this should be a one-night stand?” she teased.

Not daring to say that an every night stand would be fine with me, I opted for the kiss once more, letting my tongue play.

She responded warmly and then said, “Uli -you know I am not looking for commitment right now- I want to figure out where I am heading on my own. So actually you being here only until the end of summer is a good thing. How about we just get together as long as we are comfortable with it, while you are here?”

“You mean like a so-called foreign affair?”

Stella giggled. “Yes exactly, no strings attached – just friendship and pleasure, okay?”

“More than okay!”


My next few weeks were spent somewhere over cloud No. 9, breezing through work, only waiting to see Stella again. Despite my insecurity about what she exactly saw in me, I delighted in everything we did together and felt better than I had in way over a year.

Even though Stella never alluded to my weight and body – maybe also because of her professional experience – I tread carefully to not embarrass her or myself more than necessary. I reined in my eating as well as I could so I at least did not gain even more weight. And never went on top in our love making as not to hurt her or make her uncomfortably feel how heavy I was. As keen as I was on seeing and exploring all details of her lovely body, I didn’t want her to see the large expanse of mine all too clearly, so I always made sure the lights were low or I was somehow covered.

Despite not knowing exactly what she told her family, Stella must have filled them in that we had some sort of arrangement, for she did openly include me in several events or took me along as her partner. In contrast, I was much more reluctant, not mentioning my relationship to her to anyone.

Tyler totally caught me off guard one day when he asked me, “Why don’t you and Stella come over for dinner on Sunday to Anja and me?”

I feigned surprise, “Why Stella and me?”

Tyler grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. “Come on, she is nothing you have to hide. It’s great – you’ve solved that dating issue on the sly.”

“How do you know?”

“I hurt my back again so I’m having physiotherapy with Stella – she mentioned it – and seems very happy.” Tyler answered. “I don’t understand why you want to keep it a secret – both of you are non-attached right now. There is no reason not to be open about it. Be proud of yourself – she’s wonderful in every respect.”

Astrid also noticed that something had changed when we met in late February in DC, where she was at a World Bank conference while I attended a seminar on transatlantic culture exchange. It was warm pre-spring sunshine as we went for a walk and sat outside for coffee on the Mall, Astrid intently watching me from the side. “So Uli, what has been going on in Chicago in the past few months?”

“Everything has been so much better since the last time you saw me. As you can see, my knee has healed as good as possible, work is progressing nicely,” I responded evasively before trying to continue with a lengthy description of a new work project.

But Astrid interrupted me. “That’s not what I mean. Something else must have happened , I haven’t seen you so content, at peace with yourself and – if you forgive me for saying so – in every aspect well rounded out since that time you visited us almost 2 years ago on your book promotion tour. It also seems you’re more or less over Sabine and your marriage failing. What’s the change?”

Despite knowing that Astrid had honestly meant it in a positive sense, the ‘rounded out’-phrase in combination with the 2 year reference let the most uncomfortable associations surface in my mind, looking down at the big stuffed pillow of a belly in my lap, wedged tightly into a small chair: There had been 30kg/66lbs less of me then – how could I possibly feel good about myself now? Why on earth was Stella putting up with this bulk?

“Uli, hello, where are you? I think I deserve to know what has been going on in Chicago,”

“Astrid, you deserve to know more than anybody else,” I sighed, trying to push the unpleasant thoughts to the back of my mind. “Well, there has been a change in my personal life. You’re right, I haven’t thought about Sabine much anymore at all. It’s Stella – she’s more than just my physiotherapist by now,”

“Uli, that’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you! I immediately liked her when I met her at the hospital last October,” Astrid gave me a warm hug.

“Yeah, she’s too good for words. And she likes you, too. The two of you can relate to each other , both struck with terrible little brothers.”

Astrid laughed. “Now you owe me the juicy details,”

Even retelling all the wonderful details of me getting together with Stella to Astrid could not quench the unpleasant thoughts that had surfaced in my mind. I brooded over them on the whole flight back to Chicago and couldn’t even turn them off when Stella picked me up as a surprise from the airport. She had prepared a delicious smelling veal giouvetzi casserole in the oven, but I couldn’t eat a bite, claiming I had already eaten on the plane.

Stella quizzed me about my stay in Washington and I answered mechanically but couldn’t really focus on the conversation. After a while, she suddenly snapped her fingers before my eyes, startling me. “Uli, what’s wrong? What happened in DC? You tell me you loved the city, your seminar was great, Astrid is fine, but you come back all grumpy and despondent, say you’re not hungry and don’t want to eat even though your stomach has been growling a symphony the past half hour.”

“Nothing, I’m fine, maybe a bit tired.”

Eyeing me critically, Stella got up, went into the kitchen, came back with a small plate of her casserole, half-settled on my lap and started to feed me, ignoring my protests. “A small portion of dinner will do you good. And now tell me exactly what happened. It can’t just be those negative political vibes in DC. What did Astrid say?”

“She said she was so glad we got together, she really likes you, the two of you have the big sister thing in common,”

“Yeah, always having to keep a close eye on those naughty little brothers, make sure they don’t get into worse mischief,” spooning some more food into my mouth.

“Astrid even said she hasn’t seen me so happy in at least 2 years,” but I was not able to continue explaining from there.

Stella noticed and asked, “What exactly was 2 years ago?”

“Um, that was when I was down at Astrid’s promoting my diet book. Did I ever tell you about it?”

“No, you didn’t,” Stella said. “But Astrid herself gave me the basics when we discussed the therapy options after your knee surgery.”

“Oh, so you know all about my total failure?”

“I wouldn’t say selling tens of thousands of books can be called a total failure.”

“But do you know that I’ve gained back almost 70 pounds since then? How credible is that for a diet book author?”

Stella observed me in silence for a moment, before saying, “So that’s the problem, you’re berating yourself again over some weight and body issues, right?”

Sighing, it burst out of me. “Stella, why are you together with me? Don’t you see I’m way too big for someone as lovely as you? Why do you put up with all this fat?”

Stella settled fully on my lap, pulled up my double-chin, forcing me to look her in the eye. “I’ve seen this coming, Uli. I’ve been waiting for us to have this conversation about your weight and body issues. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you often flinch when I touch you, or how you constantly try to suck in your belly. Or that you never have brought yourself fully down on me?”

Embarrassed, I lowered my eyes. I couldn’t stand her warm, compassionate gaze, while Stella continued.

“Uli, there is no correlation between my affection for you and your weight – I don’t judge people in inches and pounds. You are you, and your weight is a completely marginal aspect of who you are to me. Actually, I like your big appetite. Nothing is more frustrating than cooking for a man who constantly counts calories. I’ve had that before.”

“But isn’t it disgusting for you to touch all this blubber? Sabine always hated it.”

“Wait a second – I’m Stella and nobody else,” she said very strictly. “And to be honest, no it doesn’t disgust me at all – on the contrary”, while starting to rub my belly, which I of course instantly sucked in.

“Let go, don’t suck it in. I want to feel all of it,” Stella ordered gently, going from rubbing to kneading my still sucked in belly. “Uli, really, exhale. I can feel you are still holding back,” before placing a practiced grip into my upper belly, forcing me to exhale. I cringed as I watched my belly inflate back into a big thick pillow, taking up half my lap and spilling onto Stella’s thighs.

Her only response was a small kiss and murmur, while continuing to knead all the belly fat she could grab. “See, that’s so much better. There is nothing wrong with a nice big, round belly. I’m a very tactile person, that’s maybe why I became a physiotherapist. You also know I like to cook; kneading different types of dough is something I love. Same goes for different body types – there is a huge range I enjoy working with. Difficult, mostly very sad and sometimes heart-breaking are only the absolute extremes of anorexic or immobile.”

“So I could never be too fat for you?”

Stella shook her head. “That problem is so many potential pounds away it’s not even worth thinking about it. My professional experience admittedly though – being relatively young, small, and female – is more with the other extreme: patients with anorexia. That is not only sad to see, but feels terrible to work with and is extremely difficult because I’m always afraid of hurting them. But in your case,” she started massaging one of my love handles firmly, grabbing down deep. “First there is the soft flesh I can roll, now held in by your waistband, then underneath here I can feel strong muscles and finger my way down to the vertebrae, that’s pure delight for me!” causing me to sharply take my breath in. “Can you feel it, too?”

“So it’s really okay for you if my body stays this big?” I couldn’t believe it.

“Absolutely, I want you to feel good about yourself, be at ease with your body - that’s what’s important,” Stella replied, sliding down from my lap onto the couch, pulling me over her. “Come here - I want to feel all of you on top of me for the first time tonight.”



Continued in post #30
 

Tad

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Oh, three new chapters--pure bliss!

This is just such a wonderful story :) I don't know if there is more or not, but if there is I'll read them eagerly :)
 

agouderia

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I don't know if there is more or not, but if there is I'll read them eagerly :)

.... ooops, complete lack of technical skills again ... somehow the title of the next chapter was cut off! There's more to come ... after all, as we all know, a new love interest does not solve all problems, not even in fiction... ;)

:blush: ... I'm happy to hear you're enjoying the story so far!
 

agouderia

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Part 8 - Running ahead

As winter moved on into spring, I was as well-fed, well-loved and well-exercised as I could almost not remember anymore. Stella and her whole family were fabulous cooks, and my poorly controllable appetite led to yet a few more extra pounds, pushing me across the 120kg/265 lbs mark. A new all-time high. But for the first time my increased weight was no longer linked to - what I in hindsight had to recognize as – pretty dire sexual frustration. On the contrary, my sexual appetite and satisfaction surged since Stella was more than willing to fully participate in the tantalizing, irresistible physical attraction and erotic exploration that is part of a newfound relationship.

Apart from the wonderful exercise of frequent tumbles in the metaphorical hay, Stella paid professional attention to me sticking to my rehab plan. And being an active person herself, pulled me into all sorts of physical activities without being pushy or pressuring me.

Like going swimming on a regular basis – this was one aspect that forced me to start putting a lot of conscious effort into overcoming my body image issues. Stella had verbally and tactilely emphasized more than once that she was not put off by my thick and thicker padding – in turn I wanted her to feel like a desired love interest around me, not a surrogate therapist for a guy with an overload of physical and psychological hang ups; a role which I feared she might easily get fed up with.

Our first outing to the pool one Saturday morning was an emotional nightmare for me. Not only had I postponed the occasion as often as I could, even though I had bought a new pair of very roomy swimming shorts to be prepared, but I also tried to find an excuse for going on my own instead of with her.

When I complained about my knee aching one Friday evening at the movies, Stella said. “We’ll see to that tomorrow morning, when you come swimming with me. I know some great underwater exercises which are much better than those on dry land in the gym.”

Since we were spending the night together at my apartment, there was nothing more I could do but grab my swimming gear the next morning and meekly follow her. In the changing room, in front of a full length mirror, I felt nauseated seeing my larger than ever gut hang, like 3’ over the waistband of my swimming shorts, supported by tree trunk thighs and topped off by the fleshy man-boobs I hated more than anything.

Shuddering while going out to the pool, I was on the brink of retreating when Stella - sexy perfect in a dark red, low cut sports one-piece, talking with two model material males - waved me over. Hanging onto my arm, she unabashedly introduced me to them, some guys she knew from her university courses.

All I could do was nod, try to suck my gut in as far as possible – the main effect of that being me getting short of breath – until they started quizzing me about an online-feature of mine they had read and watched about the differences in US and European male sports culture. So I had to exhale, my belly fat spilling even farther out in a series of quivers as I answered with mounting mortification. Stella chose to ignore my obvious discomfort and then led me into the water, where she did a series of – indeed very helpful – exercises with me before we went on to swim laps for almost an hour, leaving me totally exhausted.

This experience triggered my resolve to somehow come to terms with my body, my fat, my weight. If Stella was comfortable to be seen with a fat guy like me on full display in public, she deserved a half-way confident and competent one, not an overtly self-conscious wreck. It meant overcoming a lifetime of social conditioning, accepted visual perceptions, my personal history of Sabine’s rejection of my body and deep rooted insecurities - All in all hard work.

I started by making an effort to look myself up and down in the mirror every day, just to get used to the full expanse of my body to reduce the shock element on seeing the size of my reflection somewhere. Then I no longer looked away or skimmed over pictures or video footage of myself, but observed critically how I could present my bulk in the most appealing manner. Likemy belly looked more shapely if I stretched out my legs slightly in sitting or that a double-chin is more distinguished in ¾- than in full profile. Or that certain shirts and pants combinations fit better over my love-handles and round backside than others.

Oddly enough, one clothes shopping excursion – something I had learned to dread over the past decade, killing off the last rest of fashion sense or interest I probably never had in the first place – a little while into my weight acceptance self-therapy turned into a major ego booster. Since I had packed on around 40 pounds since buying my last set of summer clothes with Astrid, none of my lighter clothes fit me anymore – which I noticed when I made the futile effort to fit into the biggest ones I had, as Stella came in early on a warm spring afternoon, all ready to go in cute light jeans wear.

Seeing my struggle, she playfully squeezed my love handles, kissed me and said, “Oh goody, we get to go clothes shopping big time. Unfortunately, I know nothing about dressing up big boys, only little women. Would it be okay if I enlist Agnieszka again to come along and teach me?”

Remembering my positive first experience with Agnieszka, I agreed – and browsing through half-a-dozen big and tall stores with an attractive tall blonde and a gorgeous little dark-head to fuss over me turned out to be more fun than I had ever expected. Admittedly, I did mind having to try on all the different clothes – but since Agnieszka was a true expert in finding things that fit pretty well, not once was there a situation that something was too tight or way too large.

It was sort of bizarre to be objectified, but Stella’s and Agnieszka’s discussion of the different options: “Look, this shirt makes his eyes look incredibly blue!” or “I prefer the pants that give him the teddy bear behind.” or “That jacket creates the perfect shoulder-belly footballer line…” stayed on the entertaining side, and made me feel better about myself than I cared to admit. Best of all were some of the looks of pure envy I got from several of the other heavy customers…selfish as it may be, it did wonders for my self-esteem.

The most obscure measure I resorted to was talking to my belly again. I had done that while I wrote my diet blog – in those days I had long debates with my belly how I could best make it shrink and go away for good. As we know – my belly had not taken me seriously and had kept the upper hand. Now I talked to it to find a way to accept it, make it feel and look as good as possible with the trade off of asking it not to be too demanding, not to get in the way when I least needed it or refrain from growling too often.

My friend Birger – who came over to visit out of curiosity to see how I was doing – caught me one day. “Okay, that was not quite what I meant when I said that you should learn to accept your weight – telling your belly that it should please want only two and not three portions tonight because you don’t want it to squash Stella.” He laughed and shook his head.

Foolishly I had tried to keep Stella a secret from him, but he had deduced the obvious from some remarks I myself and Anja made as well as from seeing me as relaxed and content as I currently was, and made me introduce Stella to him.

“Are you sure it is a good idea for you to be going directly for the exclusive thing again?” Birger went on. “Why don’t you look around a little more? I’m mean, Stella seems great – but how do you know she really is the one?”

“I’m not saying Stella is the one, we’ve agreed that we are together as long as I am here... no more,” I answered. “But monogamy just happens to be one thing I’m good at – in contrast to you!”

Birger blushed, but grinned. “As I always say, we can’t all be good at everything. Are we going over to the ‘Naxos’ again? The other day with Stella’s cousin Artemis was fun…”

With Easter in sight, while we were discussing his vacation plans on the phone, André suddenly asked me, “Do you remember that you said in Florida that you would like to meet Inka-Sophie?”

Inka-Sophie? I scanned my memory. “Oh, you mean the one who is not yet your girlfriend?”

“Well – I guess you can call her my girlfriend by now,” André answered with audible triumph in his voice. “Would it be okay with you if I bring her along?”

I was torn – on the one hand I wanted time with André for myself and was not overly keen on more responsibility for another teenager I didn’t even know. On the other hand, I wanted him to be happy now in times that were pretty difficult for him.

“Would her parents be okay with that? What does your mother say?”

“Why don’t you just call her mother and talk to her – as far as I know she’s fine with it, “Andre not quite answered my question and gave me a phone number.

After arrangements for Christmas vacation had been rather smooth in the end, I was surprised to face two weeks of tedious negotiations with Sabine, André, André’s principal and Inka-Sophie’s mother – an extremely shy, quiet women, which set me wondering what the daughter would be like – about how to organize the matter.

Sabine was wildly against André bringing his girlfriend along, blamed me for causing trouble because I even considered having her over, and tried to convince me that André should definitely come only for the two weeks of vacation and stay with my parents for the other two weeks she was in Morocco. While the principal was open to extending his vacation a little for him to have more English immersion. Since I was very busy at the office, I half lost track of the different lines of argument which from a distance made little sense to me.

Then, Sabine suddenly rang me out of bed at 5:20 a.m. one morning only to tell me that both André and Inka-Sophie would be coming in 48 hours, over a week earlier than ever planned and I had please to see to it that they had some meaningful language and American history instruction. “Whatever you do, you must promise me that you will not let them sleep in one room! Make sure they are not too intimate! Don’t let André be completely hen-pecked by her!”

Given the time of day and not having had coffee yet, all I could respond was, “Sure, whatever, yes…of course...e-mail me their flight number so I can pick them up…” before covering my head with the pillow again.

After a long wait at immigrations at O’Hare airport, I finally saw André in the crowd with a girl in his arm, whom he introduced, beaming with pride. “Hi Paps, great to see you! Here – meet Inka-Sophie!”

“Herr Rheinstein, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. André has told me so many great things about his father. And just from knowing that you let me come along, he must be right. Thank you ever so much for having me,” Inka-Sophie said in politest German.

My jaw dropped as the visual of Inka-Sophie sunk in. She was beautiful. Standing at least 6’1’/184 cm, she had bright blue eyes, thick long wavy golden-blonde hair, a perfect peach complexion and an open smile. And …she was a big girl. I guessed her to be, given her height, at least a size 48/18 and noticeably broader than André. She had a stunning thick hourglass figure with perfectly rounded shoulders, outstanding breasts, a relatively narrow waist with a nice tummy pillow, full flaring hips and a round behind, showcased in a jeans mini-skirt, and plump, but disgracefully long and shapely legs.

I was completely bowled over – I had never expected André to go for this feminine type – but maybe I was only projecting my own tastes and experiences, which decidedly favored petite, brunette women.

Seeing me stare, Inka-Sophie and André looked at each other in mutual understanding, started giggling and then burst out laughing, as he said, “See – I told you that’s how he was going to react!”

“Inka-Sophie, welcome to Chicago,” I got a grip on myself. “It’s good to meet you and have you here; you seem to make André very happy – and that is what matters to me. Please call me Ulrich or Uli – we’ll be living under one roof for a few weeks now – always Herr Rheinstein would be too complicated.”

Three people in my rather small apartment was a bit difficult – but I had decided to give Inka-Sophie my bedroom, I would sleep on the foldable couch in the living room and André would have to make do with a mattress in my study closet. He clearly was not pleased with this arrangement, but grumblingly did not pursue the issue when I said, “Look André, you know full well that the deal with your mother for letting Inka-Sophie come along was that you sleep in separate rooms – okay?

André with Inka-Sophie seemed like a completely new and different person – I was mesmerized watching their interaction during their visit which in turn came across as cute puppy love, playful siblings, a mature relationship-savvy couple, school mates and every once in a while disturbingly as budding eroto-maniacs.

Over the past year, André had grown another good 5cm/2’’, so he was a match in height for Inka-Sophie, if not in build. But what was more: it felt as if he had matured and grown up in fast-forward, even in comparison to Christmas.

When I got up on our first day all together, the two of them were already in the kitchen, fixing breakfast – André cutting and mixing fruit with cottage cheese while Inka-Sophie was stacking complicated and extremely appetizing looking sandwiches. They sat me down with a pot of coffee and André discussed his plans for showing Inka-Sophie around town.

“I’d like to show her what I came to know over Christmas. If it’s okay with you, we can pick you up at the office in the afternoon for coffee and you can add on what I missed out?” he asked me.

“Sure – no problem.”

“And then,” André continued, “when are we going to meet Stella?”

I almost choked on my coffee. “How do you know about Stella?” Because admittedly, I had hinted at the fact that I was seeing someone in Chicago, but had not gone into details and had evaded the issue of André and Stella meeting with both parties out of a mixture of insecurity of how to handle the situation and slight embarrassment.

“Aunt Astrid wisely filled me in…she said you wouldn’t have the guts to tell me yourself – and that it was better for me to know before coming here.” André grinned at seeing me reddening. “And Birger supplied the details. Like that Stella is short, cute, Greek-American, a great cook,” here lightly slapping my belly, “but unfortunately und incomprehensibly only has eyes for you.”

“When and why did you talk to Birger about Stella?” I was positively annoyed, because I thought it was completely inappropriate for my best friend with his amorous track record to discuss my love-life with my teenage son.

André rolled his eyes. “You yourself sent me to your office to pick up those files from the archive with Birger!”

Somehow I had forgotten about that.

Inka-Sophie, who had been following this exchange with amused curiosity added, “You don’t have to be too embarrassed – 9 out of 10 parents are completely incapable of informing their off-spring about changes in their love-life in an honest, open, acceptable and mature manner. You’re just following the regular pattern.”

This remark left me completely dumb founded – and only after another pot of coffee, some fruit salad and a large, calming chocolate chip cookie was I able to contribute again. “Okay, I can understand that you want to meet Stella. I’ll call her up and see what we can arrange.”

When I sheepishly told Stella on the phone that André wanted to meet her, she laughed. “That serves you right! I’ve been curious to see how you were going to go about this – André being here and you trying to see me in secret. I could never understand why you thought it was okay for your son to have to deal with his mother’s new partner on a daily basis but must be spared the fact that his father also has a girlfriend!”

“You’re of course right, Stella dear. Thank you for calling yourself my girlfriend, that means a lot to me,” because indeed I couldn’t even fully explain to myself why I was so squeamish about introducing Stella to my friends and family; in part it was because I still was married to Sabine, ever though she was the one who had cut those ties – and in part because I did not trust my own luck at having such a perfect woman interested in plain fat me.

Stella came up with a good solution. “Given this slightly complicated situation, especially since André has his girlfriend along, I would suggest we meet casually for the first time, not an official introduction of just the four of us. How about all three of you come over to our ‘Naxos’ tomorrow – we have club night with a visiting Greek rap band from Crete.”

“Greek rap from Crete…does that really exist?”

“Seems like it…” Stella giggled. “And you can also talk to the musicians if that is something that professionally interests you.”

“Stella – that is a perfect idea. See you then.”

When I was getting dressed the next evening to go out in jeans and dress shirt – which highlighted how very round I had gotten - I noticed André scrutinizing my body. “Sorry son,” I half-grinned, “but I fear your father is more globe-like than ever – you’ll have to put up with it.”

André blushed crimson before saying, “It’s okay, Paps. Where would we be without globes? And-as you may have noticed…I’ve come to appreciate round forms…”

True to form, Inka-Sophie was a breathtaking advertisement for ample curves that evening in a black, halter neck wrap dress, with heels and her hair half-piled on her head - she was the vision of a 19th century Wagnerian statue. On entering the ‘Naxos’ she got a whole series of wolf-whistles making André wrap his arm very possessively around her.

Stella greeted me with a light kiss and turned to André, extending a hand. “I’m so happy to meet you. You mean so much to Uli…so it’s very important for me to get the full picture myself.”

André in turn shook her hand, bent down and kissed her hello on both cheeks, Mediterranean style. “My pleasure. My Aunt Astrid and colleague Birger have given you rave reviews – even though Paps here is somehow too chicken to come clean about his great catch.”

“Yeah … he sure has strange obsessions,” Stella laughed, pinching my chubby cheek, while I reddened with embarrassment, heightened by the fact that my stomach let out its trademark growl. “The buffet is over there, Uli – help yourself after I show you our table.”

Inka-Sophie surprised and distracted me though in those minutes. First of all – having seen her up to now as a very warm and open person – her greeting of Stella was extremely formal, even cold and aloof down from the added foot or so she had on her. “How do you do? Thank you for inviting me along.”

And it came out not in German school English, but in a fluent Irish accent, making Stella’s brother Nikos, who had joined us with a number of guys who came swarming over to take a closer look at her, exclaim, “Uli – you’re always a cause for surprise. How come you never told us you have an Irish super-model as a daughter-in-law?”

André and Inka-Sophie both blushed and laughed – while I half-whispered to André, “You owe me an explanation…I thought the two of you got that extended Easter vacation to improve your English!”

André shot me a guilty look and said, “Later Paps…it’s pretty complicated.”

The evening fortunately was a success. André talked at length with Stella, I did almost excessive justice to the delicious buffet, until my belly was a heavy, stuffed dome in my lap. Inka-Sophie showed a great appetite herself until her belly was roundly distended in her clingy dress – and she also fed André at intervals.

“Take your father as an example – you can use a little more meat on your bones.”

The music was interesting in the cross over between Greek, oriental instrumentation and a mix of American and Italian rap elements…and it ended in dancing for everyone.

Inka-Sophie rose immediately, rubbing her stuffed belly saying, “Now I’m going to dance some of this off. How about you?” patting my bulging gut.

I shook my head, half lifting my heavy belly. “Way too heavy now to dance it around,” thus avoiding having to admit that I am a terrible dancer. Instead pulling Stella in passing down on my lap, hugging her tight.

Soon after Inka-Sophie sashayed off, joining in the dancing with spirit and talent, André – who had been glowering next to me for some time – joined her on the dance-floor with awkward moves. He had inherited my dislike of dancing – but was unwilling to put up with watching one guy after the other dance with his girl.

Since I had two assignments to finish the next day, we didn’t get around talking until evening, when I brought home 3 pizzas and made a salad, which we all shared – André and Inka-Sophie only picking at their food.

“Okay – let’s get this over with,” I finally said. “I love having you here – that is not the point, you can stay as long as you like as far as I am concerned. But I deserve to know why the two of you came here early. Get over 2 weeks on top of your 2 weeks of Easter vacation under the pretext of improving your English. Something Inka-Sophie, from what I heard last night, is in no need of whatsoever. Your mother made a huge fuss first, insisting you come alone, definitely only for the 2 weeks of vacation, not during her project stay in Morocco…and all of a sudden, both of you come for more than double of the planned visit. Why? What’s the back story?”

“I went to school in Ireland, in Dublin for six years while my father was working there,” Inka-Sophie quietly admitted. Sitting curled up, her chin on her knees and her hair pulled back in a simple pony-tail, she suddenly looked very young and vulnerable.

“Maybe I’d better explain … it’s probably easier,” André said while gently rubbing Inka-Sophie’s back. “Inka here has a massive problem with her English and gym teacher – who happens to be Mami’s boyfriend Jens. Since we’ve been friends since last November and really together in January, this hasn’t made things easier with Jens for me. Now the situation has gotten pretty much out of hand, with Inka’s mother and grandparents on the brink of filing a disciplinary suit for his immediate dismissal. To calm things down a bit, give both parties extra time to think things over, Mami and our principal agreed that it would be best if she took some time off and came over with me.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Inka-Sophie,” I said, seeing her fighting with tears – but at the same time feeling a decent sized portion of ‘Schadenfreude’ that this Jens indeed seemed to be as awful as I had always pictured him. “What exactly happened, if I may ask?”

“Jens has been harassing Inka about her size in gym class since the beginning of the school year,” André explained, “always forcing her to do gymnastics she isn’t physically able to do, like on the uneven parallel bars, just given her height – instead of letting her do sports she’s good at, like basketball. Inka put up with that shit until Christmas, but since then has an official doctor’s certificate for not participating in gym classes, which was challenged by Jens.

“He also started picking on her in English class…making fun of his pronunciation or keeping a running list of his many grammar mistakes in English. Things got out of hand when Jens purposefully threw a soccer ball at her head in class and hit her pretty hard beginning of last week, after she corrected him that it was Henry VIII who had six wives and not Henry XVI who had eight wives. That’s why we’re here. And that is the story why I vetoed Jens moving in with Mami – and her seeing reason that it was indeed not possible.”

I felt incredibly sorry for Inka-Sophie – I could fully empathize with being taunted over weight issues; and if it was bad for me as a grown male – how much worse must it be for a teenage girl in the hostile public of a high school class room? “I can’t tell you how I feel for you, Inka-Sophie – you must have had a terrible school year. That’s an awful case of teacher harassment! As you will have noticed, I can relate to the weight issue. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”

Inka-Sophie wiped her eyes, straightened her shoulders and said, “Thank you Uli – you’ve already made everything so much better by letting us come here together. It’s not so much his making fun of my weight that bothered me – I know I’m a big girl. I also know I’m attractive in my style – he can’t take that away from me. It was the constant aggression, having to put up with degrading treatment from somebody who takes advantage of his position of authority that really got to me. Going to school every day like going to the battle ground…exhausting. And to make things worse, he is much more stupid than I am – that is so humiliating.”

Her attitude stunned me – I had to admire her very grown-up approach. Yet I could also see why Sabine did not like her. As a teacher, she naturally had a problem with students like Inka-Sophie who accept authority based only on merit and not on position.

“Thank you for telling me what happened – I can’t tell you how sorry I am André, that you had to stand all this on your own while I am so far away. Can you…”

“Don’t worry Paps…you don’t have to apologize,” André cut me off. “Actually, I think it was better this way. For me it would have been even worse with the additional battle line of you on one side and Mami and Jens on the other on top of everything else. You couldn’t have helped anyway – that was an in-school thing. I’m glad to see you’re doing so much better here in Chicago – I was really worried when I left you in January whether you were going to be okay.”

There always comes a time when roles are reversed between parents and children – but this was way too early for André to start caring for me, instead of me raising and caring for him. I was honestly shocked at how adult his emotions had become. “Thank you for your concern, André, I truly appreciate it – I only wish I’d been as good a father as you’ve been a son in the past year.”

“You’d be a much better father if you finally got that great selection of ice cream flavors I saw you bring out of the freezer for dessert!” André ended this unsettling discussion in a laugh.

That night, as I got up to get a drink of water, the door of my bedroom was ajar. On my bed, I saw Inka-Sophie spread-eagled across it, her hair tumbled all over the pillow. Spooned around her, his cheek snuggled against one of her breasts, was André – both fast asleep. I know I had promised Sabine I would make sure they didn’t share a room, let alone a bed – but I did not have the heart to wake and separate them.
 

agouderia

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We had made plans to stay in Chicago for the first two weeks, André and Inka-Sophie attending some foreign student introductory classes I had found with Tyler’s help to meet their commitment to do some language training. Then we would celebrate Greek orthodox Easter with Stella before flying out to Las Vegas to see the Grand Canyon Arizona with the desert and then drive on to Southern California and a short trip maybe to Mexico. With André and Inka-Sophie then flying directly back home to Germany from LA.

Towards the end of our first week together, André surprised me by coming into my office to pick me up alone. “Where is Inka-Sophie?”

“She has gone shopping and then is meeting up with Stella to go to Greek dance class with her,” André explained.

“With Stella to Greek dance class?” I repeated. It did not sound very credible. “To be honest André, so far Inka-Sophie has been barely polite to Stella.”

“Well, Stella invited her…and I think it is an extremely smart move to get Isa to open up a bit to her. The dancing thing is something they have in common,” André grinned.

“And what are we guys going to do now?”

“I would like to ask you a favor,” André didn’t look me in the eye. “Don’t you and Stella need some down time of your own maybe for an evening or two? Couldn’t you maybe leave your apartment to us for a night?”

I groaned, “You know I promised your mother I would be a serious chaperon.” Then after a moment of thought, “What do Isa’s parents say?”

“Her mom doesn’t say anything – and her grandparents like me.”

“That does not really answer my question. But I’ll think about it.”

Ironically, it was a phone call from Sabine that pushed me over the edge to give in to André’s pleading. She called me at the office two days later, before leaving for Morocco to hear how things were going with André.

“Everything is just fine,” I assured her. “André and Inka-Sophie are on their best behavior, no problems. They seem to be having a good time.”

“That’s good to hear. Inka-Sophie has been causing big problems at school. I hope she is more subdued and manageable when she comes back. And I don’t want André and his image suffering when he gets back to school,” Sabine stated.

“Well, from what I have been told Inka-Sophie has been more the victim than the perpetrator,” I remarked. “And I don’t see why André’s image should suffer if he is together with such a stunning girl.”

“Ulrich – don’t be ridiculous, even you must have seen how fat she is! You know how teenagers make fun of that and even ostracize their peers over appearance questions!” Sabine sounded annoyed. “And I’m also worried about his health – André has a rather slight build and she is at least 25 kg heavier than he is….”

That did it for me – I ended the conversation. “Sabine – your weight phobia is getting completely out of hand! Don’t ever dare talk to André or Inka-Sophie like that – that is mean, insulting, beyond cruel and worst of all, simply not true. I’ll take good care of their physical and psychological well-being here – something I seriously doubt you’re still capable of. Good-bye. Have a good trip to Morocco!”

I hung up on all her other attempts to reach me and deleted her 3 e-mails without reading them. Instead I sent André an SMS wishing him and Isa a fun evening – and another one to Stella, saying I was coming over for the night. But I couldn’t wait – I drove to Stella’s last round of group physiotherapy exercises and participated in it…finishing off my physical exercise by greedily making love to her in the practice shower.

Traveling from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and further on to the West Coast with André and Inka-Sophie was an interesting experience…but somehow I felt slightly lost, as if I was traveling with them and not they with me - and I missed Stella a lot while I slept alone in various hotel beds. But all in all it was fun – the landscapes were spectacular, we decided Las Vegas was not for us. André and Inka-Sophie were lively, interested and energetic company.

We spent the last days of our trip to relax at something like a third cousin of Stella’s who rented out small beach houses north of San Diego, where she wanted to join us over an extended weekend. André was wild about trying to learn to surf, so Inka-Sophie and I lounged on the beach watching his trials from a distance. The weather was already very warm. Inka-Sophie sat next to me like a goddess out of a Rubens painting in a navy 50’ies style bikini which nicely showed off her plump flesh. While I was uncomfortably hot in a heavy dark t-shirt.

As I started fanning myself with a newspaper, Inka-Sophie said, “Uli, your belly has the right to see the sun, too – take off your shirt!”

“Um, I don’t know…I don’t have any sun-screen with me,” I improvised.

“Here…take mine. And I’ll put some on your back if you don’t mind.”

As André’s father, how could I possibly admit my insecurities to her, who was less than half my age but so much more mature in dealing with body image issues? So I pulled off my shirt, sucked in my gut as far as it would go and started applying sun screen while Inka-Sophie got up and energetically rubbed some on my back. “Isa…How come…why?” I started involuntarily before biting my tongue.

“What do you want to know, Uli? Why I’m okay with showing off my big body in a bikini on the beach, even though it is socially unacceptable these days for a woman to wear more than a size 36/6? That it would be more normal for me to be wearing a tent and hiding behind a bush?” Inka-Sophie asked.

Mortified that she had somehow read my mind, I nodded.

“Well, you’re André’s father and I know a lot about you and your family – maybe it’s only fair for me to tell you a little bit about my family and which lessons I’ve learned,” Inka-Sophie settled back on her towel. “I had to decide when I was about 12 that my only chance for a happy, sane life was fully accepting the fact that I was going to be much bigger and taller than is the tolerated today for women. My mother’s unhappiness and self-destruction set the truly deterring example. My parents are both tall and I totally have my mother’s build and looks – but my father made her suffer for it badly. For as long as I can remember, he always taunted her about her weight, sent her away to diet farms…and, worst of all, continuously cheated on her with her visual anti-type - petite brunettes. That’s probably why I don’t like André’s mother…or why I reacted so negatively to Stella…they’re both exactly that type…I’m sorry, I hope I wasn’t too impolite.” Inka-Sophie hung her head.

“Isa, please, it doesn’t matter at all, Stella is not mad at you…she somehow understood that the situation with us as André’s parents and our mixed up marital status is difficult for you right now…”

“Thanks, I’m glad to hear that. Stella really is very nice, she can’t be blamed for having her body type either,” Inka-Sophie grinned at me again. “The same taste in women is really all you and my father have in common…and in your case it’s perfectly okay. They suit you and you haven’t hurt anyone because of it.”

This made my face grow hot and me feel very uncomfortable.

Inka-Sophie in her disturbingly lucid divination of my thoughts smirked. “You probably read in some parenting guide book that this is a conversation you should never ever have with your son’s girlfriend, right?”

“Yeah…. but I’ve come to notice that real life family crisis don’t normally fit the guide book mold. Let’s just say all of this is off the record, okay?”

“Sure,” Inka-Sophie continued. “My father’s abusive treatment nearly killed my mother; she is still suffering from it today. Over three years after the divorce. She found no way to stand up to him – instead she had bulimia, she crash-dieted, got hooked on all sorts of diet pills and anti-depressants, tried to commit suicide twice…seriously ruined her health over it. She wasn’t able to be a real mother for me for years - if it hadn’t been for my wonderful grandparents, I don’t know what would have happened to me. So when I realized that I too was going to grow up to be bigger, taller and blonder than average, I knew that I had to love and live with this body nature has given me…otherwise I would suffer horribly, not anybody else. And that’s what I have been trying to do ever since.”

“Wow, somehow I wish I’d met someone like you years ago. Now I understand why you know way too mature for your age about break ups and divorce. But I’m glad André met you this year, you’ve helped him so much, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“André and I met and got together just when both of us needed each other most,” Inka-Sophie interrupted me. “He’s much better than I am in seeing the positive in everything and trying to make everybody happy. He has also been a great help in keeping my self-image intact in the fight with that awful Jens.”

“Is André totally fine with-” I started before realizing that this question was way out of line.

“You mean whether André really doesn’t mind that there is a decent quantity of fat on my body?” Inka-Sophie’s eyes teased me over the rim of her sunglasses, laughing at my visible embarrassment. “No… somehow, as far as I can tell from his looks and touches, he is more than totally fine with it. He has confessed though that he often - out of habit, convention, anti-father rebellion, whatever - sided with your wife in making fun of your body and weight. I think he feels incredibly guilty about that. I hope you don’t hold it against him.”

“No, not at all…he was never really mean about it…it just has taken me much longer to start coming to terms with my body…You’d make a great role model for many people.”

“Well first of all we are going to start this summer by turning Isa into a plus-size super-model,” André, dripping wet, playfully scooted up from behind on Inka-Sophie, rolled her over and settled her between his knees, vigorously fondling her belly and hips and kissing her shoulders.

“That sounds like a good idea….”

“Oh Paps, I think we forgot to tell you. It’s all set. I knew it would work – that’s why I took Isa along when I went to your office to pick up those files. Birger and some of your other colleagues immediately saw her potential…and took her over to the fashion section. She’ll be doing the plus-size summer sea-side spread in three weeks,” André beamed with pride.

“Congratulations Isa, great work André – I’m beyond impressed! Somehow I feel you don’t need me as a father any more.”

“Nonsense…” Inka-Sophie cut me short. “You always need parents who are willing to be there for you… But now you need to get going, otherwise you will be late picking Stella up from the airport. It’s high time she’s coming, we can see how you’ve been pining for her…” giving me once again the uncomfortable feeling that she read my mind like an open book.

The next days with all four of us in the California sunshine were among the happiest I can remember at all – and it made the parting at LA airport all the more difficult. André hung his head and had pulled his baseball cap way into his eyes while Inka-Sophie’s were brimming with tears, I had a very dry throat and couldn’t swallow enough…and even Stella was continuously rummaging in her hand-bag for more tissues.

At security, Inka-Sophie asked shyly. “May I?” before hugging me tight.

“Isa, it’s been wonderful getting to know you. Thank you for all you’ve done for André over the past months. Please take good care of yourself…and my boy here. If both of you want to, I’d be happy if you came along for André’s summer vacation.”

“Really Paps?” André asked me while in turn giving me a bear hug.

“Really André. Take very good care of yourself and Isa, don’t let anybody pick on either of you at school. Call me anytime you need to – and tell me if there are any problems. Don’t leave me in the dark. I can always write to someone at school or speak to them on the phone. See you for summer vacation.”

After they had left, Stella and I walked back to the car in silence. Before we headed off, Stella kissed me deeply, tenderly, driving me half crazy by fingering the sensitive underside of my belly overhang in slow motion. “Funny…I’m really happy to have you all to myself again…yet it feels incredibly empty without the two of them.”



Continued in post #35
 

Qit el-Remel

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I'm not sure what else to say...so I'll say that this story is beautiful and leave it at that.
 

agouderia

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Part 9 – Getting there

Stella surprised me in early May by asking me whether I would like to join her traveling to Athens for her cousin’s wedding and an extended weekend with her grandparents on Naxos.

“Is it really okay if I come along, I mean I’m not family or something? And I don’t speak Greek.” I doubtfully asked.

“You’re currently an important person in my life, and I want Vassiliki to meet you, she’s my favorite cousin,” Stella assured me. “You’ll be fine. Most of my family speaks English and the groom actually studied in Germany, so some of his family even speaks German. If you want, you can also use the opportunity to fly via Germany back to Chicago and check on things there.”

This set me thinking – I had not been back home for 9 months by now, nor to Europe at all-but I felt no desire whatsoever to return, I even feared it slightly. So I booked a return ticket on the same flights as Stella and did not tell anybody back in Germany that I was going to be on the same continent for a few days, especially not André -though he was away on a school trip to Poland anyhow.

The wedding was indeed as lively, colorful and lovely as Stella had predicted, Vassiliki and her Georgios getting married in a small white-washed church overlooking the deep blue Aegean in the complicated orthodox ceremony in which bride and groom do not utter a word.

The celebration afterward was in a traditional restaurant on the beach with great food, live music and an especially touching speech duet between Vassiliki and Georgios – which I naturally did not understand, even though Stella did some interpreting. But alone their non-verbal interaction transported so much love and joy to be together, it was spell-binding.

In this warm and happy atmosphere, I dared something I thought I was not going to do again in a long time, if ever. Something Stella and I seem to have had an unspoken mutual agreement not to do it. At the end of the speech, while everybody was clapping and cheering, I had my arms around Stella, wrapping her tightly into my big body, I whispered the taboo word in her ear, “I love you Stella. I really love you.”

Stella turned in my arms and looked at me, smiled with tears in her eyes, shook her head and turned to kiss and congratulate Vassiliki.

These seconds were never mentioned during the following days we passed on Naxos at her grandparents in almost Arcadian bliss. Sitting in the sun, swimming in the sea, eating wonderful, way too abundant spreads of food, sleeping in each other’s arms in the most appropriate and inappropriate situations – completely losing touch with reality, literally living on an island of our own.

Reality did not hit until the day before we left when I decided to check my e-mail – finding a whole series from Sabine in which she told me she had been desperately trying to reach me, but had not gotten an answer on any of my phone lines. Guiltily I realized that I had left my US mobile back in Chicago and was using my German one again in Europe without telling anybody, only having spoken to André via Skype from Athens. After some debating what to do, I called her in the later afternoon to ask her what was up.

“Sabine, hi, you tried to reach me. I’m sorry, I’m on the road a bit doing some research,” stretching the truth a little.

“No problem, Uli. Thank you for calling back. How are you, how is your life right now?” Sabine asked.

Since “blissful” did not seem like the right answer, I opted for the vague. “Oh, everything is fine, no reason for complaints. Is there anything in particular you would like to talk to me about?”

On the other end of the line, there was a moment of quiet before I heard Sabine take a deep breath and say, “Jens and I broke up two weeks ago. I’m on my own again…”

“Oh...” was all I was able to respond, before Sabine continued quickly.

“I would like to sincerely apologize to you. I’ve been absolutely terrible these past months; I don’t know what was wrong with me. Or why on earth I let myself be influenced so much by another person to hurt those who are nearest to me? Uli, I know I don’t deserve it…can you somehow forgive me?”

Her voice was choked by the end. Meaning hit me like a ton of bricks, leaving me speechless for a moment. I had to swallow hard a few times before answering. “It’s okay Sabine, don’t worry about me. I think it’s more important for you to apologize to André and Inka-Sophie. They had the harder part. I’ve been away safely on the other side of the ocean, had my own life.”

“Uli, I can’t tell you how sorry I am! Also that I left you all alone after your accident and even ruined your coming home for Christmas… how can I ever make up for that?”

Sighing – because the memory still stung, but at the same time it seemed incredibly remote – I said, “Forget it Sabine, that’s spilled milk. Yes, it really hurt then…but Astrid was over and made sure I was well taken care of. And André and I had a great Christmas vacation…which definitely was the much better solution than me coming home.”

Sabine now was crying on the other end, and I did not know what to say. “Sabine, don’t be upset, it’s okay…we can talk later.”

But Sabine audibly blew her nose, and went on. “No, I’m okay. Thank you so much for being so generous and understanding. Uli…we need to talk more in detail how we want to move on with our life. We’ve been separated for about 15 months by now…what are the next 15 months going to look like?”

Since this was currently the question I dreaded most, Sabine got no answer so she continued.

“I think we need to talk in person with some time on our hands. Are you coming back to Europe anytime soon, before the end of your program? If not, I could maybe carve out a few days off over the May holidays the end of the month.”

Looking out the window and seeing the EU flag flutter smartly next to the blue-and-white stripes of the Greek one on the other side of the square in front of the small mayor’s office gave me a guilty jolt, so I responded quickly. “I’ll look into it and get back to you soon, Sabine – on what might be the best solution.”

Not wanting to face anyone, I left Stella a note, took my small notepad and went for a walk out of the village. Up the steep hill, puffing my way up to the big rock from where there was a spectacular view all over Naxos. The deep blue Aegean surrounding it and the neighboring islands of Paros and Amorgos, and I tried to sort my thoughts. It was almost sundown when I saw Stella climbing up to join me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, settling next to me.

“I had to talk to Sabine. She and Jens split up. She says we need to talk about the future of our marriage.”

“Okay…that was likely to happen sometime sooner or later. So now you want to re-route your return ticket and fly back with a layover at home in Germany?”

Shaking my head, I showed her the long pro and con list I had written. “No, I don’t want to face a show-down with Sabine in my old home environment. I don’t think I can stand it right now. I want life to go on like it is until August 31st – it’s bad enough I have to go back to my old reality then.”

“So…what are you going to do about Sabine’s request?” Stella expression was half compassionate, half critical.

“I’ll write her an e-mail saying I can’t make it right now and suggest we put everything on hold until I get back. I don’t see any point in meeting with her at all, to be honest,” sighing in slight frustration and slapping my belly. “She made it a pre-condition for getting our marriage back on track that I permanently lose 40 pounds. Instead I’ve gained more than another 40 pounds.”

“Are you sure that is still her position today?” Stella wanted to know.

“Of course,” I said scornfully. “What should have changed in the meantime – she’s been together with a totally skinny phys-ed teacher? No chance she would even remotely consider resuming marital relations with another 60 pounds more of me than the last time we tried. She has been on my case because of my weight for a decade by now, not only in the past 3 years.”

Stella raised her eyebrows and looked slightly doubtful but only said, “We should be going back before it gets dark. You still need to shower before we drive down to the harbor front for fish dinner.”

Sabine’s response to my e-mailed suggestion of postponing all discussions about our future to September was that she had booked a flight to Chicago over the Pentecost/Memorial Day weekend and she would be very much obliged if I could maybe pick her up from the airport and arrange a hotel room.

Stella’s farewell from her grandparents on Naxos was extremely tearful, while my unease resulted from seeing the tiny propeller plane that was supposed to take us back to Athens airport. Not the reassuring big ferry boat we had come on. Not only the plane was tiny, the seats seemed to be even tinier. Naxos definitely had done nothing to shrink my body, on the contrary – the Greek custom of placing all tempting dishes on the table and people helping themselves was deadly for someone with my appetite especially in combination with feeding your guests to bursting as the most prized tradition. So my belt was on its last notch and my belly had something of a swallowed globe look by now as I tried to squeeze into one of those miniature airplane seats – without success. Stella saw my plight and quickly raised the armrest, letting my bulk spill over onto her seat, and then giggled as she saw that there was only an odd double seat-belt option with a sheer endless belt that we had to wrap around both of us.

“Perfect set up for us, right?” she smirked.

After an extremely wobbly flight – which left no capacity for brooding over the seat problem – I went into the pharmacy in the Athens airport mall and got on the metric scale. It read 125kg/275 lbs. – meaning I had put on an additional 15 lbs. since getting together with Stella – and almost 50 lbs. since Sabine last saw me. Looking at my reflection in the window panes I saw a really fat, tanned man who was physically totally ‘rounded out’ as Astrid liked to say. My globular belly as my most prominent feature was balanced by a round backside with fully grabable love-handles, a very fleshy chest and thick shoulders, round apple cheeks and a round ring of a double chin under my face – this entire heavy upper body supported by thick legs that strongly resembled Dorian pillars. Looking around, I was not that unusual a sight. According to EU statistics, 78% of all Greek men are overweight, making them the fattest in Europe.

When we got on the plane to Chicago, I fit into the seat fine but had to struggle to make the ends of a rather short seat belt meet under my belly until I was red in the face and slightly out of breath.

Stella wrapped my arm around her, snuggled against me and said, “Warm me, it’s cold in here.” After a while she added in a low voice, “I’m proud of you, Uli. You’ve been working so hard on dealing with your weight and body image issues and are doing a good job. I haven’t heard you agonize in a long time…only a self-deprecating comment every once in a while, that’s fine. You were so relaxed this past week on Naxos, let me touch you all over, even went shirtless…and you’re so cuddly.”

I kissed her. “Thank you, I never knew you paid attention to that. I didn’t want to bore or annoy you with my issues, so I’ve been trying to reduce them, if I’m not able to get rid of them. It seems I’m meant to be fat in this life- so I at least want to try and live comfortably with this fact.”

“Of course I pay attention to you,” Stella’s wrapped her arms around my XXL middle as far as they would go, squeezing the thick flesh roles on my sides, sending tingles of pleasure down my spine. “I’m happy to hear you now feel comfortable with yourself and us – you have no reason not to. Always tell me if I can help in any way. You don’t bore or annoy me.”

“You’ve already helped me so much by just letting me be the way I am,” trying to verbalize my thoughts while my fingers played with her curls. “You accept my big body and subtly make me get the exercise that’s good for me. You never put pressure on me when my appetite gets the better of me. That’s wonderful. You’re right – this past week has been like a dream for me. It has made me feel so fully content I’m not even really afraid of facing Sabine with 125 kg in 2 weeks time. There is nothing I can do about it anyway – I would by now need 2 years of hard dieting to get back in a shape she would consider to be okay. So I’m going to concentrate on preparing for what she might have to say, that’s the best I can do.”

Stella sighed. “That’s a good approach…I don’t envy you though. But right now, let’s look back on our wonderful time on Naxos…it’s early enough if reality bites in 10 hours time on landing.”



When I picked Sabine up at O’Hare Airport I was surprised and relieved at how normal and familiar it seemed. Seeing her move through the barrier at customs, she looked slight and a bit colorless to me- being now more used to Stella’s vivid Mediterranean good looks and shapely curves.

Lightly hugging her into my almost beach ball like belly I said, “Welcome to Chicago, Sabine – home of Al Capone, Barack Obama and the Cubs. Thank you for taking the trouble of coming all the way out here. You poor thing look completely exhausted after working in the morning, long delay in Copenhagen and now the endless immigration procedures. Let’s get you home to rest as quickly as possible.”

Even though I had a hunch that André had forewarned Sabine that I had not lost any weight in the meantime, on the contrary, I could see her eyes widen in slight shock as she looked me up and down, realizing just how big I had gotten, but not saying anything.

Reddening, I grinned. “You did warn me that the home country of super-sizing might rub off a little bit on me,” giving my belly a slap that sent it off jiggling.

“Uli, I’m so glad I made it. It’s so good to see you. How are you doing, how has work been, how is your knee?” Sabine asked.

“Everything is just fine – knee is still supporting me, work has been an incredibly interesting whole new world of ideas and insights. English has improved dramatically. I don’t regret a single minute of this year so far…well maybe the minute I fell in that soccer match and ruined my knee.” I responded. In the back of my mind, I immediately revoked the last statement – I didn’t even regret ruining my knee. It had been a semi-ruin before anyway – and without the accident, I probably would never have met Stella.

Because of the holiday weekend, I had not been able to find a decent and half-way reasonable hotel room, so I had decided to let Sabine stay at my apartment. As soon as we got there, I made the bed for Sabine, telling her to sleep in the bedroom while I would use the sofa in the living room.

“No, please Uli – I don’t want you to give up your own bed,” Sabine argued. “I can sleep on the sofa too – or look, it’s a very wide bed, I wouldn’t mind if we share,” slightly blushing and hiding her face.

“Sabine, it is 9 p.m. local time – 4 a.m. your personal time. You’ve been on the go for 22 hours, you need a good long night’s sleep right this minute – and my bedtime is still a few hours away. Now rest, we’ll see to everything else in the morning – when you probably will wake up very early until your inner clock has adapted to the time change.”

After breakfast the next morning – where I clearly restrained my portion under Sabine’s intent gaze, although she made no remarks – we spent the day sightseeing, since she had never been to Chicago. It was fun for me as a “local” to show her the city, my favorite places and we had a genuinely good time. Sabine even surprised me by insisting on taking me to lunch after my stomach had growled twice audibly, waving my protests off with an, “If you’re hungry, you have to eat.”

In the evening we stayed in since Sabine tired early, and as we sat together. After a small dinner, she did move in closer, leaning her head on my shoulder, asking me to tell her more in detail how André’s two visits went from my point of view. I showed her some pictures and clips, and she tentatively stroked my cheek, neck and back, yet steering clear of all my soft, fleshy parts with her hands. Whether this was conscious or sub-conscious, I did not know.

With slight shock I noticed that her touch after so long time did not trigger any physical reaction in me anymore. It felt as soothing and familiar as my mother’s or Astrid’s – instantly remembering Stella’s first touch in my physiotherapy and its mortifying effect. The flash of memory was enough to immediately give me – what half an hour of caresses by Sabine had not achieved - an uncomfortably strong erection, fortunately well hidden under my belly. Sabine didn’t notice, she was half asleep by this time and I convinced her to go directly to bed.

Stella and I had agreed that I would spend the time with Sabine while she was there and we would not see each other. But I could not resist the physical longing I felt for her and quietly left my apartment to drive over to Stella’s. She raised her eyebrows on seeing me in the door, and slightly resisted as I pulled her into a tight embrace, kneading her curvy derrière, fondling her breasts and kissing her neck while giving her a jumbled, incoherent account of what made me come over.

She shook her head slightly and smiled ruefully. “I knew you were a married man, I knew what I was in for. Somewhere down the line one always ends up feeling a little bit like a call-girl.”

This remark knocked the wind out of me, my arms dropped and I hung my head, trying to back out the door and mumbling. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have come. I promised I wouldn’t…I don’t want to make you feel second-class.”

“Uli, you still don’t get the irony thing, do you?” Stella said sternly, pinching my double-chin and slightly winking at me. “I’m not mad at you – I’ve always been fully aware of your situation and you never led me on. I knew the moment would come when you would have to bite the bullet and figure out whether your marriage has a future. And I know this isn’t easy for you. It’s okay if you feel you need my company right now – we’ve gotten very close. I’m not offended. Since you’re here, sit down, Uncle Spilios brought me some of that homegrown awfully strong Rosé wine of his you like so much. So tell me how everything went.”

Slowly, unsurely I gave Stella, not daring to touch her, an account of my 24 hours with Sabine. Sensing how tense I was, Stella softly started to give my body the kind of loving attention I had come to crave, that had made me seek her out then and there - and that I could no longer see myself living without. She kneaded my thick love handles where they rolled tightly over my waistband, stroked my double chin, cradled my man boobs in her hands and indiscriminately rubbed, shook, patted, fondled the big belly that filled over half my lap. This was first calming, then relaxing and in the end again arousing as the jiggling of my belly flesh spilled down into my groin.

I groaned slightly, trying to hoist myself up. “See Stella, that’s why I felt I had to come. You make me feel good about myself and my body; you almost convince me that all this fat is right where it belongs. You’ve spoiled me rotten…Now before I lose control, I don’t want to take advantage of you, I have to go…We said we wouldn’t do this.”

Stella grinned slyly and pulled me back down on the couch. “You’re welcome. I like it when you feel good about yourself, but since we’ve come this far, violating our agreement, now it’s your turn to make me feel good about myself,” pulling open her button-down t-shirt in one smooth move.

Even though I got up very early the next morning and picked up fresh sesame seed rolls from the Greek bakery on the way, Sabine was already up and dressed when I got to the apartment, accepted the rolls to put them on the breakfast table and purposefully ignored the fact that I had clearly not spent the night in the apartment.

Sabine was staying five days and it became pretty obvious that she was making a tremendous effort to be kind and loving, evoking all the positive memories in our joint history. Calling André and telling him what a good time she was having and being affectionate without getting too intimate.

We even steered clear of a real argument regarding the question of André’s summer vacation in the US, and whether it was okay for him to bring Inka-Sophie along again.

Sabine was against it. “André and Inka-Sophie have gotten way too close for teen boy and girlfriend. You think they’re married if you see them together. That’s far too much commitment! She’s way too grown-up, to domineering for him, even though they are the same age – I’m afraid he’ll get his heart broken sooner or later!”

“Everybody gets their heart broken sooner or later in life,” I tried to reason. “And if it has to happen, I think it would be much better for him to suffer his first heartbreak over somebody who is worth agonizing over, which Inka-Sophie, as I have come to know her, really is. Speaking of closeness, I think the two of us should not underestimate the amount of moral support and emotional stability she has given André during our break-up – things which should have come from us. But we both were too selfish, wound-up in our own problems and to be honest, somehow immature, to fully notice and make the necessary effort.”

Grudgingly Sabine acknowledged. “Yeah…we were not the best of parents over the last year. And I admit I am slightly prejudiced against her because of the dispute she had with Jens at school – even though she was absolutely in the right there. Jens had no business harassing her because of her size – and he is also not the most competent of English teachers. But I always have the uneasy feeling, that she doesn’t like me at all.”

Knowing what I knew about Inka-Sophie, I half nodded. “Don’t take that too seriously – I hear it’s common that mothers of sons don’t get along with their son’s girlfriends. The only thing about Inka-Sophie I don’t like is her height...but that’s my personal issue. It’s fine with me if they want to come over together again…I’ve looked into a sailing summer camp here on Lake Michigan, André is really keen on teaching her how to sail.”
 

agouderia

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On the third evening, we went out to a nice dinner on the lakeside and on the way back, she did move in much closer, kissing my neck and firmly running her thumb up the inside of my thick thighs. In the elevator, she put her arms around my neck and kissed me, tentatively slipping her tongue between my lips. Ironically, this did not so much arouse me but triggered all the old patterns of self-consciousness and evasion regarding my big body, steering my responses.

Oh dear, I’ve eaten too much for dinner, let her not notice.

So I pulled her in my arms on my side, away from my full belly.

My middle is enormous. She mustn’t try to fit her arms around it.

So I half hoisted her up so she had to leave her arms around my neck.

I’m so heavy. Please don’t let her feel the weight.

leaning back so she came more on top of me.

As we entered the apartment, Sabine led me directly into the bedroom, starting to unbutton my shirt. I stopped her short there, something subconsciously inhibiting me from going any further, and gently but firmly grasped her hands and kissed them, looking her in the eye and shaking my head.

She sighed and said. “You’re already committed to her, right? I should’ve known…it’s probably the best in you that you are truly faithful.”

I stared at her in wonder, that she had immediately sensed what I hadn’t even admitted to myself.

“You sometimes understand me better than I do myself…but Sabine, we need to talk about why you came here. We can’t postpone this forever. Can you please answer two questions for me?” sitting down on the bed.

“Okay, you’re right. Which questions do you need answered, Uli?”

“I guess – just from you making the effort of coming here and being very sweet to me the past few days – you would like to give our marriage a second chance. Why? I noticed that look of shock when you saw how fat I’ve gotten.”

“What do you mean, why?” Sabine looked uneasy.

“I mean – why do you think our marriage deserves a second chance? Which reasons do you have for wanting me back in your life? What has changed since you suggested we separate over a year ago? By the way – all of that put together is question number 1!” I explained, trying to keep the tone moderate.

Sabine’s finger traced the quilt pattern for a while before she spoke up. “Because being together with you probably is the most important part in my life. I miss you a lot. I made a huge mistake in believing that leaving you would change my life for the better. All my friends who said I would be sorry were right.”

“But why exactly do you miss me?”

“Why I miss you, Uli?” Sabine frowned in concentration. “I’ve thought about that a lot. I miss you because it takes us three, together with André to really feel like family. I miss you because I can absolutely trust your commitment to our marriage and family. I miss you because I can really talk to you…and actually get a response. I miss you because you have a warm and relaxed approach to life…You were right, having breakfast on the balcony together is much more fun than going running together in the rain. I miss you because-now this sounds stupid- it’s pretty fun being married to you. You have an eventful job, you bring home interesting stories, go to interesting places – sometimes I can even go along – it’s not always the same routine. Being with Jens showed me that my life would be dead boring if I actually got together with another teacher.”

The latter made me laugh because it was exactly why I had backed out of becoming a teacher myself, saying, “Thank you, all in all you make me sound like a pretty decent person. That’s saying something for somebody who knows me as well as you do.”

“You’re a great guy,” Sabine exclaimed. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am it took me so long to fully realize it. Christiane was right when she said that I took you for granted because I didn’t have any comparison…Especially that I can absolutely rely on you being faithful…it wasn’t until that happened with Jens in Morocco that I…”

“What happened in Morocco?” I asked carefully as she didn’t continue.

“That was the final straw for me to break up with him,” Sabine shook her head. “Do you know that he actually hit on a Moroccan colleague, a married Moroccan colleague, in a Muslim country? That almost ruined the project – the Moroccan schools wanted to call it off! They only gave in after our school board agreed to take Jens off the project, put him subject to a disciplinary ruling and issued a formal apology. Can you imagine how humiliating this was for me, since everybody knew we were there as an item?”

“I’m so sorry to hear that Sabine, that’s awful,” I took her hands, which were very cold into mine. “I understand you’ve seen our relationship and my contributions to it in a new light. And I see why – that answers my first question. Now to my second question,” I paused, searching to piece together the words. “Can you whole-heartedly accept my weight as part of me, even as heavy as I am now? Can you live happily with my big belly physically between us?”

Sabine sat there, looking down, not saying anything before she raised her head, looked me into the eye and firmly said. “Of course, I want you back as my husband…and that means all of you.”

“Are you sure? Are you sure you want all 125 kilograms of me back?” slight disbelief in my voice.

“Uli, I know I hurt you badly more than once with my critical comments about your weight. It was beyond absurd to mix up your commitment to maintaining a certain weight with your commitment to me and our marriage. I hope you can forgive me…Will you give me a second chance? What do you think…can we start over as a couple?”

I shrugged helplessly, too many thoughts running through my mind that moment for one to come out articulately.

Sabine tried to stress her point. “Most things in life come as a package, Uli. If you want what’s in the package you have to take the whole package, and you have to take the size the package comes in. Most women wouldn’t take half of what’s in their man’s package if they could choose. I’m one of the lucky few who can love everything – well maybe not your obsession with soccer – in her man’s package. I was very stupid to try and trade in the size of the package. I swear it will not happen again.”

Despite her pleading look, I slightly shook my head. “I don’t know Sabine. It feels good to hear you that like the contents of my package…but I still don’t see you wholeheartedly accepting the size…I have some horrible memories of you rejecting my body, they haven’t fully healed yet…You know I can’t promise to diet down to, and successfully maintain a weight you find truly okay – now less than ever.”

“How can you know, Uli? I can learn, I’ve already started to change my attitude…give me a chance, let me show you,” Sabine insisted.

“Sorry, I hear your words, I try to believe you,” I interrupted her. “Sabine, do you know that you haven’t once dared touch my belly since you’ve been here? And that’s a major achievement, since you’ve touched me a lot and my belly makes up a big part of me these days.”

Sabine was taken aback. “I’m sorry Uli, I didn’t know it was okay for me to touch your belly. I always thought that was too uncomfortable for you, that you were ashamed of it…If you want me to,” she tentatively put her hand on the upper curve of my belly, stroking it a bit like she would a baby.

Sighing, I put my hand on hers. “See Sabine, that’s exactly the problem. You’re right, I’ve been ashamed of my body, this big belly in the past,” grabbing it to make it jiggle under her hand. “But that was mostly because I felt you were ashamed of me having it – that was the vicious circle of your loathing and my self-loathing in our relationship…And I have trouble imaging you can honestly overlook that in the future,” putting Sabine’s hand back in her lap.

“Uli, all I can promise is that I will honestly do my very best. Please – can’t we try and truly start over? I mean, we could even think about another baby, like a really fresh start, it’s not too late. Do you see a future for our marriage? What plans have you made?”

Now that was the difficult question, I had been avoiding any thoughts that had future tense in them as well as possible. “I don’t know, I’m pretty much living in the present tense right now. I haven’t thought about my life lately beyond August 31st.”

“We had agreed that we would only take a break from our marriage, right? That we would reassess it at the end of the year? Now it’s 5 months later…I tried to explain to you why I think we should give it another try…Haven’t you thought about it at all?”

“To be honest Sabine – no, I haven’t thought about it in months. After I received the news that you were together with Jens last fall, I guess that more or less ended our marriage for me. It took some time to sink in, but in the end it spared me having to make up my mind about our relationship, I felt you had decided that for us. And that meant for me I had to get over it – but then was free and entitled to go my own way, get involved with Stella. You told me two weeks ago you split up with Jens…and now you tell me that you want us to get back together, no strings attached. This has caught me a bit unawares…But it means I seriously have to think about what I want my own and our future to look like. And I need time for that, give me some time.”

Sabine looked thoughtful. “I see, somehow I never saw it that way. I had always assumed you got involved with Stella to pay me back for my getting together with Jens. But please think about it. Give me and us a second chance.”

When I brought her back to the airport 2 days later, I saw her questioning look as we said good-bye.

“Sabine, I’m thinking about what you said regarding the future of our marriage. This is still too fresh. I haven’t made up my mind. I’ll work on it and let you know as soon as possible.”

I informed Stella about what Sabine and I had agreed on and asked her to put things on hold until I was sure what I wanted my future to look like.

It took me about twelve days, six bottles of red wine, 21 beers, 15 tablets of Swiss chocolate, 3 pounds of oatmeal-raisin cookies, 237 miles on my bike and an unknown quantity of letters typed into my computer before I felt I could trust the vision of what I wanted my life to look like. Which work I was going to have to put into it, which risks I was willing to take, that had slowly surfaced before my inner eye.

After waking up early I took a long bike-ride through a very quiet Saturday morning, a warm breeze on my cheeks, my belly jiggling comfortably under my loose T-Shirt – and on getting back to my apartment, I acknowledged to myself that I had made up my mind definitely.

Without even showering, I sat down at my computer and typed a long e-mail explaining everything to Sabine, that I wanted an amicable divorce, that I would always love her as André’s mother and a big part of my life, that I hoped we could turn from husband and wife into best friends.

And I answered the “why?” question I myself had asked her:

On breaking up you had made it clear you no longer trusted me to commit to keeping my weight in check for the sake of our relationship. You were right- staying more or less thin is one thing in life I’m not good at. For me it’s a rather hopeless battle – it takes up too much of my time and physical and emotional energy – assets I prefer using on things in life that are more important to me. My big appetite and love for good food unfortunately are an integral part of my personality – and by now, I have started to accept that and feel comfortable in my fleshy and heavy body.

Now you say you want the whole package of me back, no matter which size the package comes in. But vice-versa, I feel I cannot trust you to commit to honestly overlooking my weight in the long run. I would always be afraid you couldn’t really love and accept my body as part of me, no matter what the numbers on the scale show. I don’t ever want to feel as bad about myself again as you have been able to make me feel – nor do I want you to feel unhappy with yourself and our relationship because I am forcing you to accept a size that is against your inner convictions.


I reread what I had written three times, ending that I would call her up soon so we could talk - divorcing via e-mail was not my style - and sent it off before I went and showered.

After that, I sent Stella an SMS inviting her for a picnic dinner on the lake and rang Sabine up, who was crying on the phone and hung up on me. An hour later I tried again.

“Sabine, are you halfway okay? Can we talk?” I asked carefully.

“Yes,” she sniffed. “Are you sure you want a divorce now? Can’t you come back home first and we try living together again for a few months before we do anything definite?”

“Sabine, I’m so sorry – doing this via phone and e-mail is terrible.” I sighed.

“We’ve been separated for almost a year and a half by now – moving together again would be like starting over, that takes an enormous amount of energy. And I’m afraid we might ruin the friendship we still have if it doesn’t work out. I can’t honestly see us sticking to a matching set of new ground rules in the long run – and we would most certainly hold this against each other sooner or later. Right now we have the advantage of distance on our side – time wise, geographically, personally, emotionally. Let’s use it – it will make things easier and hurt less. Can you see that?”

Sabine cried softly on the other end, before responding. “This is so sad - this is the end of us as a family. And it’s my fault – I should’ve been more tolerant and accepting. But I also want André to continue respecting us - so trying to revive something you cannot fully believe in might end more than just our marriage. You were right - I was shocked at how much more weight you’ve gained in Chicago – and at how at ease you seem with it. That’s a big change and…like you said, it probably would be difficult for me to fully accept it, I would be willing to try – but I couldn’t guarantee that it would work.”

“Do you want to talk to André first or shall I? Actually, I would ask you to do it first and then call me up so we can do a kind of conference call; that might be the best way to handle it. I don’t want him to hear first over a phone line. Is that okay with you?”

“Of course. André will be back in an hour – we’ll do it right away then.”

“We’ll work this one out too, in a decent fashion. Ich hab Dich immer noch lieb, meine Sabine, take good care of yourself,” I said.

“Are you planning on staying in Chicago with Stella?” Sabine asked.

“I don’t know, my personal and professional future is completely up in the air right now.”
 

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The picnic I had planned for Stella in the park turned out to be on her living room floor, due to an untimely early summer thunder-storm. I explained at length to her, what and why and how I had decided to get a divorce from Sabine, ending. “I still yet have to figure out what my life will look like exactly in the near and mid-term future. But I’m too afraid of a terrible déjà-vu to try to revive my old life at home in Germany- even though it technically would be the easier and safer option right now. I’d rather stay alone than ever again feel so lonely and rejected in a relationship – especially now since I’ve come to know how accepting it can be. I’ve let the taboo ‘L’-word slip– I think you know how strongly I feel for you. You said you don’t want commitment or any plans beyond August 31st. Nevertheless I will violate this rule of yours and say one thing. All I know for sure is that I want you to play a leading role in my personal life beyond August 31st – if you will have me.”

Stella had been listening attentively, now she seemed a bit incredulous. “Are you asking me to marry you?”

“If you want me to marry you – yes I probably would do that. If you want personal commitment without legally tying the knot – that’s fine with me too. I don’t care about the format – I just want us to stay together.”

Stella wordlessly slipped onto my lap, wrapped her arms around me, hugged me tight, just snuggling close for few minutes before she answered. “You seem like the least likely thing to happen to me – a foreign, married patient, who appeared at a point in my life when I was consciously avoiding relationships. But maybe that’s exactly what tempted fate…and no, no matter what I said, I don’t want to imagine saying good-bye to you any time soon.”

Warm gratitude washed through me and all I could think of was to kiss her in affirmation.

Stella broke the kiss quickly, saying, “But now we have practical things to consider…how are we going to make this work? After all, we can by now count the days you still officially have here in Chicago on your exchange program.”

“That’s something I’ve thought about a lot…It’s not going to be easy in practice with your life here and my normal one on the other side of the Atlantic. First of all, I have to go home at the end of the program and take care of the divorce proceedings, but normally that should go pretty smoothly. Sabine and I have agreed on everything, we’ve been separated for over a year…only catch – hooray for German bureaucracy - could be that they ask us to balance out our very different pension schemes. That’s usually required. But since Sabine and I haven’t been married for that long it should…”

“What do you mean…Sabine and you haven’t been married for that long?” Stella interrupted me.

“Um... yeah, sure. But we didn’t get married until the day before André s 12th birthday. Did I never mention that?”

“No…why?” Stella looked slightly shocked.

“For no reason in particular. It never seemed that important – we were family with or without the marriage certificate, it made no difference. We had originally wanted to do it on his 10th birthday, but I was too fat for Sabine’s groom standards then. But it’s not unusual at all – in big Western European cities many couples live together for ages, have kids, before getting married, some never do. In Germany 36 % of all children are born to non-married couples, in France even 48% - those are not all social outcasts, it’s totally normal.”

“Okay…that still is pretty different here in the US. Co-habitating, especially with children, is fully accepted in very few social circles. People more or less expect you to get married after you have lived together for a year, maximum two. Many people still don’t actually move together before they marry. But I can see you point – my own marriage and engagement history is not an advertisement for rushing things. And from how I’ve come to know you…I’m not worried about you committing without tying the knot…What about your professional plans?”

Shifting Stella a bit in my lap, I sighed. “That’s a bit more of a problem, if we want to make our transatlantic relationship here work. I could try to get a job with a German media outlet, my own publishing house or another one, here in the US. But that would almost certainly mean moving to New York or DC, less likely LA. Or I could try to work free lance from here in Chicago, but I don’t know whether that would pay the bills, let alone how to get a green card for that.”

“Marrying me would solve the green card issue…” Stella commented.

“Yes, it would. But I would not want to put pressure on you because of that.”

“What about your job back in Germany?” Stella wanted to know.

“I can definitely go back to that, that’s always the fall back option if nothing else works out. But I feel like moving on to something different…this year has made me want to change things, not only personally, but also professionally. I just got an e-mail from my publisher yesterday, offering me to apply for the vacancy as editor-in-chief of our online edition.“

“That sounds great!” Stella exclaimed.

“Yeah but it wouldn’t solve the problem of you working here and me working there. That’s way too long distance for a relationship.”

Stella looked at me from the side. “Well, I could work in Germany, if you wanted me to. Okay, I don’t speak German, but I could probably learn pretty easily – I speak Greek which is also a complicated, hyper-grammatical language. That’s an easier transition than from English. And besides, the advantage of physiotherapy is that you can do quite a lot and good work starting with limited vocabulary, technical terms are very similar, most of them being Greek. Also, I’d have to look into this more in detail…the University of Chicago, where I teach some courses, has an exchange program – we do love those transatlantic exchange programs don’t we,” she interjected, squeezing my double-chin, “with your hometown university. Maybe that would offer something…”

“Stella that sounds wonderful! Would you do that for me, come with me back home to Germany?” I cuddled her closely, delighted…before reality hit me. “But what about a work permit for you? It’s not that difficult for US citizens, but it would take some time…again unless we got married…”

Stella knocked me slightly against the head. “Uli…sometimes you are too busy trying to find the hidden agenda in everything that you overlook the obvious! Do you remember when we arrived at Athens airport for the wedding? Why did we stand in the same line there and had to take separate lines getting back to Chicago?”

“No idea,” I shrugged, not knowing where she was heading.

“Because I have a Greek passport, you sweet dummy! I’ve dual citizenship, my grandparents insisted on us kids getting it. That makes me an EU citizen just as good as you, meaning I can live and work in Germany anytime I like!”

“Oh dear…how embarrassing not to have paid attention to that, sorry…that’s fantastic!” deeply kissing her. On a calmer note, I was unsure. “Would that really be okay for you, to move away from here, your home, your family, try to re-establish yourself professionally across the ocean, learn a new language…just for the sake of a relationship with me?”

“I could give it a try,” Stella responded. “I’ve been here all my life…I’d be interested in trying something new. I don’t have to give up my shares in the practice, so that would be there to come back to. Plus…I really enjoyed the two years living in Europe in Athens…you can do so many interesting things on short-haul over there in the old world…”

“But where I live has nothing of the sunny warm charm of Athens…” I reasoned.

“Of course not…still, I would be much closer to my grandparents in Greece, now in what are probably their last years in life. And I know what it is like to live in a cold, wet, windy town…that would be no major change,” Stella concluded.

“So how do we go about this?”

“Well…why don’t you write down – writing is your job – the various options we just discussed, and then each of us will work through his/her options, maybe do some informational interviews…And then we can see what really materializes.”

“Stella – you’re adorable!”

In the meantime it had stopped raining and Stella asked, “Why don’t we go out onto the porch?”

We settled on the wide swing, Stella’s head in my lap, her feet hanging over the arm rest. Tenderly looking up at me, Stella said, “Mr. Rheinstein, I have some news for you too…I’m pregnant.”

My jaw dropped…And it was at least a minute before I could utter anything. “But why? And when? How do you know?”

“Too much Sex on the Beach is not just dangerous as a cocktail, darling,” Stella quipped. “We got slightly carried away on Naxos, more in line with Dionysian practices than safer sex…What do you think, how do you feel about it?”

I was so stunned; I did not know what to say. “It’s so unexpected, it’s wonderful, I love children. Imagine how lovely one of your children will be…”

“It will be your child too,“ Stella threw in softly.

“Well, I’m not sure whether that’s an asset to the gene pool…”

Stella punched me lightly in the stomach. “Stop it, this is serious. We’re talking about a baby, a human being and a whole new life. Look at André, he’s a great kid. You’re a good father, I’ve seen that. Are you willing to be a father for our child?”

“Of course, Stella, of course. What else could I do?”

“Well some men in your situation might suggest…”

“Never, Stella, never. Actually…” mixed emotions rising up in me –immediately quenching the one that Sabine had also offered a reconciliation baby, while I had unknowingly already fathered a definite separation baby. “Actually, this is a bit history repeating. Sabine got pregnant with André while we were still studying and had been together less than a year. Even though there are few so young student parents in Germany any more – probably most cases opt for an abortion – for me that was out of the question. If I father a child, I will take care of it.”

Stella smiled. “See, that’s what I expected. I knew I could count on you. I wasn’t planning on a baby now, but if it wants to come…it’ll be wonderful to have it with you. What would you prefer – boy or girl?”

Guiltily I looked at her. “I know I’m supposed to say, it doesn’t matter, just as long as it is healthy and you are safe… But actually - I would prefer a girl. I already have a great son …I adore Astrid’s daughters…and I’m selfish enough to say I’d love a little one of my own, especially if she turns out to be as lovely as her mother.”

Stella giggled. “Same case here. I have three little brothers. I would prefer a girl, too. But wait and see what Mother Nature has in store for us.”

“Oh no…!”

“What’s wrong?” Stella looked worried.

“No…it’s just, as I said, history repeating. My parents berated me without end for being irresponsible and not behaving like a mature male regarding my role in contraception when it happened with André. I was hardly twenty then – what are they going to say now it’s happened again in my mid-thirties, now that I should really know better? To imagine I of all people have been lecturing André and Inka-Sophie about responsibility and safer-sex – how hypocritical is that?” I cringed slightly “And then…it embarrasses me that I’m still married to Sabine, it doesn’t seem right and I feel it’s humiliating for you…I’m sorry for putting you through this…please”

“Hold it now,” Stella said sternly. “Forgetting contraception is just as much my responsibility as it is yours! Don’t berate yourself – this has happened all the time, it’s as old as mother earth. If it weren’t for unplanned pregnancies, humanity might never have survived. And regarding your marital status…I respect you for your position and concern for me. But it’s not important…I knew you were still married, but I also knew you were seriously separated. By the time the baby is born, you’ll be divorced…so it’s a non-issue for me. We’ll be family then, with the addition of André, whether with or without certificate…and that’s what matters for me.”

“Thank you Stella,” I said meekly. “You’re so sweet. How far are you gone – when is the baby due?”

“Do a little math - I’m only six weeks gone”, Stella responded, gently rubbing my chubby cheek. “The baby is due end of January. So it’s still very early – that is why I would prefer we keep it to ourselves for the time being and wait until the first trimester is over safely, ok?” Seeing me nod, she continued. “In the meantime, we can look through all those practical questions of how to organize our life together somewhere on planet earth, yes?”

I kissed her lightly…and then, in another flashback of memory, let out a deep groan.

“Now what’s wrong?” Stella sat up in slight alarm.

“Uhhh…it’s silly, but in the line of history repeating…” I shuddered a little. “If I gain as much weight during your pregnancy as I did during Sabine’s with André…I’ll hit 300 US pounds…that's an awful lot for my height…”

Stella threw back her head and laughed, teasingly jiggling my belly. “Well, we all know about the infamous paternal co-pregnancy weight gain...if that’s the way it’s supposed to be…we’ll both have very big bellies under the Christmas tree…”

While I still cringed inwardly trying to imagine carrying so much weight around on my rather short frame, a different, warmly arousing, naughty little fantasy suddenly surfaced in my mind: Me, pushing around a huge gut with a roundly pregnant Stella, rubbing our big bellies against each other under a German Christmas tree with real candles, while eating my favorite Christmas cookies…until a sharp pinch in my chest snapped me back into reality.

“Which dirty little thoughts are you thinking?” Stella grinned up at me. “I know you secretly write porn on the side for fun!”

I felt my face grow hot with shame. “How do you know I write porn sometimes?”

“I’ve watched you write…and I’ve had sex with you…and sometimes you have the same expression of complete abandonment on your face in both situations…There’s nothing wrong with that. I greatly prefer a man who makes up his own porn to one who watches it endlessly, passively on the internet, it’s much more creative.”
 

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[Author’s Note:] Okay, time to end this tale.

Part 10 – Blundering through

Organizing a new life in two countries across an ocean with various sets of family involved and a baby on the way was not going to be easy – but I had only anticipated the job hunting part as the difficult one. After all the most recent transitions had passed with only minor hiccups, Stella and I were totally unprepared for the avalanche of problems we were suddenly buried under.

We had agreed to keep quiet about Stella’s pregnancy until we could be pretty sure that everything was okay – but shortly after she told me, Stella started to suffer from violent morning sickness, so bad that she dehydrated seriously and had to be hospitalized with an IV-drip just to get the fluids she needed. Naturally, we couldn’t keep this from her family – and received an unexpectedly hostile reaction. So far I had felt as an accepted member of the extended family as Stella’s boyfriend, even though everybody knew I was still technically married to Sabine. Suddenly, with Stella’s pregnancy, this became an issue.

Her mother, father and brothers berated me rather aggressively for not being conscientious enough about contraception. For getting Stella into such a disgraceful situation without the prospect of us getting married before the baby arrived – since I could be pretty sure, given the lengthy bureaucratic procedures in Germany, that my divorce would come through only just in time for the birth.

Stella – who seemed honestly untroubled by this aspect of our relationship – was so upset about their behavior that she kicked them out of her hospital room saying she did not want to see them again until they apologized to me and shut-up about the issue. This did have the desired effect – only for the entire Komotis’ clan to limit itself to throwing dark looks and speaking as little as possible to me.

While Stella was still hospitalized, André and Inka-Sophie arrived for their six weeks of summer vacation, adding to my already high stress level. Learning from previous mistakes, I had agreed with Stella that André was supposed to be the first person we tell that he was big brother-to-be. Despite this not having worked out 100%, I was sure I had to tell him more or less right on his arrival.

Surprisingly, André too seemed to feel the need for a father and son talk – the first one in person after Sabine and I had decided on divorce. So we went to try sailing on Lake Michigan right his first day in Chicago on our own. With my added weight, this was more difficult in a small boat – the sinewy guy at the boat-rental looked at me disapprovingly, searched a long time for a life vest that half-way closed around my vast middle and made André wear a lead-belt to compensate.

We left the marina and sailed out for almost an hour before either of us spoke up – it was André, who started with a turn that almost threw me out of the boat. “Paps, this is very difficult for me. Can you maybe just listen?”

“Of course André – what do you want to tell me?”

“Mami is very unhappy – she misses you so much. She often cries herself to sleep reading old stories of yours.” – His words sending a wave of cold dread down into my stomach, making it drop almost to my feet. “She has understood that she was all wrong to ask you to move out and get together with Jens – she totally regrets her behavior.”

“André,” I couldn’t help interrupting him, “does Sabine know you’re talking to me about this?”

“No – she doesn’t. It’s alone my idea, not Mami’s” André stressed. “You’re my parents – I feel I have to see if I can’t do something for us all to be family again. I miss having you together, all three of us together. Can’t you at least give it another try? Maybe come back a little earlier with me and move back in with us? See if we can’t altogether make everything work again?”

“I’m sorry André, I don’t think…”

“Please, Paps…you’ve always done everything for Mami and me to be happy! She really, really misses you…she told me that it didn’t matter at all that you are even…well, umm, rounder now. She wanted every kilogram of you back. She threw out all the diet books in the kitchen – they reminded her too much of…yeah, that she was not nice enough to you. Please, can’t we just forget about the past year and start over?”

“André – a lot has changed in this year…”

“But nothing has changed permanently! You’re only here 2 more months. You have your job back home…why not really come home to Mami and me? Sure, Stella is very nice- but she lives here in Chicago, with you back in Germany that has no future anyway. Can’t you think about it, wait with the decision about the, you know, divorce until you’ve tried it again with us for a few months, please?”

I couldn’t stand looking into his pleading eyes, so I buried my face in my hands shaking my head. After a few minutes, I looked back up, straightened myself and took a deep breath. “André I need to talk to you, too. Please – now it’s your turn just to listen, okay?”

“Okay,” André nodded.

“Where do I start – my decision to turn down Sabine’s offer of reconciliation and file for divorce is only between Sabine and me as a couple. It has nothing to do with you or her role as your mother, okay? Don’t shake your head – believe me! Being a couple is different from being parents. To be a good couple you have to not only love, but fully trust and accept each other– that’s my problem. My trust in Sabine’s acceptance is pretty badly damaged, too badly for full repair.”

“But I always tell and try to show Isa that you can learn to trust again…You certainly can trust Mami again…”

“André, something in my trust would always stay broken there is no glue that will make it as good as new, okay? Besides…”- bracing myself for his reaction – “something has permanently changed during this year, for me and also for you. You’re the first person I’m telling – and I hope you understand. You’re going to be a big brother next year. Stella and I are expecting a baby…”

André stared at me, open-mouthed.

“I know this is a big, maybe not all pleasant surprise…”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” André tone was low but cutting.

I tried to reach out to him, dangerously jeopardizing the boat, but he just shoved my arm away, and yanked the rudder around. “Shut up! Don’t touch me! Don’t speak to me! Leave me alone!”

For the next hour and a half we struggled against the wind, mutely fighting with the sails to get back to the marina. I kept silent knowing that to try to speak to him right now was hopeless he needed to calm down first.

When we got close, a sunny looking Inka-Sophie was sitting on the pier waiting for us, smiling and waving. André instantly jumped off the boat and ran past her.

She looked shocked and called over to me. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you later. Please go after him – I think he needs you now!” I called back, trying to tie the boat up. Inka-Sophie went off, while I struggled to get out of the boat and sent her a SMS explaining what had happened and asking her to please try and somehow reach André. A few minutes later I got one back saying “Oh no!” – suggesting meeting up again in my apartment in several hours time.

Feeling completely hollow, the first thing I did was wash down 5 brownies with 3 large cappuccinos and then talk to Stella on the phone, because I did not feel capable of facing her, not wanting to further upset her by her noticing that something was so awfully wrong.

On returning to my apartment, André and Inka-Sophie were already there, he glaring at me with real hatred as he saw me enter the door.

“André, please we need…”

“I’m not talking to you ever again!” André barked. “I don’t care what you have to say! You ruined our family! You’re no longer my father! How stupid are you? Not able to use a condom? Telling me to be careful about contraception! Are you even sure it’s yours? You’re such a disgusting blob – no wonder Mami didn’t want to have sex with you anymore! Did Stella fool you? You can’t get any woman pregnant with that giant belly in the way – how do you want to get your thing far enough…”

“André – enough! Shut up!” Inka-Sophie yelled at him, while I was too stricken to say anything. His words – too obviously spoken to wound – didn’t really get to me, it was his blind rage that left me completely helpless.

“Go away! I don’t ever want to see you again!” André yelled and threw 2 apples lying in a bowl on the table at me, hitting me on the shoulder. Once more Inka-Sophie surprised me. She grabbed André in a firm head-lock, using her higher weight as leverage, pulled him to the cupboard closet, shoved him in and locked the door behind him, breathing hard and ignoring his pounding against the door.

Then she shoved me out the apartment door. “Uli – I’m really sorry, but I haven’t been able to get through to him yet! Nevertheless,” giving me a small smile and a light hug, “congratulations! I’m honestly very happy for you and Stella! You’ll make wonderful parents. You’re doing the right thing – André is wrong if he thinks reconciliation would work between you and his mother.”

“Thank you so much Isa. Your opinion in this matter means a lot to me,” sighing deeply. “What would André and I do without you? What am I going to do now?”

Inka-Sophie twisted her face sardonically. “Well, right now I think you would indeed be slightly lost without me. I have a suggestion. This is going to take a day or two to blow over. Can you maybe leave the apartment to us for this time? So he can calm down – and I can try and get him to see reason again? Do you have stuff at Stella’s so you can stay there?”

Nodding I said, “How can I thank you for all you’re willing to do for us?”

“I’m doing this for myself too – I want to keep the sweet boyfriend I had until today, not some childish jerk who selfishly smashes things left and right!”

“Sabine is right – you are a lot more grown-up than André,” I said, shaking my head. “What went wrong? I knew André was going to have a hard time digesting the baby information – but I never thought it would hit him this hard. He has done such a good job of maturely dealing with our break-up and divorce so far, he even tolerated that Jens guy, he has been fine with Stella…and now this.”

“Well, I’m not sure…it might mean he never fully accepted the reality of his parents breaking up. He might also be jealous that you decided in favor of another child – fearing it might replace him in your affections. He’s really used to being unique,” Inka-Sophie responded.

“But he is unique. No baby can replace André – it will be a totally different story,” I couldn’t grasp it. “I decided to divorce Sabine before Stella told me about the baby, not knowing whether she would have me at all. Do you believe me?”

André again started to hammer loudly against the door, so Inka-Sophie quickly said, “Yes – I believe you. Knowing you, Stella and Sabine all personally, as I said, you’re doing the right thing. But now go – you’ll make things worse if you stay! I’ll keep you posted. Oh – by the way, why don’t you write André a letter explaining, like a real letter on paper…maybe I can get him to read it!”

Inka-Sophie and André stayed incommunicado for the next three days, full of agonizing uncertainty for me. Since I couldn’t otherwise explain his not visiting her, I told Stella that André was finding it difficult to adjust to the news that he was to have a sibling. Not having anybody to talk to about this awful situation was hard since I hadn’t even told Astrid about Stella’s pregnancy. I didn’t want to call her and burden her with all aspects of my current disaster.

To vent my feelings, I wrote the letter to André, trying to explain everything. That I wanted to apologize sincerely to him for having knowingly and unknowingly hurt him through the break-up of our family and hoped he could forgive me. That he was my boy, that nobody and nothing could replace him in my heart…and the worst thing that could happen to me was losing him and our good father-son-relationship. That I had decided to end my marriage with Sabine before knowing whether Stella wanted to commit to me, and before finding out she was pregnant. That I still had a lot of love for Sabine, especially as his mother – but that trust was just as essential an element in a good relationship. That broken trust is one of the most difficult things in life to repair. That I was simply too afraid that Sabine could never fully accept me being fat as part of the package I had to offer, in the end making both of us unhappy again. That not being able to control my appetite happened to be - in every sense of the word - my big weakness. That I hoped he would not hold it against me –he knew how many years of dieting I had tried, but that it’s not always possible to successfully overcome weaknesses in life. That he had every right to call me hypocritical because I had constantly admonished him regarding the importance of contraception – while I myself clearly had not practiced what I preached. That I fervently wished he could accept my decision to take care of his little brother or sister and Stella as I had tried with him – but that this was a new chapter in our life in which I hoped he would play a big part, no matter what. That all I asked him was to give the new situation in our family a fair chance to see if we couldn’t be happy again together with everybody taking on a new role.

Towards noon on the fourth day, I was surprised to look up and see Inka-Sophie standing in front of my desk, looking exhausted. “I’ve sent him sailing on a guided tour all afternoon – I desperately need a break – and he needs to get some fresh air in his head!”

“Isa you poor thing, what can I do – I feel terrible burdening you so much. This is way too much responsibility for you!”

“Yes – it is,” Inka-Sophie sighed. “What you can instantly do is take me for a big lunch, I’m starving! André is half in hunger strike-mode and I don’t have the nerve to eat in his presence.”

“Things are so bad that even I’m not much better at the moment,” realizing how little I had eaten in the past days. “But I know a place that has the best comfort mac and cheese in town.”

We really seemed to need it bad – Inka-Sophie and I ate our way through three XXL portions of mac and cheese plus the entire dessert menu before we were able to start talking about the immediate problems over coffee.

“Ahh, I’m so stuffed,” Inka-Sophie said, rubbing her roundly distended belly, “but I feel much better now, thank you.”

“That’s the absolute minimum of what I should do for you,” I said, leaning back to ease the pressure on my own bulging gut. “Now–what else is there I can do to get things going again?”

Inka-Sophie shook her head. “It’s really bad. I never imagined André could be so obstinate, so unfair…and so childish. For some reason – I don’t know why, he normally is much more reflective – he only sees you and Sabine in the role of his parents, not as 2 individuals. He feels he always has to side with the party in distress. First you after Sabine kicked you out and took in Jens and you had the accident. Now it’s Sabine who is unhappy because for once you are not giving into her wish and taking her back.”

“How do you know I rarely ever said no to Sabine?” disturbed as ever by her ability to nail the issue.

“Good observation skills,” Inka-Sophie answered wryly. “I’ve told André I side with you – so he is torn between being mad at me and being afraid of losing me. Still – he can’t seem to get the reason for my position in his head. He doesn’t want to see that you’re more than his parents, that each of you has a right to your own lives. I mean, we’re both finishing school in 2 years – and probably will be out of the house then. That’s a really short time for you to actively play your role as parents on a daily basis. And then?”

“I’ve never thought about that, but you’re right. The André-empty nest is no longer that far off.”

“Well, you already have your next little birdie on the way to fill the nest,” Inka-Sophie grinned shamelessly until I reddened.

“I know it’s tough for André, having a father who is a total loser at keeping all physical things under control, giving him a sibling at a pretty ripe age…”

“Pah…he should be able to deal with that, you were really young when you had him, there is nothing wrong with having another child now,” Inka-Sophie belittled my concerns. “Actually, I would’ve been very happy if my mother had found a male version of Stella and had had another baby – she would be much better off. Question for you – do you have that letter for André ready?”

“Yes- I’ve re-written it nine times, it’s the best I can do. Do you want to read it?”

“No, that’s between you and André. I trust you’re able to do your job and write up something meaningful. So I’ll see that I somehow get him to read and think about it,” Inka-Sophie sighed. “You hit my sore-point when you said this is too much responsibility for me. It’s more than I want to handle. And as much as I am in love with André and have come to like you as a, may I say…friend?”

“I’d be delighted and honored if you considered me to be your friend, Isa.”

“Thanks, that’s nice,” she continued. “But this rift between the two of you is not really my business. If André doesn’t get a grip on himself and starts to behave like his normal self again, I can’t see us staying together either. That’s what I told him this morning: If he doesn’t shape up and at least try to talk things over with you, I’m flying back home on Saturday – and he should come with me.”

“Oh…” catching me by surprise, “you’re right, that would be the most sensible thing to do. I’d be very sorry if the two of you left, but there is not much I can do about it if he won’t even talk to me. Here is the letter, by the way.”

Looking at her watch, Inka-Sophie said, “I should be going, André doesn’t know we’re meeting. Keep your fingers crossed that he sees reason!”

“I will, Isa thank you– I feel so helpless!”


The next two days I spent mainly taking good care of Stella who over time extracted the extent of my problems with André, but was much less upset than I had feared.

“Uli, getting a sibling at that age is considered beyond embarrassing at school – you can’t expect a 100% grown up reaction. Sabine is his mother, of course he loves her, wants to help her and see her happy – that’s only natural. It’s actually very sweet of him to try and reconcile his parents, he always reminds me so much of you. So far he’s done such a good job in dealing with your break up, he’ll get used to these changes, accept your decision, give him some time!”

In me, the cold dread of losing André was mounting, but I couldn’t think of anything to do, since he wouldn’t talk to me. I left the office to go shopping on the way home on Friday, hoping for a Saturday miracle. As I got home, I almost missed the porch step out of surprise, because I saw André sitting on it next to Stella stretched out on her easy chair.

André blushed crimson as he saw me, but stood up and said, not looking me in the eye. “I’m so sorry, I acted like a total idiot, I’m starting to get used to the idea…I promise I’ll be a really good big brother for my little sister.”

“It’s okay André,” was all I could say in my huge relief, wrapping him in a bear hug. After a minute it struck me. “Why do you say little sister?”

Stella glowed. “Kelley came over with the results of all those tests we had taken to make sure nothing is really wrong. We’re having the little girl we both hoped for. André is the first I told.”

Totally elated, I kissed her; I kissed André…and collapsed on a chair.

André grimaced and muttered under his breath, “How many more months of this?” To continue more politely. “Do you already have a name for her?”

Stella and I looked at each other for 90 seconds and then tentatively asked in one voice, “Ariadne?”

“Why Ariadne?” André was puzzled.

“Because of Naxos, in every respect,” I said, not able to resist kissing Stella again. “Because it works perfectly in all three languages, it’s a total classic – it’s been around for 4000 years, it starts with an A and matches André well.”

“Because she is the blue-print for female life until today. She’s incredibly smart, has a good career, still falls for the wrong man, throws away her own life…but then is one of the lucky few to find a god where she least expected him,” Stella teased and gave me another kiss.

Not wanting to put André off even more by all too shameless displays of delight with Stella, I started collecting the groceries and asked, “Where is Isa?”

“She’s coming soon for dinner, if that’s okay. She said I should come here alone first and talk to both of you,” André hung his head.

“We’re so happy to have you here with us again,” Stella said warmly, sensing I was still half tongue-tied. “Uli – are you going to make dinner?”

“Yes – I’m off to the kitchen. André, you can either help me or keep Stella company out here, as you like,” turning to go in and André not following me.

After a while I heard a cry of delight from Stella and looked outside to see her being hugged and congratulated by Inka-Sophie, her plump curves stylishly high-lighted by a short summer dress, looking much more relaxed. I continued preparing dinner – mild asparagus-risotto Stella could stomach, chicken breasts stuffed with herbs, mozzarella and marinated vegetables as a starter and ice-cream with fresh strawberries – accompanied by pretty heavy power snacking, compensating for the still tense situation with André in person causing a bad case of nerves.

A few minutes later, Inka-Sophie entered the kitchen smiling. “Let me help you get everything ready so we can eat, I’m hungry!” laughing as she saw me stuff another cheese cracker in my mouth. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” after managing to swallow the cracker, “I can’t say how much I owe you, Isa, for getting André to come here and speak to Stella and me. A million thanks are not enough,” bowing low to her.

“I’m glad it worked,” Inka-Sophie blushed. “The two of you are still pretty tense but that will hopefully fade over time. You’re afraid he might freak again any minute – while André is totally embarrassed about his behavior, all the horrible things he said to you, and is clueless of how to sincerely apologize.”

Swallowing a small tomato, I shook my head. “I’m not mad at him about that, I know he just tried to hurt less himself by hurting me. It’s more that I’m sad and afraid our relationship might never be as it was before.”

Inka-Sophie skeptically tilted her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Time and patience. Now let’s get dinner on the table before you eat it all up!”

Thanks to Stella and Inka-Sophie, dinner was more relaxed and friendly than I had feared. Inka-Sophie, sharing the good news that she had an interview with 2 plus-size modeling agencies in New York at the end of her stay – and Stella officially asking all of us to move in to help her through the next weeks.

Despite the outward appearances, the situation still had a lot of underlying tension and I tried to suffocate this uncomfortable feeling with as much food as I could hold. Seconds of everything, eating all the leftovers while clearing the kitchen and having a third bowel of ice-cream for dessert until my belly was a tightly packed heavy globular sphere jutting out in front of me, forcing me to undo the button of my pants and slightly lean backwards to balance the weight.

At the end of the evening, I fell into bed very carefully so not to upset my overloaded stomach, breathing heavily. Stella settled next to me and wordlessly started to massage my mountain of a belly until I belched. “So sorry – my eating is totally out of control tonight.”

“Uli – you somehow need it –you’re clearly compensating something. It was a tense situation. It’ll take some time for you and André to get back to normal. It would’ve been better if you’d really talked and he had apologized as earnestly to you as he did to me – for which there is no real reason – but that’s for the two of you to decide.”

“He said a few things that are very difficult to apologize for – even though that’s not the point for me. I just hope he understands me and accepts my decision.”

“What did he say?” Stella asked but I shook my head, again feeling like I again needed something sweet to sustain me. “Do we still have any of those Greek chocolate covered candied tangerines?”

Stella shook her head and grinned mischievously. “You’re having a calorie-free sweet now, that will make you relax much better,” starting to kiss her way down from my chest over my belly.

“Stella, please no…think of Ariadne! We’re not allowed to have sex right now while you’re still in such a weak condition.”

“Who’s talking about full intercourse here?” Stella teasingly bit my erection. “As a physiotherapist I’m a pro in making you unwind in all kinds of ways…”
 

agouderia

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Outwardly we returned to normal. André and Inka-Sophie went to their sailing summer camp during the week, I went to work and Stella thankfully recuperated and was able to work again part time. The tension subsided only very slowly – André was friendly, extremely polite and conspicuously avoided being alone with me. His relations with Inka-Sophie also seemed inhibited – he was aware that he had not cut the best figure in her eyes and feared losing her. Instead he clung to Stella like a shadow, helping her almost every move – while she easily handled it, treating him like another one of her little brothers.

First I was reluctant to talk about Stella’s pregnancy at all anymore, but what ironically helped ease things up a lot was that we stopped using the words “pregnancy” or “baby” but spoke of ‘Ariadne’. It was like making plans for a real person we were waiting for- no longer an invisible object or a medical condition. Even André related well to this and slowly relaxed again, adding his share of plans, like no pink room for Ariadne please.

In the meantime, I filled in Astrid, who half laughed and half cried with emotions. “A little A-girl of your own, with Stella – how wonderful! But shit, I don’t envy you having to tell our parents that you flunked contraception again!”

“Don’t remind me- I’m calling you first because I don’t have the guts to tell them yet,” I said glumly, relating Stella’s problems and the André crisis to her.

“Oh dear,” Astrid sighed, “I feel so sorry for you, that’s rough. I’m a bit surprised - André seemed so mature lately. But he is only sixteen- that probably is more than he can easily handle emotionally. And face it, he’s your son – you did something similar for our parents after I moved out and they were on the brink of separating, only with them it worked. Always try and leave no one behind alone and unhappy.”

“I’ve never thought about it that way, I don’t remember that crisis as that bad. I was young then, right?”

“Yes, you spent your summer vacation moving back and forth between them to get them back together. You passed on some sort of family harmony gene to André.” Astrid answered. “So you actually deciding to divorce Sabine against her wish is a huge step. It’s saying a lot if she managed to wear out your good-nature. But you’re doing the right thing, especially now with a new baby on the way – I’m sure you’ll be happy with Stella and work out the practicalities of your transatlantic relations. One thing Uli though, to be fair – you have to tell Sabine yourself about the baby, the sooner the better. Since that’s bad enough, I offer to spare you the task of telling Mom and Dad by doing it for you.”

Groaning, I answered, “Oh shit – you’re right Astrid, I have to do that. I doubt André told her. A million thanks if you are willing to prepare our parents for grandchild No. 4.”

It took me three days, but I wrote Sabine a classic letter explaining the situation, the timing and asking for her understanding – an overwhelming feeling of guilt pouring into every letter I typed and then re-wrote by hand.

Since the immediate crisis was over, I concentrated again on my job search. Options in the US with a German media outlet were slim, the only one I was offered from a subsidiary of my publishing house was a half-position reporting on business & finance from the West Coast in LA, with the option of doing Hollywood and entertainment industry from the cultural side on top free-lance. It didn’t sound all bad, but the pay was lousy, it was a good 2,000 miles away from Stella – and I cannot read a balance sheet to save my life.

The call regarding my application for the position of our online-editor-in-chief came from Birger: “Uli, I really hate to talk to you about this – but Silke just told me that you also applied for the online-ec position, right?”

“Yeah-I want to move on professionally after this year. But why also?”

“I’ve applied too. The two of us are the main contenders for this position.”

“Oh shit,” was all I could say – that was one of the last things I needed now, fighting for a job with one of my best friends. We talked it over for a while what this would mean for us, and that it shouldn’t matter, but I felt very uneasy. No matter which outcome, I feared it would ruin our friendship – and make working with our others colleagues very difficult. Plus, Birger had in his favor that he had done exclusively online in the past few years.

When I talked this problem over with Stella in the peace and solitude of our bedroom, that I had already half decided to withdraw my application, she kissed me tenderly and sighed. “Uli, the best and the worst in you is that you’re such a good-natured, well-meaning guy. In my opinion it would be better if you stuck out this confrontation – it’s a professional, not a personal thing. But that’s not you…if you got the job, you would probably constantly feel guilty for having betrayed your friendship. On the other hand, if you weren’t the way you are, I would most likely not have you in my bed this minute and be carrying your baby…because that’s why I love you. You always make at least serious effort to do your best for those close to you.”

Enraptured, I gazed at her at length before I kissed her longingly. “Hey, you used the taboo ‘l’-word for the first time!”

Stella blushed. “Well, maybe it’s the first time I said it out loud…”
 

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Part 11 – Leaping off

As in most modern relationships, the job question had to decide the matter. It was Silke, my colleague turned guardian angel, who once again came up with the perfect option we had never even remotely considered. After her truly life changing suggestion of me going to Chicago on the exchange program, we had stayed in pretty close e-mail and phone contact over the year, and I had come to rely on her sympathetic attitude and professional expertise.

So she had been one person I had informed about the changes in my personal life – and when she called back to congratulate me, she also bitched about her own personal relationship crisis which entailed having to spend a particularly rainy summer vacation with uncomfortable in-laws in an isolated hut in Bavaria with no running water, making me laugh and suggest, “Silke – I owe you so much. What I can offer in contrast is a sunny sea-side US East Coast exploration tour. I still have to finish that series on US summer vacation traditions – so I’ll travel up from New York to Canada and back with André and Inka-Sophie by car, a mix of work and vacation. Would you like to join us? I could pick you up in New York – and we’re definitely only staying at places with hot running water!”

Silke laughed. “Is that a serious invitation? I’ll think about it!” only to call two days later and say, “You can pick me up at JFK coming Thursday! Thank you so much for the great offer – my partner completely freaked that I’m spending my summer vacation with a guy and his off-spring instead of with her in-laws, but it seems to have set her thinking that maybe she should be a bit more imaginative regarding traveling. Now there’s suddenly talk of Jordan and Syria in the fall. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to seeing you next week!”

So was I – it was an uplifting prospect to be able to talk to Silke, get her helpful professional insights on all the problems I was trying to solve. Even more, I was grateful not to be traveling alone with André and Inka-Sophie – Stella not being able to come along. It would be good to have an adult as company, since my relations with André still were not back to normal. We hadn’t spoken in private at all since he had come back and I didn’t want to put the strain of constantly moderating between us for two weeks on Isa.

In New York, we picked up the rental car and Silke to head North through Connecticut and Massachusetts doing pretty heavy site-seeing before slowing done a little as we got to Maine. We spent our first sunny day there on the beach, André started to teach Inka-Sophie how to windsurf while Silke and I went for a long swim in the ocean. As we came out, Silke panting to keep up with me, I noticed her take a long hard look at my body- my belly fat wobbling heavily over the waistband of my shorts, my floppy man boobs and well-fleshed extremities. So far she hadn’t commented on my substantial weight gain except an affectionate belly rub as I had picked her up at JFK.

Now I reddened under her intense scrutiny, giving my belly a slap. “Obviously fatter than ever! You have to decide for yourself which beach analogy you prefer – whale or walrus!”

Blushing, Silke settled down into her beach chair. “I’m sorry I stared, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m admiring how well you carry the higher weight, it really suits you and you are in good shape. You’re actually much more convincing and authentic as a well rounded personality.”

“An unusual compliment- thanks anyway,” I half-smirked. “It took me a while to get used to seeing myself this way, to acknowledge that I seem to be meant for a fat life, but I feel pretty much at ease now – Stella is very lovingly accepting of my weight, that’s such a relief.”

“Your new and better attitude comes across nicely,” Silke nodded. “The added weight corresponds to your own personal center of gravity, you’re much more relaxed…even though your current situation from an objective point of view is more difficult than it was a year ago.”

“Are you serious? I was so much more miserable then…”

“Let’s see – a year ago you were professionally established, separated from your wife, it was not yet clear whether it would end in divorce and you were under constant pressure to diet …that’s all. Alone the idea of you weighing, how much, 40, 50 pounds…more in a year’s time would probably have seemed like the ultimate disaster, correct?”

“Pretty exact assessment, in every respect, you’re probably the best psychologist I know,” I couldn’t help slightly grinning and lifting my heavy belly to visualize the added weight.

“Looking at you today, you not only have those added pounds, but a few real challenges to tackle. Your now definite divorce, making a new relationship work, a second baby on the way, a classic father-son divorce dilemma to handle, your ambition to find a new job and somehow settle down between 2 continents, cultures and languages…that’s an awful lot. Yet you seem at peace with yourself and at the same time have much more energy than I can ever remember.”

“How do you know André and I are at odds? I never mentioned that!”

“We’ve been traveling together for 5 days- I couldn’t help noticing that your relations are slightly stilted. Also, Isa and I talked when we went shopping yesterday, she wanted my professional opinion, I hope you don’t mind?”

“No, it’s okay- you’re our resident traveling psychologist right now, might as well make use of your expertise…”

“I don’t want to get involved, I don’t think I need to, you’ve handled this pretty well,” Silke shook her head. “I’m tremendously impressed by Inka-Sophie though. André found himself a rare gem. She’s a complete natural in the field of psychology – I’ve actually offered her a part-time internship in our office to interest her further in the field.”

“Brilliant idea! I don’t even want to think about how the last year would have been for André and me without Isa’s support. It’s great that you’re willing to foster her talents.”

“It’s a real treat to have the chance to mentor such a gifted young woman,” Silke smiled. “Regarding André, you’re doing the right thing. Not pressuring him, letting him come to you, just showing simple tolerance and understanding. Even for grown children like André, a divorce with one parent directly moving onto a new family is difficult to digest, it needs time. I’m positive he’ll understand over time, why you’re not able to reconcile with Sabine.”

“So you think I’m doing the right thing? Am I right in not trusting Sabine to change her attitude to my weight?”

“I can’t answer the second question – nobody has a 100% answer to that one, not even Sabine herself. Nevertheless, I think divorce is the better and safer option for you. As I said, seeing you now and remembering you over the past years – in hindsight, Sabine’s dieting pressure totally stressed you out, because it forced you to constantly fight your weaknesses instead of building on your strengths. But it’s the strengths that make a good and stable foundation for a relationship.”

“I’ve been thinking down those lines lately too, Silke,” I pondered. “It took a while to realize how much the endless yo-yo dieting wore me out, physically and emotionally. I had gotten used to seeing myself through Sabine’s eyes as a fat, weak-willed glutton -almost forgetting there might be another side to the story- that I’m a decent guy who just has a medium-sized weight problem, which shouldn’t be life defining. Stella is wonderful, she even makes me forget this might be a problem, lets me feel comfortable with my body. I’m only a bit uneasy that I might be wronging Sabine.”

“Uli – I don’t think that question is significant – for two reasons,” Silke cut me short. “First of all, empirical evidence currently is against Sabine, you not trusting her anymore with respect to your weight is a normal, healthy doubt. It takes more time to forgive and forget. Second, Stella is expecting your baby – so those are two people who by all objective standards need you more now than a self-sufficient ex-wife and an 85% grown-up son.”

“I made the decision to divorce Sabine before I knew about the baby…”

“Hypothetically speaking,” Silke interrupted me, “what would’ve happened if you had decided to go back to Sabine and then found out about Stella’s baby?”

“Umm, I would’ve probably changed my mind and taken care of Stella and Ariadne ….you’re right, they need me a lot more than Sabine and André do now.”

“Good logic thinking…that answers the question whether you’re doing the right thing,” Silke smiled. “From what I have heard about Stella from you, from Inka-Sophie and seeing Birger’s jealousy…”

“What? Why is Birger jealous?”

Silke laughed. “I shouldn’t be telling you this because you’re friends, but I can’t resist – Birger is green with envy that you currently have the choice between two attractive women who are keen on sharing their lives with you. He’s always had a sweet spot for Sabine, and was a true friend to you in so far as he never made a pass at her, against his usual habits. And he seems to have been immediately totally smitten by Stella, complained a lot that he couldn’t understand why she is so totally fixated on you…”

“I don’t fully understand what Stella sees in me either,” poking my belly, a shadow of my old doubts surfacing.

Silke threw some ice-cubes at me, causing me to yelp. “Cut it out, no pity party here - you know very well you’re a nice, intelligent guy! Also- many women have a weakness for teddy bears! And – especially in contrast to Birger, who, let’s face it, is a pathological womanizer – you take commitment pretty seriously, that’s something almost all women value highly,” smiling indulgently as she saw me blush with pleasure and a little pride because even though I had never envied Birger his skills in attracting women, it was unduly gratifying to hear he might be jealous of me in that department.

“But speaking of Birger in a different, in my opinion much more important context right now – what about your job search? I can understand you don’t want to simply come back to your old job for a number of reasons. Why did you withdraw your application for the online-editor-in-chief position? Only for the sake of your friendship with Birger?”

I sighed. “Stella already told me I was being too nice, I should’ve stuck it out and that one of us getting the job must not mean the end of our friendship.”

“I agree with Stella, being too nice is not always a good idea,” Silke gave me a stern look. “Ironically, withdrawing your application most likely also killed Birger’s chances. He was a strong online candidate against your broader experience, but he now looks too mono-dimensional – with 90% certainty we’re getting an applicant from outside. Which other options have you looked into?”

Silke’s words left me crestfallen and I rattled off my various attempts to finding a new job unenthusiastically, while she nodded vaguely.

“Why don’t we go for a walk down to that burger place on the beach the people at our hotel recommended, you look like you could use something to eat,” was Silke’s next remark.

“Since I always look and feel like I could eat something, ‘no’ probably is not a very convincing answer,” I responded slightly sarcastically as we set out.

Silke was silent all the way to the small burger joint, collected a few sea shells, kicked some waves but seemed to be miles away. When we got there, we both opted for the local specialty of mixed salad with fried crab and a cheeseburger, and half-way through the salad, Silke asked, “Have you ever considered any options other than the US or Germany? What would Stella’s take be on maybe another European country?”

This was a question I hadn’t expected. “No idea, that’s something we’ve never talked about. Stella has a Greek passport, as an EU citizen she could in theory live anywhere with me. I’d have to ask her. What are you thinking about?”

“Well, so far only some vague ideas what might be professionally and financially interesting for you – currently most good options are in our various European subsidiaries.” Silke explained. “There is a vacancy for the new online-edition of the Russian TV news channel, but that’s slightly off for you, as well as the CEO for the Spanish people magazines. But – the most recent, still unofficial option might fit. Do you remember the network of South-East European, Balkan publishers we bought last year? Now they’re looking into expanding our regular European publications into those markets with national editions for Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Serbia. The Greek editions are already up and running, with Aris Ioannidis – remember the Greek-German guy from the business section? – As editor-in-chief. I heard our bosses don’t want him to do the entire Balkan network, or leave it to the CFO they have for the business operation. So right now a new position is being created for a joint operations content editor-in-chief, working languages English and German, based in either Bucarest or Athens. Would that interest you?”

“Hell, yes! That sounds incredibly interesting!” excitement flooding me. “Is Athens realistically possible as the location for the job? Because – Athens is the one place on earth I could immediately take Stella without even asking!” warm happy memories of Naxos surfaced, imagining spending the next summer there together with our baby girl…

“Auugh… that look on your face makes me feel like a fairy godmother,” Silke smiled warmly. “If they decide on Athens, you would instantly apply?” – Seeing me nod vigorously – “I’ll see what I can do, it’s good to see you so happy – I hope I can help make it last!”

“I can’t say how grateful I would be if you did that for me! So far, all you have done has truly changed my life for the better, Silke, you’re so much more than a colleague or a friend to me,” I tried to express my gratitude. “But let’s take this slowly, think it through, as soon as the job description is official, it would be great if you could send it. Of course, I have to ask Stella – and also André, if he would be okay with me staying abroad instead of coming home to Germany.”

Just then André with Inka-Sophie joined us, complaining. “We’ve been looking all over for you, we’re starving!” so we took care of that first, before heading back to our hotel, my mind buzzing with plans.


The following days we explored Maine all the way up to Québec, to then travel back down south to New York through Vermont and New Hampshire, where Silke headed back and we were able to use our correspondent’s apartment while he was on summer vacation in Europe. I showed André and Inka-Sophie what I already knew about the city and accompanied them to the several plus-size modeling agency interviews that had been arranged for her – which indeed turned into a few trial photo shoots and invitations to some castings.

Admittedly, my mind and heart were not in the matter – my mind was busy with the new job perspectives Silke had come up with and my heart was in Chicago with Stella, who I called up to 8 times a day to make sure she was okay.

Sitting out on the tiny porch one hot, humid summer evening in New York, which left only appetite for cold beer and equally chilled tomato salad, doing outlines of a potential application for the ‘Balkan job’ as I had started calling it, I was surprised to see André walk up to the house alone. I had dropped him and Isa off at her modeling agent around noon and was expecting them back in about two hours.

He came up the stairs and slumped down on the step at my feet. “Is it okay if I stay out here? Can we talk?”

Looking closer at him, I had a hunch he had been crying. “Sure, any time, son. Do you want something to drink, you look thirsty?”

“Can I have a beer?”

“If you want to drink, I prefer it’s under my supervision,” I winked, handing him one. “What’s up? Where’s Isa?”

“She’s still at her photo shoot.”

“I thought you were going to accompany her.”

“I wanted to, but she sent me away.” André mumbled before it burst out of him. “She said I’m too childish, it’s unprofessional to take me along, and she’s ashamed of my behavior. She didn’t want anybody to treat her like his personal property, who couldn’t tell the difference between professional and private situations.”

Sensing that was not all, I didn’t say anything and waited before he indeed went on.

“I think I understood today why you feel you can’t try living with Mami again. It feels totally awful if someone you l- well, you really care for is ashamed of you, doesn’t want to be seen with you in public. I know Mami sometimes didn’t take you along when you weren’t dieting …I’d be afraid that could happen again if I were you, too. Dieting for you must be like math for me…it’s something I put a lot of work into but still get only poor grades…”

I had to chuckle at this comparison. “Good analogy – and now imagine having to do those math exercises you are not good at every single day of your life!”

André nodded glumly. “And even worse to have maybe you or Mami or Isa be ashamed of me because I’m bad at math, even though I try so hard. I can see why you think it will be different with Stella, that you trust her more to really accept that you’re…Can you forgive me for being…”

But I interrupted him there, not wanting him to humble himself too much. “My heartfelt thanks, André. I can’t say how much it means to me that you are trying to understand my decision. I know it’s not easy for you…it hasn’t been easy for me either because I know it hurts you - that’s the last thing I want. I want you so much to be a part of my life with Stella and Ariadne, I hope that will work for you. And I want to stay real friends with Sabine, she still means a lot to me, especially as your mother. Can we try and work it out together?”

“Sure, Paps,” André nodded with a crooked grin. “You have good taste, Stella is very nice, I honestly like her. She never tries to play stepmother to me – Jens was awful, always trying to act like a father-figure – Stella’s more like a big sister to Isa and me, Isa likes that, too.”

“It’s so good to hear you call me Paps again, I’ve missed that so much,” I sighed with relief, but couldn’t help teasing. “I can return that compliment…if I take Isa as a measure you’re developing an excellent taste in women yourself!” Clanking beer cans, I continued. “André, there are new developments regarding my future I would like to talk to you about. I haven’t talked to anybody except Silke – who suggested it – so far, not even Stella. I would care for your opinion.”

Seeing him nod, I told him why I didn’t want to return to my old job, and that Silke had suggested the South-East European option, why Athens would be great for Stella and finishing with the actual question. “Would it be okay for you if I didn’t come back home to Germany now but continued living and working abroad? But then in Europe, closer to you, only 2 hours flight time? With the additional plus of me probably having to spend about 3 months per year up home at headquarters – so including your vacation, we could see each other on a daily basis for at least half the year?”

“Wow…Greece! Around Naxos there is some of the best windsurfing in Europe!” André exclaimed. “It’ll be fabulous to visit you there! That would be the best start for you, Stella and Ariadne,” leaving me too touched to respond. “Also – I know you’ve talked to Isa about this – I only have 2 more years of school left, and I don’t know where I’ll end up going to university then. Silke has Isa seriously interested in studying psychology – but she is also thinking of maybe going back to Ireland or Britain…I hope we can stay together, see what works. I’m hungry – I’ll fix myself a sandwich, can I get you anything? ”

“No thanks, I’m fine…” but joined and helped him in the kitchen.

“I still don’t know how to say it,” André suddenly said so quietly, I could barely hear him. “I want to fully, honestly apologize to you so badly, make you understand how sorry I am, but I feel I can’t say anything that will make those awful things go away I said to you on that first day in Chicago…you know…”

“André, don’t worry, they were forgiven the moment you said them- by now I’ve forgotten them. I know they came out because you were so terribly hurt, disappointed, shocked, and didn’t know what to feel or think - you don’t have to apologize. I’m incredibly relieved we can really talk again. That’s enough.”

“But I said things you should never say to another man…” André started.

I interrupted to stop his agonizing. “André, you’re right – those were things you should never say. But if you had to say them, better to me than to anyone else…”

“I’m so sorry I hurt you…”

“André – what hurt me was the fear that I might lose you,” I tried to explain. “Not what you said. As you probably know, I’ve always been very sensitive and easily hurt by comments regarding my fat body because I’ve been so ashamed of it – I think I’m getting a bit more relaxed lately. In contrast I’m pretty laid back as far as snide remarks about my sex life go –it might sound strange, but I’m confident enough in that respect. Having fathered two children without consciously trying – that’s also something that doesn’t get to me. Often small stabs over time hurt much more than big hammers– if you understand what I mean.”

André nodded. “I think I do. Have you been mad at me, because you started to get…I mean gain weight when Mami was pregnant with me?”

“Who ever gave you that idea?”

“Well, you wrote in your diet book, that your belly grew together with Mami’s and didn’t go away again so I thought…”

I couldn’t let him finish that thought and sentence. “André, the unplanned things in my life are the most wonderful ones that have happened to me…like you. With my appetite and build, I pack on the pounds anytime I stop exercising excessively and strictly controlling what I eat- it has nothing to do with you. It would have happened sooner or later anyway – it seems to be my destiny to live a heavy life, and by now, I’ve accepted that. Why on earth are you reading my diet book – probably the most unconvincing piece I ever wrote?”

“Isa brought it over to read on the plane – she wanted to understand you better. She really likes you, I think she wishes you were her father,” André explained looking slightly annoyed.

“Well – I could adopt her, but I don’t think you would want her as a sister,” I couldn’t help teasing, but relented as I saw André’s hurt expression. “I like her very much too, and can’t appreciate enough how much she has helped both of us. Isa is wonderful, the best first love you could have. She’s very special, so she deserves you putting a serious effort into making her happy. But only do things you yourself are happy with – otherwise it will backfire, you’ll be unhappy, no relationship is worth that in the long run.”

“I’ll try – I want us to stay together, I can’t imagine life without being able to hold her tight. I’m glad you’re happy with Stella – and Ariadne will be fun to get to know,” André ended…and I knew our crisis was definitely over.


When I got back to Chicago on the late flight, having made sure André and Inka-Sophie were safely on their way back to Europe, to a quiet, dark house, I showered in the guest shower in order not to wake Stella and then debated with myself, whether I should sleep in our bed – with my weight descending on the mattress automatically waking her – or stay in the guest room. But I wanted to snuggle close to her, touch her, bury my face in her curls so badly I couldn’t find the resolve to be considerate. I let myself down as carefully as I could on the bed and spooned against her back, tentatively clasping her…just to hear her giggle. “It’s good you’re here – I was worried you would try to be considerate and sleep in the guestroom…and make me call you over…”

“I’m sorry I woke you up coming back,” turning on my back, pulling her on top of me and kissing her hungrily, nuzzling her fuller breasts and then her belly, where I could now feel a small bump – unfittingly getting a bad hard on. “How are you feeling? How is Ariadne?”

“We’re both fine and we’re so happy to have you back…” Stella kissed me and then fingered her way over my belly down to my groin and stopped short. “Uli – have you been dieting?”

“Ummm…no, not really, why do you ask?”

“You might feel more belly on me…but I feel less belly on you! Have you been doing anything unhealthy again? Diet pills or any nonsense like that?” Stella looked at me in worry.

“No I haven’t. It was incredibly hot and humid in New York - that killed even my appetite. If you ask, I’ve been trying to stick to Kelley’s three balanced meals a day – right now I need to be as healthy as possible to take care of you, of Ariadne and make sure I can tackle the job transition well.”

“Promise me you won’t do anything unhealthy!”

“I promise- I’m really feeling fine, I have no reason, you give me no reason, to start crash dieting again. Should I ever seriously feel the need to go on a diet again – someday maybe, but not soon, 10 years of over-dieting seem to have exhausted me – I would tell you, ask for your professional support. Still, even I sometimes don’t feel like eating. That’s normal, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” Stella kissed me. “But I can feel you are as hungry for me as I am for you…let’s feed that appetite right away…”

So that night I did not get to discuss the new job perspective with Stella – and before doing so the next morning, I got on the scale to discover Stella had been right, I had somehow lost 7 lbs., down to 268 lbs. “Stella, how on earth can you feel me losing only 7 lbs. out of so many? That’s insane!”

“As I said- I care for you…and I know a lot about bodies, not only your body… I’m professionally used to paying attention to minor changes. Now come have breakfast – you wanted to talk to me about something important. Any news from the job front?” Stella set a mushroom omelet on the table.

“Most unusual news from the job front! It’s only an idea, Silke will get back to me whether it’s anyway realistic – but I wanted to ask your opinion before she starts talking to the relevant people,” digging into the omelet. “So far we’ve been looking at the options of me staying here or you coming back to Germany with me. What would you say if we went to a third country together instead?”

“Where to?”

“Like for instance, to Athens Greece…”

“On an endless vacation, yeah…that’s an awful joke right now, Uli!” annoyed Stella slapped me with her napkin.

“It might not be a joke. Our publishing house bought a network of Southeast European, Balkan publishing houses to expand a number of our publications with different country editions to Greece/Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Albania – it’s to be headquartered in Athens. It looks like they want someone to do the journalistic oversight, adapt the content to the various national markets. I’ve never done anything like that, but since I’ve worked at a number of our desks over the years, I feel I would be up to the job. Also, I would like to continue working internationally. The working languages are German and English – even though I would try and learn some Greek…”

“I can’t believe it,” Stella looked at me open-mouthed, “you’re serious- just the idea is beyond awesome. I don’t know what to do: cry, laugh, squeal, jump?”

“Jump on my lap and hold me tight…and I’ll take it for a yes , that I should ask Silke to seriously pursue the issue.”

“Yes, yes, yes…oh, Uli that would be the most fabulous thing anybody has ever done for me. Please make it work, please!” Stella hopped on my lap, kissed me all over and then started to dance around the kitchen.

“Hold it…so far it’s only an idea, but I’ll definitely work on it, since you are so enthusiastic,” I smiled at her delight and spent the rest of the day writing proposals for the Balkan job while Stella went overboard and started virtual apartment hunting in Athens.

Silke was successful in her endeavor of introducing my name into the candidate pool for the position in Athens - but this meant I had to cut my stay in Chicago short, returning 3 weeks earlier in August than planned to go through a longer screening process.

Stella kissed me good-bye at the airport, looking determined. “I’ll light a candle every day in our orthodox church as good luck for you getting that job in Athens. It doesn’t matter if we have to say good-bye a little early at O’Hare - as long as we meet again at Eleftherios Venizelos International!”

“I’ll do my absolute best – I promise!”
 

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