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

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agouderia

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Part 12 – Landing

Getting back home with the goal of leaving again made everything a lot easier. My parents – Astrid had done an excellent job in preparing them – were happy to see me back, expressed their delight in the prospect of another granddaughter and wanted to meet Stella as soon as possible. My colleagues were very interested in hearing about my professional experiences in the US, my male friends about sports in the US and Stella, my female friends offered sympathy for the divorce and enthusiasm at the prospect of second fatherhood - and nobody seriously commented on my obvious weight gain.

When I mentioned this to Birger, he grinned. “See, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years. Nobody except Sabine ever had a serious issue with how much you weigh! To be honest, over time, they have mostly known you as one of the heavy guys – and liked or respected you just the same for all sorts of reasons. Your exact weight is completely irrelevant in that equation. Now you have many much more interesting stories to offer than an extra 20 pounds.”

“It’s actually more like 20 kilograms…”

“Whatever…that’s just a unit of measurement! Now tell me about that crazy Balkan thing you’re looking into…are you serious about editing European content for Albania?”


Instead of doing a classic assessment center or plain job interviews, the decision was made to try and assemble a team by letting a selection of candidates from various countries actually work on the project for a few weeks, in the end positioning them according to their performance.

After the initial introductory session of this South-East Europe project team, Silke took me to lunch and lecture, as it was to turn out. “Uli, I would like to give you 2 pieces of advice for this venting process to help you get that Balkan job you want. The editing and creative content development part is going to be a breeze for you, that’s what you are really good at – so put that on the back burner.”

“But, that’s my strength for this job, so I thought…”

“Exactly, since it is your strength, you don’t need to put too much work into it- you can out do the other candidates left handed,” Silke stressed her point. “You need to work on your management skills, on not being too nice, on not doing everything yourself, on delegating tasks, on sharing responsibility with the team…after all, it’s a management position you’re applying for!”

Sensing this was serious, very well-intentioned advice, even though it didn’t fit my usual approach, I nodded. “I’ll try my best – I have been reading through your business psychology column lately to be better prepared and have an idea what to look out for. In case I have any questions, may I ask you?”

“You know you can come to me any time,” Silke smiled. “Advice No. 2- use your size as an asset, not as something you try to compensate.”

“Excuse me?”

“How to put this?” Silke knitted her eyebrows. “I had to notice over the years that Sabine had you pretty well conditioned to make yourself physically as small as possible, hunching your shoulders to hide your belly,” – seeing me turn beet red with the uncomfortable memory, she patted my arm – “I know you are much more confident and relaxed now. But you should go a step further: actively use your size as means of creating presence and respect. Don’t look so skeptical, no matter how much the diet industry has changed our perceptions, girth and size are instinctively associated with status and power– use that to your advantage.”

“I’ll think about that,” I scoffed, “but I can’t really see how it could work.”

“Why don’t you talk to your Stella about this? As a physiotherapist she will probably know a lot more about the body language aspects and how to work them than I do.” Silke suggested, indeed getting me to discuss this bizarre idea with Stella during our evening phone call.

Stella was enthusiastic. “Why haven’t I thought of that? I definitely have to get to know Silke, she is essence is the reason we got together- and now this Athens job, we owe her so much. She’s right- you should use your size more to issue authority and command. I have a number, some even as short video-clips, of exercises from the physical awareness classes for the anorexia patients…”

“Stella, don’t be totally absurd! I’m four times the size of your average anorexia patient – why should I…”

“Uli, listen to me,” Stella sounded authoritative. “It’s not the actual size that’s important, it’s breaking the pattern of making yourself smaller than you are, about re-claiming physical presence –that’s exactly what these exercises are for. Silke’s observations probably are more precise than mine because she has known you longer, in more stressful times than I have. Now I’m mailing this right away and I’ll show you how to do the exercises via webcam.”

“Stella, I really don’t know if that makes any sense…”

“Uli, you know I never want to pressure you or change anything about you,” Stella tried to reassure me. “This is about making the most of your assets and you feeling comfortable in what can be a stressful situation,” before later leading me through a series of exercises via webcam.

At first I felt plain ridiculous, like a drunk gorilla, but then I noticed that the different posture eased the pressure on my back, deep, relaxed breathing was easier…and I was later pleasantly surprised how much easier it made taking the floor and assuring I was heard in our project team sessions.

Not only because my future with Stella depended upon it – the application project for the job in Athens was by far the biggest professional challenge I had to face, involving endless working hours, leaving barely enough time to even sleep. The content development was the easiest part. Convincing everybody of it, making sure deadlines were met in five different languages and working cultures, accommodating national sensitivities while at the same time keeping them in check, staying within the limits of a rather tight budget…and all that with the fierce competition of 17 applicants for 7 positions – that was clearly tougher than I had anticipated.

In those weeks I didn’t look left or right, worked an average of 16 hours every day including week-ends. The only time off I took was to meet twice a week with André. Sabine tried to contact me several times, insistently asking for us to meet – but I simply felt I was too exhausted. Divorce and closure for our relationship would have to wait until the job question was resolved.

Even André realized this after he had also tried to convince me that a meeting of all three of us might be helpful, when I almost fell asleep over dinner one evening at the fish market. “Okay, I can see that you honestly are too over-worked right now to get much out of meeting with Mami. It would do her good, but I’ll do my best to explain. Make sure you get some more sleep!”

“Thanks a million André, I don’t want to be mean, but I’m honestly too exhausted right now. If there is anything we should solve, I’d prefer we do it in writing, so I can deal with it when I can actually concentrate for five minutes…and not while some crazy Bulgarian is trying to convince me to extend the series on their royal family from 3 to 15 sequels!”

Inka-Sophie grinned and slightly shook her head. “André, I don’t think it’s a good idea for your parents to meet and solve issues while everything is still in limbo. It’ll be much easier once the divorce settlement has been filed – then they have a new solid foundation on which to re-establish a different set of relations. They’ll both feel better- it’ll be easier for them if they meet after those awful sessions are through. Why don’t we cook dinner for Sabine – so I can explain everything to her, tell her about the mistakes my mother made?”

André and I gaped at her, he saying incredulously. “But you don’t like Mami at all. You begrudge her the Jens-affair worse than Paps does. Why would you do that? ”

Blushing, Inka-Sophie re-stacked her French fries on the plate before answering. “She’s your mother, and you want to help her, while it’s important to me to help you. I think I have a few helpful explanations and stories to offer. You know I side with Uli, but still, your mother is suffering pretty badly because she has realized she was wrong – even I feel a little sorry for her. Maybe your habit of always trying to bring everyone together and making them happy is rubbing off on me. I promise I’ll be really nice to her…”

André looked doubtful, while but I was overwhelmed by her generosity.

“Isa that might yet be the most fantastic thing you are willing to do for us!”


Stella and I stayed in close touch- I called her twice a day, once during my lunch break and again in the late evening, but I missed her physical closeness under pressure more than ever. She boosted my morale during the lengthy scrutinizing process, when I was slightly doubtful how things were progressing. “Uli, I know you are doing everything for Ariadne and me, to make sure we get that happy home in Athens. Don’t worry so much, it’ll work out! From what you have been telling me, decision making in Germany seems to be slow. What did Silke say?”

“She’s on the employee co-determination committee – she gave me a thumbs up, says everybody is very pleased so far with my work…but I’m not sure…”

“That sounds pretty good – we just need a little more patience,” Stella sighed. “Admittedly, I’m running out of that – I miss you so much. Not having you wrap your arms around me, not being able to snuggle into your warm, comforting belly makes me feel so alone and empty- even though I have a nice little belly of my own by now,” leaving me slightly choked up. As I didn’t answer for maybe a minute Stella asked, “Are you still there, Uli? Are you okay?”

“I’m so much more than okay, I don’t know what to say, Stella my love,” I finally pressed out. “I had never imagined anyone would ever say that she misses my fat belly – you truly seem to care for all of me, that feels so incredibly good. I can’t say how dreadfully I miss everything about you…I’ll continue working like crazy so we can be together again as soon as possible.”

Still, it took another endless ten days, not made easier by having to work through the drafts for my divorce settlement, before I was surprisingly called to the senior management out of a session in the middle of the morning for what I thought was another lengthy feed-back session, now on an individual basis. That is how it started out, only for the chairman of our European operations to say after 20 minutes. “Well, Mr. Rheinstein, I think this is it – if you say yes, you can start as our South-East Europe editor-in-chief in Athens on October 1st.” – forcing me to somehow channel my pure glee into presentable pleasure as befitting a business environment.

The second I left the meeting room – I immediately called Stella, even though it was 3:30 a.m. in Chicago, but she was instantly wide awake and we shouted out our delight, before I gave her the details. A three year contract with an extension as well as a return option and sizable ex-pat benefits, the downside being I would have to travel a lot and she had to count on me being away from Athens probably around 4-5 months a year.

“Uli, that’s no problem, we’ll work that out! This is such wonderful news – I’ve already found us an apartment through family connections, down in Glyfada, near the sea – how do you like that? I’ll e-mail you the details – and if it’s fine with you, we can sign the lease today,” Stella’s enthused. “And I’ll travel to Athens next week to get everything ready for us, be there ahead of you…”

“Stella, don’t overdo it! You’ll exhaust yourself! Think of Ariadne, take it slow!” I tried to caution her.

“Staying here, not being able to do anything would exhaust me,” Stella insisted. “Don’t worry, I’ll be staying with Vassiliki and Georgios, they’ll take more than good care of me. And my grandparents are coming to help from Naxos.”

“Okay, okay, but promise you’ll be careful!”

“I promise,” Stella giggled, “my grandparents are overjoyed to have me close again with a great-granddaughter on the way. My grandmother has been lighting a candle for you every day at Agios Andreas, she says you are the best thing that could have happened to me. She gave my father an honest to God verbal trashing when she found out how nasty they have been to you because of the not-being-able-to-get-married-yet-issue! My father should appreciate that I had found someone who was willing to work so hard to make me happy, bring me home to Greece, and have a good income to provide for Ariadne…”


Sabine and I met in person only the day we went to our lawyer to do the paperwork for filing the divorce. It was an uncomfortable situation. Sabine was in tears and I had such a big lump in my throat that I mostly nodded or shook my head instead of verbalizing my responses.

After the longest two hours of my life, our lawyer said, “Okay, that’s it – I’ll file it on Monday and if everything goes as planned, you should receive the divorce before Christmas, at the latest in January.”

Suddenly, I felt truly unburdened, an almost physical feeling of relief – Isa’s prediction had been right, as always.

Sabine clearly did not feel this way, she couldn’t stop sobbing and half ran out after shaking hands with the lawyer and me. As I left the office building, I saw her sitting, half-hidden on a bench a little way into the small park across the street – and walked over, sat down next to her, shocked at how extremely thin she had gotten. She hugged her into my soft belly – something I had always avoided. I stroked her back, somehow trying to comfort her. I felt unbelievably sorry for her – this was how I had felt after Jens had appeared. Having lost something you desperately wanted back, knowing it was lost for good. At the same time, I felt strangely detached – signing the divorce papers had felt liberating, had been closure for one chapter of my life, while my mind and emotions were already full of the plot for the next chapter.

Sabine calmed down a bit and sat up, looked for some tissues and dried her face, before taking a few deep breaths in silence.

“Are you okay?” I asked carefully. “Shall we go for coffee somewhere? Or would you prefer I leave, or call one of your friends for you?”

“No, it’s okay, I’ll manage,” Sabine mumbled. “Thank you for being so kind and considerate. I’ll get a grip on myself. Coffee is not a bad idea.”

Settling in the slightly outdated café at the end of the park, we ordered coffee I resisted cake and waited for Sabine to say something to not pressure her. After our coffee came, Sabine pulled something out of her handbag, wrapped in a small cloth bag and pushed it over. “You probably were right not wanting to meet me before this set date for our divorce settlement, I’m pretty messed up right now and terrible company.”

“Sabine, I had a true overload of work for the new position…” opening the little bag, starting as out cluttered 4 small pieces of children’s cutlery. “What the …” before taking a closer look and remembering: It had been Astrid’s gift to André’s birth – a cute set of children’s cutlery with small animals and an A-monogram – and André had learned his table manners with it. Memories swirled through my mind making me swallow hard, while I fingered the small pieces, not knowing what to say, or daring to look at Sabine.

“Congratulations that you’re going to have a little girl,” Sabine choked, then breathed deeply before continuing in a half-whisper. “Thank you for the really sweet letter you wrote me that was very fair. I couldn’t respond. I’m still trying to digest the fact. That hurts the worst. You’re having the baby I had hoped might reconcile us with someone else…”

“Sabine, please, don’t torture yourself, we don’t have to talk about it…” I found her palpable agonizing hard to bear.

“No, it’s fine. You had every right to become involved with Stella – I was the one who started with Jens… I know, we know such things can happen…I know better than anybody else how your appetites get the better of you…” giving me a very small, crooked smile, causing me to blush furiously.

“I honestly want us to stay friends. I set out down this road to divorce, I somehow got priorities wrong in our relationship…so I have to live with the consequences,” Sabine went on in a small voice. “But I couldn’t stand us ending in you maybe refusing to meet me or looking at me with hate and rejection. Nor do I want André to suffer for any sort of ‘war of roses’ between us. So I’ll try my best to accept things as they are, do my part to make them as easy as possible for you and André.”

“Sabine,” I took her cold hands and rubbed them. “I’m sorry we ended this way too, but as you said, my appetites have always been stronger than my willpower or your tolerance. Yes, I want us to stay friends more than anything, thank you for being so understanding. Now what about the cutlery?”

Sabine breathed deep, called the waiter over and ordered a piece of chocolate truffle cake. “I think I should eat something for a change. What about you?”

I shook my head slightly grinning. “I already had two desserts to calm down for this appointment, that’s enough. But I’m worried about you – by any standards, you are too thin right now.”

“Yeah, everyone says that…I just can’t eat. I’ll try and start again now - you’ve always been good company for eating, maybe that will help revive my appetite.” Sabine took a bite of her cake, fed me a fork full to taste and went on in a very low voice, so I had to concentrate to hear her.

“About the cutlery – and why I wanted to meet you. André let slip that you chose Ariadne as a name for his little sister. While we were clearing up the attic, we found this box with André’s baby and childhood things. Some of the very nice ones, mostly from our parents, are marked with an ‘A’. If you want, I think André would like to give them to you for Ariadne. It’s okay with me, she is going to be his sister, so it would make sense for them to share such small family traditions. What do you think? Could you, would you want to come by to look through and maybe pack some of them up?”

Her suggestion left me stunned – I only know that I had never respected her as much as I did in that moment, vaguely sensing how much this offer must cost her. And it reminded me why I had loved her for so long despite our problems. “I don’t know what to say Sabine. That’s an incredibly sweet offer…and yes, for André’s sake, for the sake of our happy memories, I’ll humbly accept it.”


The remaining two weeks at home flew by in preparations for my new job, endless phone conferences with Stella in Athens who full of delight told me all details of how our apartment in Athens was going to look like– and before I knew it, I was packing for Greece. On leaving, I got on the scale to assess the damage done by indulging on my mother’s great home cooking – it once again read 125kg/275 lbs. compensating the effects of my summer heat fasting.

I flew to Athens via Munich, where we were caught in a pretty bad rain storm and had a serious delay because water had gotten into some security equipment. Since it was “Oktoberfest” time, Lufthansa went out of its way to accommodate the stuck passengers. The staff, all seasonally dressed in “Dirndls” showed us to a make-shift beer garden that had been set up inside the small mall, where we were served as much beer, large pretzels cheese, “Leberkäse” and “Weißwürste” as we wanted.

Since the combination of eating while reading has always been one of my favorite past times, I made generous use of the offer - until I heard an odd ripping sound and looked up from my book. The young businessman sitting across from me had returned with another loaded plate, and in sitting down, the rear seams of his too tight pants had split, making him turn dark red and hastily try to cover himself with his suit jacket.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody,” I grinned, patting my own massive and by now once more roundly stuffed belly. “Things like that constantly happen to me too…you don’t have to be embarrassed.” He was not as big as I was, but very chubby with 2 sizable spare ties, accentuated by too tight clothes.

“Thanks for understanding. This kind of shit is happening to me again all the time lately – I just can’t control my appetite,” he half groaned. “At least I should introduce myself, I’m Christoph from Frankfurt.”

“I’m Uli on my way to Athens - same problem with the appetite.”

“Athens? On vacation?”

“No, new job…”

And we started talking about our jobs since it turned out he had worked on several water utilities projects in the Balkan countries I was going to be dealing with. After a while Christoph reluctantly wanted to know. “May I ask you something personal, Uli? Are you married?”

“Currently that’s a tricky question. Technically I’m in divorce proceedings – but emotionally, I’m happily committed and we’re expecting our first child,” I answered watching his astonished reaction in amusement.

“Okay, I have an idea what that could be about,” Christoph smirked before his face fell again. “My girlfriend and I are planning on getting married next April…but she wants me to lose at least 18 kg/40 lbs. until them, otherwise she’ll call off the wedding. Right now it’s going awfully I keep gaining more back instead of losing some. Has this ever been an issue for you?”

I groaned. “Total déjà vu, ending in the afore mentioned divorce…but my beloved now fortunately is very tolerant and accepting, so I’m happily off the endless yo-yo diet treadmill, as you can see.”

“For me it’s really hard, I’ve been fat all my life, fat kid, fat teen, fatter student, a lot fatter than now,” Christoph sighed. “Then I met my girlfriend at work and she helped me diet down to an almost normal weight – but now I’m backsliding fast and my last diet attempts have failed. So she is seriously threatening to call off the wedding…”

“It’s none of my business, but from my own painful experience, I can only give you one piece of advice. When you get home, ask her to marry you again, no matter what you weigh. If she insists on a certain number on the scale - then don’t marry her. For the sake of your own health, happiness and self-esteem – chances are high that it wouldn’t work in the long run. Especially if you know for yourself that life-long dieting is not your forte. Trust me.”

“Hmm...thank you for being so direct. Most people have been telling me she doesn’t really mean it…but I’ve the bad feeling she’s totally serious about it,” Christoph shook his head. “She makes me get on the scale in front of her 3 times a week lately and every time I come back from a business trip. I’ve been on the road for 10 days, you saw what happened to my pants…I’m truly dreading the look on her face when she sees the numbers on the scale now and the scolding I’m going to catch.”

“Ouch…I know all too well how horrible that feels,” cringing at the memory. “In hindsight, I made the mistake of putting up with that kind of humiliating pressure for way too long, until I lost all self-esteem and was caught in the role of the permanent underdog in our relationship. I wasted almost 10 years of my life on yo-yo dieting, getting physically and emotionally more miserable with every failed attempt to keep my weight in check. Stand up to her now, be yourself as long as you can still change something – or leave her.”

Christoph looked very thoughtful. “I’ll think about it. Would you mind giving me your e-mail address, so we can maybe stay in touch?”


Finally squeezing comfortably into the seat on the plane to Athens, tugging the seat belt to make it close under my full belly, I mused how my entire life had truly changed over the past year. My conversation with Christoph had been a disturbing ride down memory lane - and reminded me how different I felt about myself, my body, my weight…my belly resting big, round, full and - yes - proud in my lap. It’s warm, heavy expanse felt comforting and the thought that Stella would rub, fondle and cuddle in 2 hours time was drowsily arousing.

We belonged together my belly and I, for better or worse, we would somehow navigate and negotiate our life together through a not always welcoming and accepting world. Although I did not seriously want to get any heavier than I was now, the naughty little fantasy of having an even bigger belly to match the one of a nine months pregnant Stella spooked through my mind periodically these days, creating some lustily ambiguous day dreams.

“Listen belly,” I told it, “I’ve noticed you’ve been increasingly demanding lately, you probably remember how it was last time when we were expecting André – and now you think you should be eating for two again, right? But these days, you already look at least seven months pregnant all the time…so we should take it slow, there is not much catching up you need to do. You’ve already had a nice ‘Oktoberfest’-fill today…and I won’t restrain myself for the Greek welcome dinner tonight either, okay? Only pre-condition to continue our armistice with the dieting-world; I never want the two of us to need a seat-belt extension…did you hear that? That is where I draw the line!” before I dosed off dreaming of Stella and me on a Greek island.

As the plane door opened in Athens, I stepped out into bright sunlight, squinting, and a gust of warm air psychically hitting me, heavy with an intoxicating mix of scents: kerosene, dust, and sea salt and wild herbs from the arid surrounding hills – a smell I immediately associated with Naxos, Stella and happiness, taking it as the best omen possible.

After picking up my luggage at the baggage claim, my belly pushed open the simple barrier at Schengen entries – to bump first thing into Stella’s still much smaller, but nicely noticeable six-month Ariadne belly, beautifully highlighted by a clingy summer dress as she flew around my neck. No words were necessary, just her kiss and touch – squeezing my love handles, stroking my double-chin, rubbing my flesh sides, playfully fondling my belly overhang - told me I had entered my new life where I could feel truly loved and accepted…
 

WillSpark

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Having read through from the very first post. This was a fantastic experience. I say experience because ultimately it was more than a story, and it was just so satisfying to see completed. Thank you for blessing our eyes with this piece.
 

Lou Grant

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Bump after edit.

Very nice character development throughout the story, agouderia. Although I'm not sure why you seemed so intent using "..." and "-" as often as you did.

Based on the comments that were posted before I got to editing, it did not seem to hamper anyone's reading of the story so I left them in, for the most part.
 

agouderia

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Although I'm not sure why you seemed so intent using "..." and "-" as often as you did.


:doh: so sorry, I know I sometimes have the "and"-issue, but didn't realize it hit so badly this time! (Actually, I had already pruned - so I thought - a lot of 'ands', but as I saw now, not nearly enough - ugggh! Maybe this happened because the story started out as a translation, sometimes that gets me into the wrong rhythm.)

Thank you for all the work you put into it. In the meantime I have re-edited it again myself, "de-anded" it - would it be possible or worthwhile to post the revised version??
 

Lou Grant

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:doh: so sorry, I know I sometimes have the "and"-issue, but didn't realize it hit so badly this time! (Actually, I had already pruned - so I thought - a lot of 'ands', but as I saw now, not nearly enough - ugggh! Maybe this happened because the story started out as a translation, sometimes that gets me into the wrong rhythm.)

Thank you for all the work you put into it. In the meantime I have re-edited it again myself, "de-anded" it - would it be possible or worthwhile to post the revised version??

It is your story, so I'll leave it up to you. Like I said the comments show it was well received as is, so no need for apologies.

If you would like a revision put up, however, the easiest way would be to send it to me. PM me if you would like and I'll send you an email you can send it to, as lengthy stories don't usually travel well through the PM system.
 
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