BHM The Improved You

Discussion in 'Recent Additions' started by Unbasher, Mar 7, 2019.

  1. Mar 7, 2019 #1

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Meet Mandy, a clever but plain nerd and handsome, shallow Severin: once study partners, they meet again after seven years under profoundly changed circumstances.

    Author's note(s):

    a) I wrote this story about five years ago when I had no clue whether fat attraction was a real thing, let alone that I was an FFA. Therefore please forgive me if my narration lacks juiciness. I didn't dare before.

    b) It'll take a bit of time for my BHM to make an appearance. Please bear with me.

    c) Germany does not distinguish between college and university. A Bachelor's degree didn't exist before the European harmonisation in the so-called Bologna Process 1999-2010. Today, you still directly chose your major which you study - with no general education requirements - for 3 years to get a Bachelor's Ddegree. A Master's degree then can be added on and obtained in another 2 year program. The system is more similar to the British than the US one. Many employer's still demand a Master's degree though, as that was the previous standard.



    The Improved You
    by Unbasher


    Chapter 1: First impressions (part 1)

    Although a public institution, Murnau University had established its own Darwinist methods of sampling and selecting those worthy of one of its coveted business diplomas. Most students saw their own self-importance validated by a mere acceptance letter from this prestigious Alma Mater; add to that that the lecture halls were housed not in an accumulation of cubistic concrete but in an imposing Baroque castle, one of Murnau's finest boasts.

    Eager to live up to the external promise of the sizable edifice, the city as well as a cornucopia of private and corporate sponsors had initiated a series of renovations of the dilapidated interior a few years ago, the brunt of which the around 11,000 students were currently experiencing. Site fences and roped-off rooms or hallways constituted as fixed a part of their academic life as their classes and books. While some of the older lecture halls still seemed to be held together only by the aid of generations' worth of gum stuck surreptitiously under benches and desks, some of the other rooms had already been completely refurnished, and most of the modern folding seats bore the plaque of its respective patron. The university clearly profited from their strong and multiple ties to its alumni and the local businesses, something that would hardly be remarked upon in the United States, for instance, but that stood out in Germany.

    Mandy, however, paid the impressive edifice as well as its founders' lofty educational standards no heed as she navigated towards her destination with her first-semester campus map firmly in hand. She had only applied because it was the one university located close enough to reach by train which offered a teaching degree in business. She would never have been able to afford accommodation on campus, at least not without incurring massive debt, but that was not how her parents had raised her.

    Unfazed by the polished people in her even more polished surroundings, Mandy availed herself of one of the folding seats, ready and prepared for today's tutorial in Corporate Governance. The fall semester and with it the first lectures had begun the week before in mid-October and the tutorials began one week after. Once Mandy had unburdened herself of her faded but nevertheless beloved purple Eastpak backpack, she pushed up the sleeves of her simple dark red sweater that matched her knock-off Chucks, tied her long, dirty blonde hair up in a messy bun and unpacked her laptop. It may have been refurbished was was still mint condition. Having treated her silver Harry-Potter glasses to a perfunctory cleansing, she booted up the machine, opened a Word file and typed 'Corporate Governance Tutorial 1' for a heading.

    Although over five minutes remained until the beginning of the tutorial, the rows were filling up quickly, quite unusual for the academic population. Taking care not to invade her neighbors' tiny space in the row of folding seats, Mandy carefully opened her binder on her lap and let her gaze wander over her schedule once more. Their student association had done a fine job assisting the new generation of business teachers in choosing their classes for the first semester and providing them with campus maps as well as other useful documents. More social events would follow, but Mandy, never having been of the party persuasion, had already resolved to make friends the uninebriated way.

    She knew she had a way of making friends easily, depending on the sort of people that surrounded her. Within her first one and a half weeks, however, she had already gleaned the impression that the collegiate population was composed exclusively of elbows, which their owners did not hesitate to employ when it served their needs. For instance, she reflected bitterly, how selfish could someone be to reserve seven seats for their friends in an overcrowded lecture hall? Seven?! It was as if the reputed German habit of reserving loungers by the pool by the aid of a towel had extended into the academic realm. Or what had happened to usher the simple courtesy of holding the door open behind you into obsolescence? On the other hand, one of the definite perks at this university was that the sense of superiority was fostered and assisted by the proliferation of laptops and therefore a multitude of electrical outlets in each lecture room. Mandy preferred to type her notes if the lecture or tutorial did not include too much math, which simply took up too much time on a standard laptop keyboard. Still, whenever she could evade the usage of a traditional writing utensil, she gladly seized the opportunity. Hours upon hours spent in front of a laptop had reduced her initially passable handwriting to human-rights-violation quality.

    The arrival of the tutor, a bearded nerd who looked to be in his late twenties, put a temporary stop to any further reflections and Mandy carefully stowed away her binder in the backpack between her feet.

    “Welcome back to a new semester, guys, I hope you have all looked at the tasks for today."

    I have. A lot of blah-blah mostly, Mandy thought, the corners of her mouth twitching.

    “So," the tutor got right to the point, "let’s start with the cost function k(λ). In our first example k(λ) = 8λ² - 48 λ + 80."

    Uh, what?! Mandy frowned. Not in her example it didn't. The tutor turned to the white board while everyone doggedly picked up their pens to take notes. Everyone but Mandy. After seven minutes she had not typed a single word besides the heading 'Corporate Governance Tutorial 1'. Although she had even reviewed the lecture prior to attending this tutorial, she was feeling as lost as Alice in Wonderland. Nothing seemed to match what she had typed in the lecture two days ago. With growing irritation, Mandy let her glare sweep across the rows of students, none of whom were displaying any signs of similar confusion at the tutor’s words – the term 'words' being loosely applied here, given the wealth of mathematical operators and more Greek letters than Mandy had expected for a Corporate Governance tutorial.

    “So, obviously the total cost K must equal k(λopt) * x."

    Obviously’, Mandy agreed sarcastically. The tutor might as well be speaking Greek in addition to writing it. Irritated beyond the bearable, Mandy finally leaned over to the right to her tall neighbor with the longish hair and striking hazel eyes she had noticed immediately when he had sat down next to her. Well, currently he was lounging rather than sitting, actually, and judging by the amount of attention he was dedicating to a bent paper clip, he was absorbing about as much of the teaching matter as Mandy was.

    "Excuse me,“ she whispered, and reluctantly the guy peeled his remarkable eyes off the paper clip in order to settle them on her face with a bored expression.

    "Isn't this the tutorial for Corporate Governance?"

    "No." The guy shook his head, an amused smile hovering around his full lips. "You’re in Production Management II. I've been wondering why you would type 'Corporate Governance' and sit here,” he indicated her laptop screen with a slight jerk of his head.

    "Then why didn't you say anything?" Mandy hissed, indignant at this display of complete and utter disinterest at a fellow student. Her only satisfaction could now be derived from the fact that this misanthropist would be obligated to rise from his comfortable position – along with every other person in the row – to let her out. "Now will you please move?"

    His eyebrows shot up in surprise at being thus addressed. Yes, mister, Mandy silently snarled at him, those eyes, height and toned arms are no replacement for manners! Suck on the fact that a girl who looks like me fails to simper and apologize for something that is entirely your fault.

    "Now?" she suggested with a week's worth of sarcasm, and finally he unfolded those long legs, rose to his feet and nudged his right neighbor to follow suit. Under a wealth of groans and ill-wishing, Mandy squeezed her long, narrow frame out of the row and left the room without another glance.
     
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  2. Mar 8, 2019 #2

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 1: First impressions (part 2)


    For once Severin, usually a reliable part of the unreliable crowd, was in time for his next tutorial; quite ironic actually, given the fact that a student in their seventh semester should not even have to attend it anymore. As opposed to the crowd in yesterday’s Production Management II tutorial, today it was flocks of pimply-faced first and second-semester kids who were milling in the entry of the building, chatting in small groups or comparing whatever was going on on their phones.

    Although normally Severin would have stopped or at least slowed down in order to let his gaze sweep over the rows, a quick glance around upon entering the building had informed him that in this hallway there was not much worth sweeping around for. Despite the fact that he had a gorgeous girlfriend whom he cared about and to whom he had always been faithful, it usually did not hurt to look, but today it did hurt, he concluded with a smirk, instead turning his thoughts on the semester ahead. Even though many hopeful females were doing their best to catch his eye while trying hard not to look too obvious, in his head Severin was running through his schedule again: Production Management II seemed manageable so far, as did Macro II, Controlling II and Quality Management. All in all, he believed, he should pass all of his new classes this semester – only Micro I continued to send chills down his spine every time he thought about it.

    The fact that this building was one of the nicer, modern ones with brand-new folding seats and video projectors did nothing to alleviate his mood as he waded through the masses towards his Micro I tutorial room with growing irritation. He was well aware that he could have made more of an effort and ticked off this class three or four semesters ago, but then again, this was university. No one passed every class at on their first attempt, right?

    At last Severin managed to reach the tutorial room and paused in the doorway in order to scan the rows of eager-looking, barely-out-of-school kids for a good seat. Just when his eyes considered resting on a well-endowed brunette, they caught someone else peripherally, and, turning his head, Severin felt his irritation dissolve. Her again, he grinned to himself. This should be fun.

    "Sure you have come to the right spot this time?" he could not help but throw at the girl in faded blue jeans and a lumberjack shirt over a simple dark blue T-shirt he recognized from the production management tutorial. She looked up from her open laptop and groaned.

    "You. Great. Now I'm no longer sure I have come to the right place."

    Again Severin felt taken aback by her bluntness. Most women, in particular frumpy, plain ones like the one he was currently facing, tended to turn into smiling, eager-to-please fools around a sinewy, 6'4" man like him. It was his rising curiosity that caused him to avail himself of the folding seat right next to her, wondering why he had not spotted her anywhere on or around campus before. She was looking way too mature to be in first semester, he mused, but perhaps she had transferred from another school.

    "By the way, this is the Microeconomics I tutorial,” he announced with a wide, over-friendly grin.

    "Oh, thank you sooo much,“ she threw back with an eye roll.

    "Just making sure you won't disrupt this class, too,” Severin added with a wink, enjoying their conversation vastly.

    "And whose fault was that, huh?" his interlocutor mumbled, clearly done with the conversation, and refocused on her laptop on which she had been rearranging something with image-editing software before she had minimized the window with a handy shortcut. Seeing that she was about to reopen said window, Severin scooted a little closer. Uh-uh, not with me, messy-bun-girl, he thought to himself, it's not over until I say it's over.

    "Well, it’s your fault of course," he goaded her, eager to prolong their conversation. "I didn’t exactly haul you over my shoulder and carry you to the wrong room."

    "How was I supposed to know about the room change if some antisocial idiot took down the sign?" she hissed back, glaring up briefly. "Anyway, I've got work to do. Why don't you maim another paper clip? It should provide sufficient meaningful occupation for you until the tutor arrives."

    Intrigued, Severin drew back his left elbow and placed it on the row behind him in order to turn in his seat and face the girl better.

    "'Sufficient meaningful occupation' – what are you, a lit major?"

    "No, just a halfway decently educated human being.”

    She added something else in a mumble that, to Severin, sounded an awful lot like 'Not that you would recognize one if it jumped you in the face.' For some reason he was irritating the heck out of this nerdy girl, and for an equally unknown reason he could not refrain from doing just that. What was it about that geek with the big mouth? 'Big' in the truest sense of the word, actually, since it was wide and full-lipped. Not too bad.



    "And your name is...?" he nudged her, eager to keep her interest focused on himself. For a moment he thought her answer was going to be 'None of your business' or some such rebuff, but at last her eyes connected with his and a single word emerged in a neutral tone: "Mandy."

    "Mandy, it is nice to meet you,” Severin told her with a huge smile that never failed to smooth a woman's prickles, at least sooner or later, extended his hand and watched her shake it with visible reluctance. What the hell have I done to her? he wondered, now with the beginnings of an earnest irritation. Granted, not telling her about being in the wrong room had been a shitty thing to do, but he was honestly making an effort to be friendly here.

    "Although I would say 'that makes one of us', perhaps you might actually redeem yourself sooner or later," Mandy retorted, and Severin felt his grin widen at her quip. He was not used to a woman dishing it out like that one was, and it was intriguing him more by the minute.

    "My name is Severin."

    "Severin?" For the first time Mandy looked at him without displaying any negative feelings towards him, but with simple, open curiosity. "What an unusual name.”

    "What can I say, I'm an unusual guy,” he grinned at her and delivered another wink. Mandy groaned immediately and Severin was treated to another eye roll.

    "So much for redeeming yourself..."

    "Don't worry; the semester has only just started, and there's plenty of time for that,“ he reassured her.

    "Speaking of starting..." Mandy jerked her head to indicate that someone who had just appeared in the doorway.

    "Right. Uh, listen," Severin added, deciding that the redeeming part could withstand indefinite deferment, "I've noticed that you're typing your notes. Mind if I save a copy on my USB drive when you're finished today? My writing tends to get sloppy after fifteen minutes or so."

    Again he thought he heard some sarcastic comment from Mandy before she hissed her reply: "'Plenty of time for redeeming yourself' indeed!"

    "Is that a yes or a no?" Severin could not help but murmur back with a stifled grin.

    "What do you think?" Another eye roll behind the Harry-Potter glasses. "Aside from the fact that Micro is almost pure math which I can’t type fast enough, I fail to locate any argument whatsoever why I should indulge your idleness. All in all, you had better think of a backup plan and extract a writing implement as well as a carbon and cellulose-based storage unit now."

    What the-?! Severin almost blurted aloud. Still caught in the unexpectedly high number of syllables, he stared at Mandy for another few seconds while the author of the convoluted utterance had already disengaged herself from the conversation. When he finally re-hinged his jaw, he realized that she had just dumped him for horizontal price elasticity.
     
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  3. Mar 11, 2019 #3

    agouderia

    agouderia

    agouderia

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    Thank you for posting a new story here Unbasher!

    But I think we need to find out a little more about these characters before we can become invested in them. So more chapters soon please!
     
  4. Mar 11, 2019 #4

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 1: First impressions (part 3)


    The renewed encounter with Severin followed Mandy all day as well as the next one while she was headed for her next lecture in the ‘Audimax’ as it was called here, the ‘Auditorium Maximum’, aka the biggest lecture hall, located five walking minutes away from the castle. Where have I ended up here? she wondered anew, shaking her head in disgust as she was waiting at a pedestrian light. Would her experience at this institution simply turn out to be an extension of school where the handsome and popular mooched off the ones less endowed with these particular attributes? The egocentricity with which she had been met in the wrong-room incident seemed to manifest itself everywhere, down to used-up toilet paper, a circumstance of which the previous occupant of the stall did not stoop to inform the next one. Mandy had not imagined her first semester to be easy, but neither had she expected such a culture of selfishness and elbows.

    With a sigh she abandoned her somber reflections in favor of the real world. Law was next on her schedule, and she had already experienced the necessity of a timely arrival at the Audimax. After she had closed the drafty, single-pane glass door to the building, she let her blue-gray eyes once again wonder over the large, run-down entry before she pulled open the scratched wooden double door that gave way to rows upon rows of folding seats set up in ranks. Although the vast room had once been able to call itself venerable or some other adjective connoting dignity and ancient beauty, the sad truth was that the 'ancient' part had by now more than won the upper hand over its 'beauty' counterpart. Much like the castle, the interior of this impressive edifice with the sandstone reliefs no longer lived up to its external promise and would, owing to budget cuts, not be included in the process of renovations for some time to come.

    The Audimax was capable of housing 400 students and boasted the seats to prove it. That is, not quite 400 anymore, for every now and then one of them was missing or in a sad state of disrepair like geriatric, decrepit teeth. The once-red, wooden desks bore the scratches of generations of bored or overtaxed students, and the only polish the scuffed linoleum was receiving these days was of the gluteal variety, as the latecomers invariably had to find a space on the overcrowded stairs which ran along both sides of the ranks. Since Mandy had left the last lecture a little early, however, she managed to find a seat somewhere in the center where she unpacked her laptop.

    "Goddammit!"

    Mandy was not the only one to turn her head at the expletive. However, she was the only one in the sea of those most attentive to their own needs who took notice for more than two seconds. The author of the invective turned out to be a brown-haired student in her row attempting to navigate through Microsoft Word. He looked to be a little older than Mandy, his disgruntled expression magnified by the square wire-rimmed glasses perched on his scrunched-up nose. Despite her bad experience with the mooching specimen Severin, her helpful nature won the upper hand. Taking pity on the Microsoft-plagued man, she leaned over: "Don't you just hate Word sometimes?"

    "Sometimes!" he grumbled, looking at her. He was a handsome man but did not look or act like he knew or cared about it – unlike one other person she knew. "If only I didn't hate Open Office more."

    "I agree,” Mandy chuckled, thinking back to her brief experience with the program. "I know a few tricks in Word; perhaps I can help."

    "That would be awesome."

    The student looked relieved, and suddenly Mandy truly hoped she would be able to help him. "See this table here? I’ve been trying to insert bullet points, but Word keeps putting in a foot of space after it!"

    "OK, thankfully I can remedy that problem,” Mandy smiled at him, and he scooted over next to her. "If you go to 'view' and activate the ruler, you can see these little arrows here. Move them according to your preferences."

    Her fellow student complied and instantly smiled at the result. "Hey, thank you so much!"

    "And you don't need to repeat that manually for every bullet point; you can use the paintbrush symbol in the upper left-hand corner. It will transfer whatever format you have assigned to that part of the text,” Mandy added, grateful she had been able to solve the issue.

    "You truly are an Office whiz; thank you! My name is Dominic, by the way."

    The man's expression had undergone a vast modification for the better, and he held out a callused hand, a somewhat overly formal gesture in their informal surroundings, but she shook it anyway. The brush of his skin felt bumpy and sandpapery against hers. This man was obviously used to working with his hands; what might he be doing in a law lecture?

    "Mandy."

    "How very nice to meet you, Mandy," Dominic answered with a smile that revealed slightly crooked but perfectly white teeth, and contrary to Severin, she felt he actually meant his words. "And let me tell you you're the first human being I meet in this place. With their pink polo shirts and their attitudes, everyone else seems to be a clone from the same collar-popping egotist."

    "I whole-heartedly share the feeling!" Mandy laughed, liking him more and more.

    "What's your major?"

    "Law. Yours?"

    "Teaching. Business studies and... well, I'm not sure about my other subject yet."

    Fleetingly, Mandy realized that she had not been afforded the opportunity to ask Severin about his major. Most likely business studies with focus on marketing – a charmer like him would be perfect in advertising or sales. Oh, begone, unbidden douchebag! she shooed him out of her thoughts. Dominic and she talked for a few more minutes until the lecture started and claimed all their attention.
     
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  5. Mar 11, 2019 #5

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 1: First impressions (part 4)


    "I always thought my handwriting looked like chicken scratches," Dominic remarked as they were leaving the lecture hall together, "but this guy must have spent too much time in Egypt."

    "True!" Mandy laughed. "Thank goodness he provided a running commentary."

    "And if you fall behind with taking notes for even fifteen seconds. you're lost forever."

    "Thankfully I managed to keep up. Uhm, you can have a look at my notes if you like,” she offered with a good measure of caution.

    "I might take you up on that," Dominic grinned. "So, wanna get lunch?"

    "Sure!" Mandy smiled back at him. She could use a friend. "Cafeteria?"

    "Well, it is the closest. I just try not to eat there too often."

    "It's not too bad, but I agree. I can't imagine ingesting that slop for the next five years to come either."

    Ten minutes later they were sitting across from one another in the crowded, noisy concrete desert that was Murnau's cafeteria, a plate of average-tasting spaghetti in front of each of them. Even for someone without Mandy's artistic eye the place was an eyesore. The only decoration were a plethora of aluminum-framed posters from student associations, garish posters for upcoming events, and dark green pin boards with an inch-thick layer of more or less yellowing ads for roommates, book offers, or requests for tutors.

    Dominic had pushed up the sleeves of his simple black sweatshirt, exposing toned forearms covered in tattoos of which only the tips were peeking out into the world, and Mandy made a mental note to inquire about his body art later. Whether it was done on paper, canvas or skin, Mandy was always interested in art even though she was ungifted at drawing or painting herself.

    "So," she began after a mouthful of pasta, curious to learn more about Dominic, "what made you choose law?"

    "You should say 'who', not 'what',“ he replied with a shrug. "I'm a master stonemason and work at my dad's company. He wants me to study law so I can represent the company legally or examine contracts more closely."

    Astonished at this unusual reason, Mandy leaned forward. "While I understand his reasoning, why are you letting him dictate your career? I mean, I'm kind of letting my parents do the same, but at least we compromised." And I am already starting to dislike it, she added bitterly.

    "I'll tell you in a sec, but I'd like to hear your compromise story after, OK?"

    "OK."

    "The truth is, I don't mind. I have always been interested in pretty much everything except the fine arts, and when my dad talked to me about it, I thought 'Why not?' I like a challenge."

    Dominic shrugged again, and even though his choice of words might have been on the cocky side, he did not come across as a snob to Mandy. If he had spoken true, he had be clever, she mused, drawing hope. Perhaps he would turn out to be someone for whom she did not need to dumb down things.

    "So, you don't want to work as a lawyer?" she asked, increasingly intrigued.

    Dominic shrugged. "You never know. At any rate I'm not planning on doing that required legal traineeship after graduation. I can do that in a few years as well."

    "Huh," Mandy only commented.

    "So, what's your story?" Dominic asked with his mouth full and leaned forward as well.

    "Well, I have always loved to sketch and design but I couldn't imagine studying design. The job and income prospects are dreadful, and I just can't picture myself coming up with brilliant ideas for something as mundane as, say, kitty litter packaging. My heart needs to be in it."

    "I can tell. You get that dreamy look in your eyes," Dominic nodded. "What do you sketch?"

    "Cards, flyers and the like. Aside from manipulating images, I have a soft spot for word games, too, and have designed two logos and a slogan for friends of my parents. One is a carpenter, and the other one needed it for his running club."

    "Huh, it sounds like you should do that for a living and not just as a hobby, but I get what you said about your heart needing to be in it. So, why teaching?" he added, taking another forkful.

    "Well, the thing is, my family never had a lot of money and my mother wishes me to have a financially secure future. 'There will always be students, so you'll always have a job' she says.” Mandy paused as she thought back to that conversation. "I have been tutoring for several years, and I have always liked economics and business. All in all I can picture myself as a teacher, so I agreed, but already I question the wisdom of my decision."

    "Well, at least you are very flexible with business as one of your subjects. If you really decide against becoming a teacher, you can always switch majors or take additional classes," Dominic shrugged, ingesting another forkful.

    "I guess you're right,” Mandy agreed after a moment, feeling much better already.

    "So, what other classes are you taking this semester?"

    They discovered they had two other classes together but that Dominic was planning to attend the earlier tutorials while Mandy preferred the later classes. In the end they exchanged phone numbers and parted ways; Mandy with a happy grin. She had made a new friend.
     
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  6. Mar 11, 2019 #6

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 2: Getting closer (part 1)


    "Hey, Chucks, wait up!" a faintly familiar voice called from somewhere behind Mandy on the thinly populated sidewalk outside the Audimax where she had just attended another Micro I lecture. Most students had veered off towards the cafeteria while she was looking for a quiet spot in which she would be able to dedicate herself to her latest design project.

    “Chucks, I said, wait up!"

    Curious to see at whom that peculiar form of address might be directed, Mandy turned around and failed to stifle a groan. Severin's long legs were easily eating up the distance she had put between them after the lecture had ended. She had caught a glimpse of him when she had entered but had dodged off to the side. So he had spotted her after all. What did he want now? And why the heck was he calling her ‘Chucks’?

    Oh, that’s why, she realized when her eyes fell to her knock-off shoes. Now they were joined by a larger pair of feet in branded sneakers. Severin had fallen into step with her.

    "And how are you today?"

    Although Mandy refused to meet his eyes, she could tell that he was beaming his charming smile again with which he undoubtedly never failed to extract whatever he needed from the gullible fool at its receiving end. Not with me, Mister, Mandy swore both to him and to herself silently.

    "Things just took a turn for the worse, thank you, and yourself?" she added with sufficient sarcasm that he could not help but comprehend the superfluity of his existence.

    "I'm doing great, now that I have met you."

    Well, so much for 'cannot help but comprehend'. Naturally he would have honed his skill of ignoring everything standing between him and his goals.

    "And why is that?"

    She finally turned her head in order to glance up at him. If he were not so tall, she would have stared him down as she had acquired the habit of doing with the likes of him.

    "Because I have an excellent proposition for you,“ he grinned.

    Mandy slowed her pace and finally stopped at a street corner to face him, intrigued despite the annoyance he called forth in her.

    "'You' and 'excellent proposition' could not possibly cohabit in the same sentence, at least not without regular noise complaints from the neighbors."

    "Ouch!" Severin made a show of clutching an imaginary wound in his chest. "Has anyone ever told you that you have a tongue as sharp as a razor? A lesser man would be bleeding to death now."

    "But as we all know you are not so unfortunate as to be part of that pathetic group."

    "I see you understand me completely,“ he beamed, clearly proud of himself.

    "Well, it does not take a genius to figure out simple people."

    "Double ouch! Damn, Chucks, do you make those up and write them down so you can fling them at your fellow men?"

    For a second his expression made her halt mid-insult. Was Severin actually looking... hurt?

    "No, they come from the heart, and quite spontaneously I might add,“ Mandy grinned, deciding she must have imagined it. She was beginning to enjoy their squabble; at least Severin did not run and sulk like so many others would and had before him.

    "Anyhow," Severin continued, not in the least bit deterred. She had definitely been imagining the hurt look after all. "I have been thinking."

    "Aw, poor thing." Mandy arranged her features into those of a concerned mother. "Need some Tylenol?"

    "Hey!" he protested, "cut it out! Damn it, can't you let me talk to you like one normal human being to another?"

    Mandy stifled the comment she was about to fling at him, for she realized he had a point; she did tend to get carried away.

    "All right, let's hear this brilliant proposition of yours."

    "Thank you." He heaved a sigh of relief before regaining his charming smile. "I was thinking that we could form a study team for Micro I. You are smart and I am... well, experienced."

    "You mean you have taken that class before?"

    "Well, yeah,“ he admitted with a sheepish grin, running a hand through his already tousled hair. "But I'm not a total idiot; I'm sure we can help each other out. The class is pretty tough and the chances of passing are much better with a study partner."

    "I can imagine,” Mandy answered slowly, considering this unexpected proposition. Perhaps this slacker could be reunited with 'brilliant proposition' after all, for his idea had merit.

    "All right, let us give it a try. But let me warn you: you either contribute your part, or you're on your own."

    "Yes, Ma'am,“ he saluted with a huge grin, and for a second Mandy felt herself being sucked into his charm. Quickly she shrugged off the unbidden sensation and rolled her eyes at him.

    "So, when would be a good time for you?"

    "Hang on," Severin slipped his backpack on one arm, turning it into a temporary frontpack, and rummaged around in it until he had located the item in question: a folded, dog-eared copy of his schedule.

    "Hang on, let's see...“

    Mandy copied Severin's motion with her own backpack and withdrew her calendar book into which she had neatly scotch-taped her own schedule.

    "Education?" Severin asked as he was looking over her shoulder. "You are studying teaching?"

    Stating the obvious, she scoffed silently.

    "Yeah, teaching business studies."

    Quickly she scanned the days on her and Severin’s schedules.

    "Hm... the lecture is on Monday, our tutorial on Thursday... how about... Tuesdays at 4:30? Or Wednesday, same time?"

    "Tuesday,“ he decided, refolding his schedule and stuffing it back into the depths of his haphazardly stuffed Eastpak.

    "In the new library?" he added when his striking eyes were back on Mandy. “They have these excellent small study rooms."

    Mandy pulled up her eyebrows and crossed her arms over her puny chest. "Which one is the new one? Everything is new to someone in first semester, remember?"

    "You're in first semester?" Severin grimaced and had the grace to look embarrassed.

    "I am; what did you think after your stunt with Production Management II?"

    "Still holding that against me?" He pulled up one corner of his mouth in a lopsided, uncomfortable smile.

    "Why wouldn't I? You never apologized,“ Mandy challenged him.

    "You're right, I didn't. All right, I'm sorry; it was a crappy thing to do."

    His words sounded sincere, and his face matched them.

    "Thank you,“ she nodded, somewhat mollified. It had to be her gracious day. Just as she was about to ask which semester he was in, he glanced at his expensive-looking watch.

    "You know, I've got to run. I'll see you Tuesday at 4:30?"

    "Not unless you tell me where the library is,“ Mandy reminded him with exaggerated patience, deploring over the man's toddler-like attention span.

    "Oh yeah, right,“ he grinned in embarrassment again, and once more she felt her attitude towards him soften. Was she just like the other simple minds after all, she wondered with something approaching self-disgust, so easily charmed?

    "It's the one by the trolley station, right before you enter the big courtyard."

    "Oh, that one. All right, see you there,“ Mandy nodded at him and felt grateful when he finally took off, his long legs racing across the street without waiting for the light to turn green.



    ***



    On Tuesday at exactly twelve minutes after 4:30 a panting Severin yanked open the door to one of the small study rooms Mandy had chosen. As opposed to the musty, dusty or stuffy air in many rooms of this castle, this library still held the faint stench of brand-new carpets and furniture. In addition to the rows and rows of books and a multitude of open work spaces for laptops, it did feature a great number of small study rooms on the second floor, just like Severin had promised. Each one afforded sufficient space for a group of four to six, and the one she had picked offered an undeniably beautiful view of the trees, walking paths and green area in front of and around the cafeteria. Not that she had idled much in front of said window, for she was eager to cross the Micro I tasks off her ever-growing to-do list. Apparently, however, her new study partner did not share her eagerness.

    "Sorry,” he pushed the door shut behind him and dumped his backpack on one chair before he began shedding his stylish jacket. Even with rumpled hair and a slightly perspiring forehead, he was an attractive man, and yet Mandy did not feel one flicker of attraction to him. The brief moment the other day in which she had thought she had caught a glimpse of a decent person had vanished for good.

    "You know, I can't say I'm surprised,“ she remarked in a calm voice as she watched him extract his materials in a hurry over the edge of her laptop screen.

    "I should have known you wouldn't take this seriously."

    "Just because I'm a little late? I did apologize, in case you didn't hear."

    "Oh, I heard,“ she drawled while she continued to present a bland face.

    "And still you are holding it against me?" Severin lifted his hands in frustration. "Listen, if you're going be a teacher, you've got to learn that acceptance and understanding are as important to a kid as discipline."

    "And how would you- never mind, you must be referring to yourself,“ she retorted with a smug grin.

    "Not that I disagree with you, this‒” he pointed at her, is what I mean about acceptance.”

    He sat down and looked at her expectantly.

    For a minute Mandy set aside all anger she had spent these twelve minutes building up and contemplated Severin's remark.

    "All right, you may have a point,“ she finally admitted.

    "QED.“ He flashed her a wide, triumphant grin.

    "No way you know that expression,“ Mandy goaded him, unwilling to restrain herself. Letting Severin keep the upper hand for more than 30 seconds was simply not an option.

    "I just proved I did, didn't I?"

    His grin widened.

    "And what does it mean?" she leaned forward, challenging him.

    "It's Latin for 'I told you so'."
     
  7. Mar 11, 2019 #7

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 2: Getting closer (part 2)


    In spite of herself, Mandy threw her head back and roared with laughter, her over-active mind already filing away his words for a future card design.

    "You know," she told Severin a moment later when she had regained her composure, "you might have just earned yourself a place in a greeting card."

    "You design greeting cards? Is that what you were doing at the beginning of the tutorial?"

    "Designing yes, a greeting card no," Mandy answered curtly, reluctant to elaborate on a path she had not yet mapped out for herself.

    "Care to show me?"

    "No. Care to dedicate yourself to some overdue cerebral workout?" she flung at him, both eager to keep the spotlight off herself and to initiate another squabble. She was enjoying them immensely.

    "You mean expand our minds while in academic pursuit?"

    Severin's unexpectedly eloquent answer caused Mandy's eyes to widen.

    "I'm not a total moron, you know," he nodded at her, leaning back into his chair, the incarnation of complacency.

    However, it took more than that to deplete Mandy's argumentational arsenal. "Ooh, careful with 'academic pursuit' and the like – you might cause people to suspect that you are spending time with a nerd,“ Mandy warned him, relishing their exchange more and more.

    Severin mock-flinched at her answer. "Can't have that; thanks for the heads-up."

    "Sure. OK then, shall we begin?"

    Despite her enjoyment of their well-matched banter she was anxious to finally tackle the tasks uploaded each week and to make sense of the increasingly complicated course matter.

    "We shall," Severin nodded, sitting up.

    Mandy saved the changes to the flyer she was designing for an event at her mother's library and closed her laptop.

    Despite the unfortunate beginning of their academic relationship, she was surprised to find that Severin and she worked together quite well, and that a quick mind was lurking underneath his lazy, laid-back exterior. In the end she felt almost certain that they had solved everything perfectly and leaned back with a contented sigh.

    "I would not have thought it of you, but you have spoken true: you are no idiot. At least not in the intellectual sense,“ she added upon glimpsing another triumphant grin in the making. She simply could not let his over-inflated ego balloon any further.

    "Ouch! You know, you really should work on your... well... desk-side manner if you're going to be a teacher."

    "I have plenty of time to see whether I chose the right major,“ Mandy mumbled, remembering her earlier conversation with Dominic. "Incidentally, I never asked; what is yours?"

    "Business administration."

    "Naturally.“ She had imagined nothing more imaginative from him. "And which semester are you in?"

    "Uh, 7th?" he answered, making it sound like a question.

    "7th?!" Mandy gaped at him. "How come you are still attending Microeconomics I then? I thought that was supposed to be done by 5th at the latest."

    An uncomfortable expression crossed Severin's handsome features. "I, uh.... may have taken my time with some of the classes."

    "Can't say that surprises me."

    "Brat."

    "Dimwit."

    "Hey," he protested hotly, "it wasn't because I didn't get it; I just... had other priorities is all."

    Mandy only stared at him with a bored expression. "Let me guess: boobs, booze and some other degenerative activity, preferably starting with a B."

    "Always the word nerd and always judgmental; you aren't so perfect either,“ he flung back, now visibly riled.

    "A fact of which I am well aware, which is only one of the great differences between us."

    "There is just no pleasing you, is there?" Severin stared back at her with an exasperated expression. "What have I ever done to you to make you so... so..." his toned arms waved around in search for a suitable pejorative. "...aggressive?" he finally settled on.

    Aggressive? Mandy repeated, flinching inwardly. She could have handled ‘judgmental’, but aggressive was not how she wanted to come across to people, however deserving of her scorn. He might have another point there, she mused, considering her last silent words.

    "I do carry a certain innate pugnaciousness,“ she conceded, but added immediately when she glimpsed another triumphant grin threatening to unfurl, "but you have a knack for bringing it out in me."

    "Why me?"

    He leaned forward, looking openly curious.

    "I don't know.“

    She did know, or at least she was fairly certain about the reason. Because you are a cocky slacker, most likely born to wealthy parents, who has never had to work hard for anything in his life, and who has come this far by mooching off others. His branded clothing and backpack corroborated her affluent-parents assumption - brands which her own parents would never have been able to afford for her, not that she had ever placed much importance on these things.

    "Well, perhaps you might take some time to think about it and enlighten me next week.” Severin suddenly seemed distant and pushed back his chair. "Or on Thursday in the tutorial,” he added, and proceeded by gathering together his materials. "I gotta go now."

    "OK,“ Mandy answered somewhat surprised, but then again not; a guy like him had to be in high demand. Nevertheless she could not help but wonder if he had noticed how efficiently they had worked together.

    "Thanks for today; see you Thursday,“ he threw at her with a polite smile and vanished.



    ***



    Thursday revealed that they had solved the tasks almost to perfection, and Mandy began to feel her doubts about the wisdom of her decision to study with Severin dissipate. What was more, she could hear her guilt knocking on the door to her conscience with increasing persistence. Squabbling was one thing, but insults quite another. Perhaps she had gone too far and hurt Severin after all. He and she had not conversed much in the tutorial, and as always he had taken off right away before she had had the opportunity to verify her uncomfortable hypothesis.

    Then Monday arrived and with it the Micro I lecture, but Severin slipped in so late that she had already relinquished the adjacent seat she had half-heartedly saved for him to another student. Hopefully she would be able rectify a possible misunderstanding on Tuesday. If he showed up, for by now he might think that she was avoiding him, rethinking our arrangement. Then again he seemed like the type of person who faced matters head-on instead of resorting to cold-shoulder treatments. Despite her intensifying anxiety to set things straight, she willed herself to remain calm and to wait for Tuesday at 4:30 like a rational human being.

    "Hey. Sorry I'm late again," Severin wheezed as he slipped in and shoved the door shut behind him.

    "It's OK.“

    Mandy hoped she was sounding as patient as she was feeling. Somehow she could not muster any anger at him today; not when she was still feeling the weight of guilt upon her shoulders.

    "I have a good reason today, though,“ he added and dumped a Subway bag on the desk.

    Instantly Mandy sat up.

    "I am liking this reason. Under these circumstances I am inclined to be more forgiving.“

    She looked up at him with a growing smile; she had not tasted a Subway sandwich in ages and already she could feel her mouth water. "And speaking of forgiveness...“ She waited until Severin had shrugged out of his jacket and taken a seat at a 90° angle from her. His remarkable eyes were fixed on hers expectantly. "I'm sorry I was being so rude to you the other day. Somehow you do have a way of riling me up, but nevertheless I was out of line."

    For a moment Severin's eyes roamed her face wordlessly until she began to fidget under his scrutiny.

    "Thank you,“ he finally replied, and instantly she felt herself breathe more easily. "And did you find out why I possess this power - among my countless others?"

    "Not entirely, but the truth bears some connection to the last half of your question,“ Mandy answered dryly.

    "Fair enough,“ he grinned, and her world was all right again. "Shall we start? I've got to be somewhere in a little over an hour—"

    She held up a hand. "It's fine."
     
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  8. Mar 11, 2019 #8

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 2: Getting closer (part 3)


    Although Mandy had had her doubts about the egality in their academic arrangement, Severin turned out to be an excellent study partner. Not only did he contribute his share each week, he never failed to provide lunch, which made up for his habitual tardiness. Their meetings were always productive, and week after week they discovered that they had solved the majority of the tasks correctly. However, contrary to many arrangements in which members of opposite genders belonging to the same age bracket regularly spent time together, their relationship did not progress beyond its academic confines. The only personal things they shared were opinions, and that was putting it euphemistically. So far Mandy and Severin had never spent an hour together in which they had not ended up flinging insults at one another. And yet, Mandy had to admit to herself, she could not help but look forward to each one of their meetings.

    In the six weeks in which they had studied together Mandy had not gleaned much personal information from Severin, but neither had he asked about her private life. They worked, they argued, they shared the food he provided, but at the end he always rushed off. At least she had unearthed that his time was taken up by a staggering course load, soccer practice, and a girlfriend. Naturally he has one, Mandy thought, assuring herself that she was not in the least bit jealous but merely objectively wondering what Severin's partner might be like. High-maintenance most likely; a polished, ditzy blonde driving a parentally-financed convertible.

    Although Mandy would have been hard-pressed to explain just what it was about Severin, her thoughts kept straying to him in increasing number each week. She felt that he could be much more than he portrayed to the world. He had repeatedly proven that he was smart; he should have no reason to be studying for basic courses with a first-semester student.

    The majority of her time, however, Mandy spent with Dominic, and they helped each other out with the few classes they shared. Currently both were poring over this week's law problems, seated in one of the small working alcoves in the castle. Dominic could count himself lucky that neither Micro nor Macro were part of his curriculum; a fact Mandy did not hesitate to bemoan repeatedly. Dominic, in turn, never stifled his opinion of Severin, whose acquaintance he had never officially made but whom he knew by sight and whose name naturally surfaced in his conversations with Mandy. However, Dominic's reaction just now to one of Severin anecdotes she had just told caused her to abandon her keyboard in surprise.

    "Why are you still studying with this guy? He is just mooching off you because he is too dim to make it on his own." Dominic was looking downright angry; angry as Mandy had never seen him.

    "He is not dim!" she protested, instantly feeling protective of Severin in spite of herself. "He might come across as a douchebag, but he is smart."

    "That may be, but my question remains: why are you helping him? What's in it for you?"

    "Lunch," Mandy grinned. "And he is pretty funny actually,“ she added as she recalled one of his most recent jokes. "Also, studying with him helps me follow the class better, too."

    "Uh-oh, what's behind that grin?"

    Dominic sounded worried, which did not mean that his anger had abated. What was with him? He always seemed to be of a well-balanced, almost stoic temperament; in fact his cursing Microsoft Office at their first meeting had been the most palpable display of emotion Mandy had ever experienced from him - until now.

    "I don't have any feelings for him if that is what you think,“ Mandy shot back and could have sworn that it is was a wave of relief that washed away almost all traces of anger on her friend's face. What would he feel relieved about?

    "If you did, that would be your business, and yours alone; I'm not judging you." Dominic leaned forward but did not initiate physical contact. So far he never had. "I'm just concerned for you. Guys like this Severin change girls more often than shirts, and you deserve much more than that."

    Somewhat mollified by his concern for her well-being, Mandy felt herself relax, and she placed a pacifying hand on Dominic's. Watching him flinch ever so slightly, she hastily withdrew it, but kept her eyes on his.

    "Dominic, neither of us is having any feelings for each other. In fact, we are not even friends; we don't spend any time with each other outside of class and our study sessions. I appreciate that you're worrying about me, but there's no need, OK?"

    "All right," Dominic responded on a long exhale, his gaze still locked with hers, "I will, but I maintain that you are too nice for your own good."

    "Oh, I can be very un-nice, don't worry,“ Mandy assured him. "Now back to work, OK?"
     
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  9. Mar 14, 2019 #9

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    Chapter 3: A turning point (part 1)


    With every day being crammed with classes, solving tasks and reviewing, the semester trickled down week by week. Before Mandy had applied to this university, she never knew that the actual lecture period was a mere three months, followed by a four-week period of exams. Each semester was then followed by a generous amount of free time – hypothetically. Her major required an entire year’s worth of company internships in order to ensure that each business teacher was equipped with at least a minimum of practical knowledge. Therefore her first summer breaks were already reserved for those internships, not that Mandy would have been able to afford a vacation in the first place.

    Suddenly exams were only three weeks away. Severin could still be irritating beyond expression but that did not mean that she was not looking forward to meeting with him every Tuesday. And Monday and Thursday, too. There, I admit it! Mandy thought grudgingly as she was reviewing her material for today's study session in their usual study room. There was no way even the most mature, self-sufficient woman could enjoy regular and exclusive exposure to a man her age equipped with eyes and a voice like his without being affected. It dimly registered in the back of Mandy's mind that most women would have drooled over his toned physique, but to her those were simply body parts. Still, there were even times when Mandy had to reluctantly admit that a tiny flutter stirred within her, just like in this very moment.

    Again Severin had rushed in ten minutes late, and as usual she was watching him hurriedly unpack, taking care not to let her appreciative eyes linger on his tousled hair for too long.

    “You're lucky I accept bribes in kind, you know,“ she told him, firmly redirecting her gaze to the plastic bag of Chinese takeaway he had just dumped on the desk. “Not everyone can be pleased so easily and cheaply."

    “Pleasing you easily, my ass..." she thought she heard Severin mumble before he sat down, “and besides, you might as well admit it: you appreciate having a few more minutes to yourself to Photoshop, don't you?"

    “I don't Photoshop, I Gimp."

    “Uh, you what?" A frown rippled his slightly sweaty forehead.

    “I Gimp,“ Mandy repeated with exaggerated patience, although she was relishing the fact that Severin had observed and remembered something personal about herself. “The freeware I'm using is called 'Gimp'. I can't afford Photoshop."

    Severin's puzzled frown deepened. “I bet there is a student version, isn't there?"

    “There is. I still can't afford it,“ Mandy shrugged.

    “But surely your parents can help you out, can't they?"

    “No, they don't have a lot of money, and I'm lucky they still pay for my expenses so I can concentrate on the first few semesters without the necessity of a time-consuming job.“

    She had already decided that she would most likely take up tutoring again once she had passed a few classes. Aside from the much-needed income, it could not hurt gaining some more teaching experience either. Severin’s mouth closed at her answer and a pensive expression settled over his handsome features.

    “I didn't know that. I'm sorry I pressed the point."

    Severin and thoughtful?! Mandy had not believed the two words could coexist peacefully in a sentence, but there he had done it again, astonishing her like he did every so often.

    “What about you? Since money is evidently not an issue in your family, why aren't you at some fancy private, construction-zone free university with lower student-professor ratios?"

    A steely look crept into Severin's beautiful eyes at her question. Apparently Mandy had hit a nerve. “Because I want to earn and not buy my diploma,” was all he bit out.

    His unexpected reaction caused Mandy to decide on the spot to refrain from addressing the fact that he had chosen a peculiar way of acting on his commendable attitude by postponing a difficult but basic course like Micro I. Instead, they turned to their weekly tasks even though Mandy was having immense trouble concentrating today. It was the first time she had seen Severin in such a fierce mood, and in that moment his name fit him like a glove, whereas Mandy had so far thought it incongruous for a man as easygoing and carefree as him. What makes a guy like him tick? she wondered as she glanced at him surreptitiously while he was engrossed in his own calculations. What is this button I have just inadvertently pushed?

    It was in moments like the one they had just shared, when he fixed his remarkable eyes on her and part with some unexpected piece of information, that he verified the hypothesis she had formed early during their academic relationship: he was not the shallow jerk he liked to portray. Yet every time Mandy seriously questioned herself about her feelings for Severin, she arrived at the same conclusion: even if he were into her and even though she found him attractive, she could never be with him. Pretty boys like him set her teeth on edge, and it infuriated her how little he was making of himself as a person. No, Severin Meyers was definitely not boyfriend material.



    ***



    Mandy's and his little digression during their study session would not leave Severin all day, not even at this moment when his hands, the stove, and counter top of the apartment he shared with his girlfriend Nicole were caked in burnt, curdled milk – a sticky reminder that he should keep that nerdy woman out of his thoughts, at least when he was boiling lactic substances. He cursed under his breath he used up paper towel after towel. Nicole would smell it the second she got home and would tease him about his lack of culinary skills all evening.

    At last he dropped the last saturated paper towel into the trash before he heard his own thoughts reverberate in his mind: 'lack of culinary skills'?' No, not her again! Chucks and her convoluted verbiage is just as tenaciously sticky as this freaking mess...

    For the probably twentieth time that day Severin asked himself in fury why he had revealed to Chucks what he had. He was well aware the reason he had thrown at his nosy study partner for enrolling at a 'normal' university did not exactly match his studying for a basic course with a first-semester student. Then again, he attempted to reason his way out of an increasingly guilty conscience as he was washing his hands, who could blame a single man in his twenties for wishing to make the most of his last years of freedom? One of the major issues that had factored into his decision was the simple, selfish fact that he wanted to be free to live the life any university student deserved. Add to that the fact that Severin wanted to study with normal human beings instead of the slick and polished clones groomed to take over their fathers’ companies – not that Murnau did not feature its impressive share of those, too, but that was a given among business majors.

    However, there were counterexamples that retrospectively corroborated his decision, such as his best friend Jordan, whom Severin had met in a Corporate Governance lecture in his first semester. Corporate Governance... out, Chucks! Severin bellowed in his mind, shaking his head as if that would shake her loose. Deciding he no longer felt like having the chocolate pudding for which he had been boiling the milk in the first place, Severin grabbed one of the Snickers bars he always kept in the fridge instead. Nicole often teased him about his sweet tooth, always adding he had better keep working out like he did lest he balloon on her. If that ever happened, she would 'dump his fat ass' in a heartbeat.

    Deciding that he had already spent more mental capacity and time on the two exhausting women in his life – not that Chucks would be in it for much longer – Severin left the kitchen. He had lectures to review and the new Micro problems to print. Hopefully Chucks would stop poking her slightly too long nose into my business, Severin thought as his computer booted up. He would hate to snap at her even though she could be irritating to the core.
     
  10. Mar 14, 2019 #10

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    Chapter 3: A turning point (part 2)


    ***



    A few days later Jordan and Severin were just finishing up 'lunch' at the cafeteria – lunch with quotation marks since the often unrecognizable slop caused even hardcore carnivores to regularly opt for the fresher, vegetarian dish on the menu. Potato pancakes with apple sauce was today’s delicacy.

    While Severin had already wolved down the three small pancakes within minutes, Jordan was still in the middle of his meal, treating it to table manners the likes of which such dishes rarely encountered. Severin's friend was the epitome of classy. He was almost as tall as Severin himself, wore his black curls closely trimmed and was always perfectly shaven. He was well-spoken, well-mannered, and a good dresser. Sometimes Severin thought that, next to him, he looked as if he had spent the night in his car.

    Despite all his friend's excellent qualities, Severin was fully aware that his father would never approve of him, a kind-hearted idealist so unsuited to the cutthroat world of business. And then there was the fact that he was black. Jordan's father had been in the US Air Force and, having been stationed in Germany for four years, had retired from the military so that his family could stay in the country they had all come to love. While both Jordan and his brother had been born in New Hampshire, they had grown up in Germany and spoke without even the hint of a trace of an accent. No, Severin's father would most likely not have treated him as politely as he would a white friend of his son's. He was not a racist, but he shared that superior attitude so common in the upper echelons of corporate life.

    The events from the day before suddenly popped into Severin's head as he started to pry the paper off his chocolate muffin, and he shared the story with his friend. "... and when I told Chucks to stop making faces at that stuck-up girl, she said: 'Trust me, if I could make faces, she'd long have a new one.'"

    "Oh man, that's hilarious!" Jordan convulsed with laughter, nearly choking on his Coke. Grinning, Severin handed a folded-up napkin to his still coughing friend and watched him wipe his mouth and chin.

    “God, this is the first time I’ve ever seen you spill anything. I never thought I’d live to see the moment."

    “And so you thought you’d help me out, huh?" Jordan struggled with another cough while Severin happily relived that moment with his study partner. She might be an oddity, but she was one of a kind. Still grinning, Severin popped the last bit of muffin into his mouth, crumpled the paper bag it had come in and dropped it onto his tray. At least the snacks were decent here.

    "Is there anything going on between the two of you?" Jordan's voice broke through his thoughts, and Severin caught him looking at him suspiciously. Now he nearly choked himself.

    "Between me and her? Are you blind, man, or trying to be funny?" He coughed into his napkin a couple of times before regaining his breath and threw it back onto the tray. “Honestly, J, me and Chucks? She's got spirit, I'll give you that. She's sharp as a track, too, which will finally help me pass Micro. Still, can you picture yourself waking up next to someone like her? She'll probably even show up to graduation in Chucks and with messy hair. No, I'm just being nice to her to get her to share her notes and study with me."

    Jordan frowned at that, and his scrutinizing eyes remained on his friend. After a moment he responded, "Although I'm hoping against hope that that was just a joke-"

    "Hey, are you calling me shallow?" Severin interrupted him, a little irritated at this barb.

    "Yeah,“ Jordan nodded unabashedly.

    "Touché,“ Severin conceded with a sudden grin, feeling his irritation fade at his friend's honesty and leaned back more comfortably in the faded plastic chair.

    "Anyway," Jordan went on, leaning forward, “I meant to say I wouldn't hold it against you if you did have feelings for her. You seem to have met your match."

    "In Chucks? You must have lost your mind, J,“ Severin yawned and stretched his long limbs, eager to get back on his feet after four hours of lectures and this pathetic lunch. "Now, stop giving me crap about her and let's head back. Hopefully Miles and the others will have saved us seats."



    ***



    Practically feeling the blood drain from her face, Mandy flattened herself against one of the many concrete pillars in the cafeteria, her tray shaking so violently in her hands that she felt she was about to drop it and draw everyone's attention to herself, including the one person she had just discovered could wound her like no other. Breathing as heavily as a marathon contestant, Mandy waited until Severin and his black friend – Jordan, that was his name, Severin had mentioned him a few times – had left the cafeteria, all the while clutching her trembling tray like a life preserver. Only when she was certain both men had left for good, did she drop into a chair at an almost empty table, cradled her suddenly pounding head in her hands and stared blankly onto the crumb and paper-littered floor. There was a strange buzz in her ears that drowned out the din of her fellow students and the usual noises home to a cafeteria. The only things that were reverberating in her throbbing skull were the harsh words she had just overheard:

    Severin admires my intellect but pities me for my nerdy looks. And worst of all: he has been using me.

    How humiliating. How utterly heartless and cruel. Mandy had never expected Severin to develop any feelings for her, his geeky study partner, like in some sappy chick flick. In fact it would have made her uncomfortable if he had, for despite his attractive exterior he was about as far from the kind of man with whom Mandy could see herself. An intelligent but careless underachiever with no regard for his fellow men and women was not whom she envisaged as a boyfriend. And yet it had felt like a kick in the guts to overhear him brush her off so casually to his friend.

    It was not that Mandy had expected him to acknowledge her publicly, for instance she would never have been so presumptuous as to ask if she could join him and his friend at their table. She would have walked past them with a tiny nod, but when she had heard Jordan ask that bit about something going on between the two of them, she had not been able to refrain herself from hiding behind that concrete pillar, eavesdropping on the remainder of the unabashedly loud conversation between the two men.

    Swallowing hard to rid herself of the parched sensation in her throat, Mandy picked up her water bottle and treated herself to a refreshing sip. Eating was out of the question now, not that she had been looking forward much to the unspecial special of the day in the first place. Still barely registering any sight nor sound of her fellow students around her, Mandy poked at and shuffled around the congealed heap of pasta and something that barely passed for mushrooms.

    Should she wish that she had not overheard? She certainly could have done without another reminder that she was doomed to remain in the Untouchables caste, however well she thought she had reconciled herself with that fact. Mandy had brushed the issue of her appearance and lack of male interest in her aside and focused on her brains and talents until she had not only accepted but taken pride in that role. Yet somehow over the course of the past weeks, Severin had stirred something in her, namely the desire to be more than the brilliant nerd with the big mouth. Mandy had never wanted to be desirable to Severin per se but... his biting remarks had struck home, and in a sudden onslaught of masochism Mandy let her suddenly burning eyes travel down her front. Well, her A-cups and her nonexistent curves or style had not changed since 9th grade. Her baggy burgundy corduroy pants were barely clinging to her narrow hips and the simple black sweater was doing nothing to present her in a favorable light either. Her size-11 feet were encased in old if well-maintained knock-off Chucks as usual.

    Severin is right.

    My mind is as sharp as a tack and so are the bones of my underdeveloped body.

    No man would ever want to wake up next to me.

    Swallowing hard at this hurtful realization, Mandy willed herself to hold in the sobs that were threatening to burn themselves up her throat. Hold it together, Mandy. You will not dissolve into tears here and now. She knew she would drench her pillow with tears later that day, but until then she needed to pull herself together. She had learned the hard way not to let herself become a victim of self-pity anymore, and already she could feel her stubborn nature rebel against the self-disparaging thoughts. Despite the ugly, bleeding wound in her heart, Mandy knew that she would be ready to decide about her next steps soon. The wound would scab over and a plan would start to formulate itself sooner or later as it always did.
     
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  11. Mar 14, 2019 #11

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    Chapter 3: A turning point (part 3)


    ***



    Jordan's comment, which had drifted around in Severin's mind for a while that same day but had eventually faded, resurfaced as soon as he entered the Micro I tutorial room and spotted the familiar long legs ending in... today it was purple Chucks with one red shoe lace. As always Mandy was engrossed in some image and letter arrangement on her laptop screen. It was one of the few personal things he had once asked her about but to which she had only provided a vague, evasive answer about having an interest in design. Although he had not cared sufficiently at the time to probe any further, lately there were these moments when he did consider asking her again, but then why would he bother when he would soon certainly pass his exam and their days together were numbered? Nevertheless he was looking forward to spending another tutorial next to her and her witty comments.

    "Hi.“

    Severin sat down next to her with a genuine smile.

    "Hey.“

    She did not look up, and her reply was lacking her usual enthusiasm. Severin felt at once taken aback at her attitude. She had opened up so much over the few weeks in which they had worked together, that he had thought she had been enjoying his company, too. He had even come to accept her bluntness as her own peculiar brand of humor.

    "Anything the matter?" Severin asked, eager to get to the source of her sudden coldness.

    "Not quite at the peak of my usual garrulousness yet."

    Again no emotion and no eye contact either.

    "Garru...?"

    She never failed to amaze him with her big words. As he had proven to her, he was no idiot either when it came to language, but she tossed out terms with enviable ease that he had only ever seen written down.

    "Oh, look it up, why don't you?"

    She sounded exasperated, and Severin fixed his gaze on her in surprise.

    "'Look it up'? What do I have you for?" he teased her, trying to make her smile. She had a nice smile.

    "What for indeed?" she muttered then turned and truly faced him for the first time that day. Her usually so expressive face was looking as blank as a mask. "Listen, Severin…"

    Uh-oh, Severin gulped, this does not sound good. Nothing good could ever follow a 'Listen' delivered in that tone.

    "I overheard you and Jordan the other day."

    What? Oh Go-

    "No, please don't say anything.” She held up one thin hand as his mouth opened. "I know how guys talk among themselves. I'm also fully aware of what I am, and I'm OK with that. Really. What I'm not OK with, though, is being used. I've traded my time and knowledge for lunches and... admittedly some fun, too, but seeing you can't even be decent about me to your friends, I have no interest in prolonging our acquaintance. From now on you're on your own."

    She made to turn back to her screen, but Severin stopped her with one hand on her arm. I would be pissed at me, too, if I were her, he had to admit to himself. From the corner of his eye, Severin saw a few students looking at them, but right now he could not have cared less.

    "Hey, listen, like you said, that's just how guys talk. I never‒"

    She plucked off his hand with slow deliberation and dropped it into his lap as if it were garbage.

    "Look, Severin, I can deal with the 'physically underdeveloped' part. It's nothing but the truth, right?"

    It was, but nevertheless Severin cringed as he recognized his own words, and a soft gasp somewhere beyond his left shoulder told him that he was not the only one who had just heard that. Suddenly Severin wished his study partner would lower her voice, but she continued in that strangely, almost admirably unfazed manner of hers.

    "I honestly appreciated your calling me 'sharp as a tack'. But your 'being nice to me' to get my notes and help?"

    A low, hissing tone or contracted eyebrows would not nearly have been as scary as that blank mask paired with that flat tone. God, hearing it from her mouth does make me sound like a dick, he realized as an invisible fist plowed into his midriff.And still Mandy continued relentlessly, apparently paying no heed to the few people around them she had unknowingly included in their conversation.

    “That is just despicable, and I don't need a pity friend. I have real friends I can count on and who accept me the way I am.“

    She paused. After a deep breath during which her briefly contorted features had eased back into that unnerving blank expression, she added in a more composed tone, “You might want to think about if you can say the same thing about yourself. Now if you will please leave me in peace. Also, I would appreciate it if you no longer sat down next to me in the future."

    "Chucks, please let me‒"

    "What's my real name?" she interrupted him, fully focused on him now, her expression still neutral.

    'What's my real name?' What a ridiculous question! It's... uh... His memory drew a blank. Severin distinctly remembered introducing himself to her on their second meeting, but he could not for the life of him recall what she had replied.

    "I rest my case.“ Her face shuttered, leaving him out in the cold. "You haven't even bothered to remember the most basic fact about me. Good luck with your exams."

    "Please wait, uh…"

    Her name just would not come. No longer listening, she leaned forward to tap a large student with nerd glasses in the row in front of them on the shoulder. "Excuse me? Is that seat taken?"

    She pointed to the seat next to him, partly occupied by the man's overflowing girth.

    What? Severin almost exclaimed. You are switching seats?!

    Instantly the big man flushed. "Uh, no, it isn't."

    Of course you would say that, tubby! Severin spat at him silently, wishing he could raise his voice. Probably never had a girl sitting that close to you before, have you? As if anyone could. Chucks must be the only one at this entire university that will fit on a half seat!

    "Thanks,“ she replied with a smile at the student, who flushed even more deeply. With her usual confidence and efficiency, she proceeded by handing him her belongings one by one before she got up and swiftly transferred her long, thin legs through the tiny spaces between the seats.

    Severin openly gaped at the new seating arrangement. I have just been dumped for a larger-than-life nerd! Well, not dumped dumped, he amended, for he had been honest with Jordan, he could not see himself with a girl like... what is her real name? The sensation of gaping eyes somewhere behind him was causing his neck to prickle, and he abruptly turned in his seat. The two fresh-faced kids, probably in their first semester, who had apparently been following their entire conversation, startled and quickly lowered their eyes. One of them turned bright red. For good measure, Severin let his stern gaze linger on them before turning back around.

    Meanwhile, his former seat neighbor and the large student had begun talking. Severin knew Mandy too little to assume that she was doing that exclusively to try and make him feel even more abandoned. Nicole might. She was all about the silent treatment and guilt trips. No, this girl had told him her opinion to his face as she always had. 'Had'. Past Perfect. The girl he only knew as 'Chucks' had, well, chucked him out of her life in a matter of seconds, and now she was chatting away with a stranger as if she had known him forever.

    The tutorial started and as Severin tried to keep up, an icy realization set in: he had lost her for good.
     
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  12. Mar 18, 2019 #12

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    Chapter 4: Without you (part 1)

    Michael, a business major in his third semester as he had told Mandy, was friendly but painfully shy. She actually remembered him vaguely from the lectures, but at the beginning of the semester he must have attended a different tutorial since she had never seen him in hers before today. Perhaps he was attending multiple tutorials now, as so many students did so close before the exams.

    Although she had initiated the conversation with him mostly in order to keep Severin from directing another word at her, she had found that he was an intelligent, kind seat neighbor, not to mention a warm and plush one. Even though he had attempted several times to keep his wide thigh as far away form her as possible, there was no denying the fact that he absolutely needed half of Mandy's seat to accommodate his girth. Mandy, however, didn't mind. In fact, she welcomed his soft, warm presence after the cruel awakening with Severin. When she had waved goodbye to Michael at the end of the tutorial, she had left with a much lighter heart than she would have anticipated after the excruciating scene with Severin.

    Severin... Although she had delivered her speech as coolly as a cucumber, she was feeling anything but cool right now, not even with a few days' distance. One major reason was the fact that there was the very great likelihood that she would have to face him in the Micro I lecture, which she was headed to at this moment. Although on that fateful day in the cafeteria she had decided to switch tutorials so as to minimize all further contact with Severin, there was only one lecture per week. The large crowd in the Audimax might shelter her from his unsolicited presence, but just to be on the safe side, she entered the next Micro I lecture at the very last minute in order to avoid all possibility of pre-lecture conversation with him.

    The downside to her scheme, however, manifested itself immediately, namely in the shape of clusters of fellow late-comers occupying the stairs due to lack of free seats. After some careful navigation she found a free spot – next to Michael. Again she realized she had seen him sit there before. One could not help but notice an over 6' obese man.

    "Hi Michael,“ Mandy addressed him, and he flushed crimson the instant he looked up at her from behind his nerd frames. He had a round, kind face and his shy smile actually looked rather endearing. Suddenly she felt her own cheeks heat up.

    "Uh, hi... Mandy, isn't it?" He scrunched his eyebrows in uncertainty.

    Incredible. Mandy had to keep herself from shaking her head in wonder. Michael remembers my name after only one tutorial, unlike— no! I will not think of him!

    "Yes, it is,” Mandy replied, putting he-who-must-not-be-named firmly out of her head. "Would you mind if I sat here?"

    "Uh, no, not at all. Please, go ahead."

    Michael's flush deepened as he scooted to the left as far as he could manage, and Mandy set down her backpack first. She extracted her laptop from its neoprene case and stuffed it back into the backpack before settling down on the neoprene as her sharp-boned behind did not take too kindly to hard surfaces. She ventured a glance at her neighbor, who featured not one visible bone. Even his knuckles had turned into dimples. The discovery sent another rush of heat to her cheeks. And not just her cheeks. Reflexively, Mandy clenched her thighs together and pulled her legs as close to herself as she could manage. What was happening to her?

    However, the arrival of the professor stepping up on the podium put a stop to her self-examination. There was hardly a chance of conversation in lectures in general, but so shortly before the exams Mandy was eager to absorb as much as she could, and so Michael and she hardly exchanged a word during the next 90 minutes. Only when the professor finally turned off the overhead projector, did Mandy heave a sigh of relief and turned to her neighbor, once again startled by the sheer mass of him. And once again her body turned on her, momentarily robbing her of breath.

    "Uhm,” Mandy cleared her throat, “I can't wait until Micro I is over. I'm just glad to be spared the agony of the sequel."

    Again the color rose in Michael's round cheeks. "Lucky you. I'm already scared of Micro and Macro II."

    "Just take it one panic attack at a time,” Mandy smiled at him and laughed along with Michael's embarrassed chuckle. He had a nice laugh.

    "Yeah, I guess that's the right attitude. Uhm, you're studying teaching, correct?" he asked when they were both finished packing up their possessions and he clumsily struggled to his feet.

    Mandy had never been good at guessing weight. but whatever Michael was carrying around had to be almost twice than what was healthy for him. Unlike with many obese men, Michael's overweight had not exclusively settled on his belly but was distributed evenly all over his body. His round face sported a double chin, his hands and arms were chubby and with his legs and rear end similarly afflicted, his gait had turned into a waddle. Yet as Mandy looked into his kind brown eyes, all she saw was a groomed, endearingly shy man she wanted to get to know better. As for what her body suddenly wanted… she had no clue what to make of that. Again his question reminded Mandy all too painfully of how little Severin had been aware of her as a person. All she had ever been to him was a source of knowledge and motivation to keep studying. With an almighty effort Mandy shook off the gloomy thought and willed herself to focus on Michael.

    "I am. You have a good memory." He only shrugged but a new blush was rising in his round face. "What's next on your schedule?" Mandy asked as they left the building.

    "Nothing.”

    "Nothing for me either. Would you like to get lunch?" she suggested, eager for company.

    Dominic had no lectures today. He always crammed his course load into three days in order to be free to work at his father’s company for the remainder of the week. Naturally he had picked up on her mood on their first meeting in her post-Severin life, but Mandy had been incapable of confiding in her best friend. The mere thought was simply too humiliating, and she and Dominic had never seen eye to eye when it came to Severin. She could not have borne to hear him disparage a man she alternately missed and wished she could forget. Mandy simply could not face a solitary lunch in the cafeteria, not when there was every chance of running into— Argh! Will this ever stop?!

    Michael had, if at all possible, flushed even deeper at her question. Mandy bit her lip. Most likely he was loath to eat in front of other people. However, the question was hovering out there and nothing remained for her to wait for his response with an intensifying prickle on her face.

    "Uh, thanks for asking, but I don't like to eat in the cafeteria,” he finally mumbled and averted his face.

    "I can relate. I try to avoid it myself. In fact I was thinking about finding an alternative in town." Michael still looked so undecided, downright caged even, that Mandy backpedaled hastily despite her longing for a friendly person beside her. "Uh, you don't have to. I guess I'll just head into town and pick up a sandwich.”

    She had so much to review that she might even forget for an hour that she was feeling about as loved as a dog abandoned at a rest stop. Quite ironic actually, since she had been the one who kicked Severin out of her life, and not vice versa. Although... Severin would probably have faded out of my life after exams anyway, so why am I moping like a pathetic lovesick chick?

    Again Mandy willed herself to focus on the interlocutor at hand. Given his figure, Mandy guessed it was only natural that he would be so withdrawn, but today she could have used a confident, gregarious person beside her.

    "I'll see you next Monday in the lecture then?" she relieved Michael of the pressure of supplying a response. "I will switch tutorials, so I won't be there in Thursday's."

    "I figured," Michael nodded, an awkward expression crossing his round face, but for once his cheeks were devoid of color. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with that long-haired guy."

    "Yeah...“ Mandy really did not need to be reminded of that scene by an outside party when her inner voice was more than getting the job done. "I guess I don't have to explain then."

    "No, you don't."

    His uncharacteristically calm, understanding tone brought up her gaze which had dropped to her feet just a moment ago. His face was looking serious, solemn even.

    "I understand all too well about guys like him. You did the right thing."

    Of course, Mandy realized with her face prickling anew. A shy, overweight, intelligent man like Michael was the perfect victim for selfish moochers, as were unattractive nerds like her. Naturally he had experienced his share of abuse.

    "Thank you."

    Her words were soft, and suddenly she could no longer hold Michael's emphatic gaze.

    "Mind if I come with you after all?"

    That brought up her face. His cheeks were glowing again, but so was his expression of understanding.

    "I'd like that,“ Mandy smiled at him, and wordlessly they turned into the direction of the city center.
     
  13. Mar 18, 2019 #13

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    Chapter 4: Without you (part 2)


    ***



    Cradling a mug of fresh coffee between his hands, Severin stared out of his third-floor living room window, hardly tasting or seeing a thing. Nicole and he did not live far from campus, in a well-maintained five-story building with an elevator – not something to be taken for granted in historic Murnau. Although Severin had always enjoyed the sight of the bustle of the trolleys, cars and hordes of pedestrians through this window, today – like every day lately – he was hardly registering anything outside his overstuffed mind.

    It felt as if no person under 6’, no color aside from dirty blonde, and no footwear other than Chucks stood a chance against the filters that seemed to have installed themselves in his brain. The exams are finally over. I should be celebrating, doing anything but moping around. Moping, me! he thought in disgust.

    Despite almost constant company and other plentiful means of distraction, Severin had not managed to shoo his former study partner out of his head. His face prickled with shame every time he recalled the ugly scene, and yet he could not bring himself to grovel and apologize. It would have been of no use either. Chucks firmly averted her eyes when they happened to see each other, which was not often anyway. What was more, whenever Severin had spotted her in the Micro I lectures, she was always sitting on the stairs next to the man he only thought of as 'the fat dude she dumped me for', even though he berated himself every time for the use of that particular verb.

    "Hey handsome.“

    Severin felt a small hand squeeze his left butt cheek before its owner came into full view. He had not even heard Nicole come in.

    "What's with that face?" his girlfriend pouted as she looked up at him.

    Taking in her long, straightened raven hair, carefully made-up face, and stylish wardrobe, most people would have thought her a spoiled airhead. The truth was, however, that her parents were the most tight-fisted people Severin had ever met. Nicole had had to learn early to work for the things she wanted, and worked for them she had indeed. She was a fitness coach at an all-women gym and a pretty damn good one in his opinion. 'Pretty' in the truest sense of the word: there was not an ounce of fat on her toned 5’6" body, but she still possessed curves in all the places he appreciated. And yet all that registered was that her looking 'up' at him was a lot more 'up' than Chucks had had to with her 6' or so. Unbelievable, Severin mentally shook his head at himself, I have studied with her for weeks and never bothered to learn or remember anything personal about her; neither her name nor her exact height for instance. She was entirely right about me.

    "Wait till you see what I've got. That'll wipe that scowl off your face in no time." Nicole beamed, but all her expression accomplished was to remind him that her smile would never reach Chucks's wattage when she got excited about something. Severin still would not have dated her, but with each passing day that she was not in his life, Severin realized that she was special and that he might not be such a catch after all.

    "What's it you've got?" Severin forced himself to ask in order to get it over with. Somehow he could not imagine anything Nicole would get enthusiastic about would cheer him up as well.

    "I picked up my car from the shop today. I've had it chip-tuned!" Nicole announced with a triumphant grin and flashed her perfect teeth.

    Actually her news did make him feel better; there was nothing like a good drive to clear the head, in particular in her powerful Seat Ibiza. Driving in Murnau was a major pain the rear, but when one took it outside the city, there were some decent roads to be enjoyed for passionate drivers, in particular at night. Tempo-limit-free highways, that's Germany for you! Severin grinned to himself.

    "You know, that is great news!" he smiled at her and pulled her close to him. As always, Nicole fought him off after a second. She simply did not belong to the touchy-feely set of women, a by-product of being fiercely independent and proud of it.

    “Ugh, what's with the clinginess lately?"

    "I... just like being close to you.“

    And making that gaping hole go away. Please and make me feel like a good person again, he added silently in uncharacteristic self-pity.

    "You're different lately."

    Nicole wrinkled her perfectly powdered forehead. Chucks's face has probably never been touched with even a particle of powder, but it could work wonders for her. Arrrgh! Out of my head, you nerdy, judgmental girl-woman!

    Severin hoped against his own conviction that his lack of self-confidence and his desire for warmth and comfort could be attributed to post-exam pressure. Even though he believed that he had done well this time, he would not be able to relax until results had been uploaded.

    "Must be anxiety about my grades, I guess," he told his girlfriend, more than ready to keep the real reason for his changed demeanor at bay.

    "God, am I glad I never had to go through all that stress!" Nicole shook her head in relief.

    Nicole had never attended university. Although establishing herself as a coach had not been an easy path either, she had never known the trials and emotional roller-coaster rides of university life. Although Severin had never truly held it against her that she did not even attempt to understand or to simply listen, with increasing frequency he missed that quality in her. He would even have traded in her buns of steel in favor of a sympathetic ear.

    "So, want to take her for a spin tonight?" Nicole smiled a wicked smile up at him. "That is, want to come with me when I do?"

    "What?" Severin pouted. "Don't tell me you'll be hogging the wheel?"

    "Tonight I will. Perhaps, if you are really nice to me this week, I'll let you drive.“ She batted her eyelashes at him and offered another devilish smile.

    "You drive a hard bargain,“ Severin grinned at her, grabbing his favorite part of her anatomy. What was I thinking, he thought, feeling better already. Trading in those spectacular buns? No way, José. "So, when are we going?"
     
  14. Mar 25, 2019 #14

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    Chapter 5: Where are you? (part 1)


    What little Severin remembered from the first two weeks in the trauma unit, he would rather have forgotten. Aside from Severin's parents, Jordan and even his parents had come to visit, but only his best friend had been back more than once so far. Through Severin's drug-induced fog Jordan had managed to tell him he would pass on the state of his recovery to their other friends, who would come to see him as soon as he was transferred to the trauma step-down unit.

    Of course it was Jordan who had come to see him first in his simply but nicely furnished private room – courtesy of his affluent parents – that bore more resemblance to a bed-and-breakfast room than a place of medical treatment. Were it not for the steady stream of nurses, the casts, bandages as well as other contraptions securing his afflicted body parts, one might have thought the occupant of the bed was enjoying an extended leisurely stay. Enjoyment, however, was the farthest thing from Severin's addled mind. The most positive emotion he could muster was a distant gratefulness that he had not lost any limbs, although lost to vision they were, his legs being encased in a giant cast that ran from his hips to his toes.

    Yet despite this plaster prison, the cards, chocolates and flowers on every available surface of his room, Severin's pounding head still could not take in the fact that Nicole was gone and that he would not play soccer nor any other sport again for a long time. No, actually that last part even his throbbing skull could believe, given his immobility and the excruciating pain, because in his first brief spell of lucidity he had resolved to refuse all pain medication from now on in order to dissipate the hazy fog of the first days. However, his gradually returning clarity of mind did not mean that he wanted to grasp all of this new, cruel reality.

    "We did everything we could..."

    "We couldn't save your girlfriend..."

    "You were lucky... ribs... shoulder... complicated leg fractures... rehab..."

    All those voices, noises and faces were blurring together, together with what fractured recollections he had from their night out in Nicole's car, the sudden skid, the uncontrollable spinning, the bone-chilling sound of bending metal and then--nothing. And 'nothing' was what he was good for at the moment:

    Both his legs were broken, his right knee practically shattered.

    His right shoulder had sustained a complicated fracture.

    Three ribs had not escaped unscathed either.

    Head trauma.

    Bruises over bruises.

    It would be 12-16 weeks, he had been told, before a wheelchair was even an option, and extensive physical therapy after that. The extent to which his doctors would be able to restore his right knee was still in the vague. Will I have a limp? was the last thing that went through Severin's damaged head before unconsciousness reclaimed him.



    ***



    "Mr. Meyers! Mr. Meyers, are you in any pain?"

    Still in the throes of his reality-inspired nightmare out of which he had just catapulted himself with a blood-curdling scream, Severin was barely able to discern the petite red-haired nurse in her early twenties hovering solicitously by his bedside, a worried frown marring her pretty features. That last part went unnoticed by Severin as his glasses were sitting on his bedside table. Had he been in full possession of his mental and physical capacities, he might very well have throttled the tiny person for asking such a nonsensical question. Of course he was in pain! He was in more pain than he ever remembered feeling, and he was only in a minor part referring to the physical variety.

    "Would you like some meds after all?" the nurse persisted, putting Severin's strangling fantasies in closer reach.

    "No, goddammit, I said I didn't want any of that shit! Just leave me be!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, 'yelling' being applied very loosely here, given the rather pathetic, croaky sound, but the nurse grasped his point all too clearly. With a pale face and halting steps she retreated from his bed before bolting into the hallway as soon as she had reached the door, slamming it shut behind her.

    Severin fell back against his propped-up pillows and raised his right arm in order to wipe his dripping brow. Instantly his face contorted in pain and for a mere second he was tempted to yell for the redhead with her meds after all. Suddenly exhausted from his brief eruption, he felt drowsiness set in and pull him back into his black hole.



    ***



    It is a well-known fact that a well mind is conducive to the healing of an ailing body. However, it was in this critical phase that Nicole's parents chose to pay their disrespects to a man of whom they had never fully approved in the first place, and who would now forever be tied to the premature demise of their eldest daughter. Nicole's broken mother had not gone so far as to wish Severin had died as well, but she might as well have said it, and honestly, he did not blame her. Although the medical staff had interceded immediately upon hearing the heated recriminations – two male nurses had had to escort Nicole's still screaming mother from the room – those few minutes had sufficed to cement Severin's conviction that he deserved every angry face and every piece of bad news.

    For it was bad news that one of his doctors had imparted to him the next day: it would be months before he would regain use of his right leg again, and even then he would never be able to practice active sports anymore.

    "Don't worry, son," his father's reassuring voice yanked his somber thoughts back to the present from beside his bed. His parents had shown up shortly after the doctor had left. "I personally made sure you'll have the most competent of staff at your service, and I've already contacted one of the best rehab centers after you're released from the hospital. You will have your own physical therapist when you return home, of course."

    Even though it was a Sunday, Mr. Meyers was dressed in impeccable khakis and a blue polo shirt which showed off the trim figure he had maintained through regular workouts at the corporate gym. He was a tall, good-looking man with neatly styled hair unmarred by even a single gray one. There was not much resemblance between parents and son. Severin possessed his father's jaw line and teeth as well as his mother's long, elegant fingers. Otherwise he favored his maternal grandmother. His mother, a not quite pretty but remarkable-looking woman, was a sought-after expert in the field of molecular biology, whereas her husband managed the Coatings division of an international chemical company ten miles to the west of Murnau.

    As Severin watched his mother, a no-nonsense woman ostensibly undaunted by anything or anyone, struggle to hold his gaze, he realized no other mother could manage to perch as awkwardly at her child's bedside as his. His father preferred not to sit on his bed at all, opting for one of the chairs placed further away from the bed. Severin was not surprised as he had never been the tactile type either. Family-wise Severin had often felt like Leonard Hofstadter from 'The Big Bang Theory', except that they did not present scientific papers to each other at Christmas. In fact, the three of them had spent such few Christmases together that Severin did not even remember the last time they had had a tree, something he had learned not to care about from an early age on. Spending the holidays with his grandparents or later his friends was way preferable to the medium-sized but elegant edifice that was home.

    Of course Severin's parents were neither unfeeling nor stereotypically evil, but for all their overachieving ways, they ranked in the far left part of the bell curve in the parental realm. They both had their qualities, of course: his mother had taught Severin many things when he was a kid; for instance he had already been able to read and write by the age of 5. As for his father, he had always made sure that his family enjoyed nothing but the best, be it athletic equipment, electronics or, in this latest case, medical care. Nevertheless, it was a different kind of care Severin longed for despite his ever-increasing self-pity and conviction that he deserved each silent hour of solitude, and it was with almost perfect equanimity that he received his parents' announcement that it would be some time before they would visit again as both their jobs involved a lot of travel.

    "Your many friends will surely be able to entertain you better than your parents," Severin's mother attempted to downplay her imminent absence, awkwardly reaching out to administer a light squeeze to his fingers.

    "And our sitting here is not going to further your convalescence either," his father concurred. "I'll talk to the doctors and nurses again to make sure you are well taken care of, son."

    Both left after a bare quarter of an hour.
     
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  15. Mar 25, 2019 #15

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 5: Where are you? (part 2)


    ***



    "Anything I can get you, hon?" an elderly nurse's gentle voice broke through Severin's dark reverie, and he looked up into her kind, well-preserved face. Despite his volatile mood, alternating between gloomy at best and irascible at worst, his team of nurses was keeping up an unfailing display of good spirits so far. Thankfully, though, not the kind of cheerfulness that grated on the tried nerves of a broken, desperate patient. It was his second week in the trauma step-down unit, although by now he had dubbed it 'trauma step-up unit'. With every day that his physical injuries were slowly mending, his mental state was deteriorating.

    "A cup of orange juice, perhaps?" the nurse, Mrs. Brigg, suggested with an encouraging nod. "The visit from your soccer friends must have been exhausting."

    It had been, although not only in the dehydrating manner at which Mrs. Brigg had hinted. It was the uncomfortable way in which they had shuffled their feet and struggled to meet his eye. In fact Severin had been able to tell they had wanted to bolt the minute they entered his room, even his close friend Miles. Hell, he thought with intensifying acrimony, of course hospitals are creepy, but couldn't they just have told me a joke or something to break the ice and to cheer me up at least a little? But no, apparently that is too much to ask.

    Then again, he reflected bitterly, even a little cough caused his broken ribs to hurt like hell, so perhaps laughter would not have been the best medicine after all. Could he really blame his friends for clamming up? Had he been a visitor, he most likely would not have been able to withstand the stench of disinfectant for more than ten minutes either, let alone the sight of a pale, gaunt friend in casts. Nor said friend's stench either, he added with an onslaught of self-disgust as he fingered the greasy hair at his nape. It would take some time before he could reach up and touch the top of his head pain-free. Or go to the bathroom for that matter. Being reduced to wearing diapers over his cast did not exactly further his spirits. All in all, Severin concluded with another bitter grimace, he could not blame his team for keeping their distance.

    "Orange juice sounds good," he answered Mrs. Brigg's question in order to make her feel needed at least. With another kind smile of which he felt so undeserving she left his room and was back within a moment.

    "Here you go, hon." She extended to him a white plastic cup of surprisingly tasty orange juice. Although initially a made-up request, he actually welcomed the sweetness on his dry lips now. "Anything else?"

    Severin was just about to shake his head when his gaze fell onto one of the many chocolate boxes amid the forest of get-well cards. Huh, chocolates… All of a sudden the little brown gems beckoned.

    "Yes, could you hand me that yellow box of Lindt chocolates over there, please?"

    "Of course, dear."

    When Mrs. Brigg had left, Severin tore off the plastic wrapping with increasing impatience. Suddenly he could not wait to get his hands, and his tongue in particular, on the high-end delicacies. The first piece disappeared without leaving much of a taste in his mouth, but by the fourth or fifth he felt himself grow calmer and… actually happier. One by one the excruciating solitude was filled with gooey sweetness until he realized he had emptied the entire box. Oh, so what? he dismissed the discovery as he let the empty cardboard container drop to the floor, leaning back against his pillows. Nicky was right; chocolate works wonders for your psyche. Of course she had always fled to the gym after such an indulgence. 'A second on your lips, a lifetime on your hips'.

    Nicole…

    She had always hated it when he had called her 'Nicky', which had prompted him to do it all the more of course. Such a vibrant, headstrong creature, and now she was gone... It just did not make any sense… And yet what gnawed at him even more painfully was the sudden realization that he was not mourning her the way he should be. Why was he regretting her death as if from a distant relative's perspective instead of sobbing his heart out or smashing whatever was in his pathetic reach? Was it only due to the fact that he was still struggling to accept she was truly gone, or would the grief never set in? What kind of person did that make him? Did that mean he never truly loved Nicky?

    The sound of fabric ripping broke through his acute onset of panic, and he opened his eyes which he had clenched shut only to discover that his equally clenched hands had caused his bed sheet to tear.

    Don't freak out, don't freak out, don't freak out, Severin repeated to himself like a mantra, willing his hands to unclench and his breathing to calm. Surely Jordan would come for a visit soon. Of course he would. He was interning for an environmental NGO at the moment, but he had promised he would try to come by today.



    ***



    Despite his promise, Jordan did not show up until two days later, by which time his friend had further slipped down into the well of despair and self-pity. Although his friend had managed to shoo away the evil spirits hovering around Severin's bed for the duration of his visit, their ranks and recriminations had swelled within minutes after his departure. Some of Severin's friends from the soccer team showed up once more and Miles visited twice as well. Only twice.

    As the days trickled by, Severin fell into a pathetic routine of alternatingly browsing through magazines, checking his email as well as consuming box after box of those sweet promises of ephemeral happiness. That amazing substance made it all go away: boredom, self-reproach, solitude, and thankfully there was plenty to be had. Soon the pile from his team members and friends was demolished, but after that he could always pay a nurse to get him more. Although Severin had always been able to charm most any member of the opposite gender into a favor, broken and dejected as he was, he preferred to speed the process along financially. His killer abs would no longer look as lethal if he kept this up, but what did he care?

    What was it that Chucks had said shortly before she got up from her seat and left him? 'I have real friends I can count on; you might ask yourself if you can say the same about yourself.'

    She had no way of knowing just how fast her advice would strike home. The more days passed without the people visiting that he had once called his friends, the more these words and with them their originator were pushing themselves to the forefront of his troubled mind. What might she be doing now? Severin wondered with intensifying urgency. Has she passed Micro I? Is she wondering why she hasn't seen me around? No, what could be more ridiculous... A woman I insulted behind her back and who I've never taken an interest in – nor vice versa – will probably be relieved not to see me. She was right; she doesn't need me in her life.

    And yet he could not seem to get her off his mind. Chucks had been the only woman to ever challenge him, to prod him to look beyond his narrow sphere. What might have happened between them had he never uttered these words he now so thoroughly regretted? Instantly he felt his fists clench on his sheet as though with a will of their own. He had no right to be thinking along those lines, not with Nicole barely cold in the grave.

    Even if he had been physically able to attend her funeral, her parents would not have granted him admission to the ceremony. Thus deprived of his chance at a proper goodbye, she was slipping away further and further from his memory. With not even an earring or a piece of her clothing here in his room to remind him of her, she already seemed so infinitely far away, so unreal.

    He knew that was no excuse for his wayward thoughts, but he could not seem to help it. It was Chucks who had taken up residence in his brain and not Nicole, and it was no temporary residence either. It was as if she was pouring concrete and laying bricks.

    What are you doing right now? he asked her as if she was standing right beside his bed. Do you ever look back and doubt if I truly meant what I said? If you knew about my accident, would you want to see me?
     
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  16. Mar 25, 2019 #16

    agouderia

    agouderia

    agouderia

    Library Girl Staff Member Library Mod

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    Now this is an unexpected twist ....
     
  17. Mar 25, 2019 #17

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Thank you for reading :) I felt a little discouraged by the lack of response. I get it's a slow start, though, and that I go overboard with the language sometimes XD
     
  18. Mar 25, 2019 #18

    Anjula

    Anjula

    Anjula

    miss wonderfulamazing

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    This is a very interesting and intriguing story, very well written. I’m looking forward to reading more!
     
  19. Mar 25, 2019 #19

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Thank you, Anjoula, that means a lot! Now I feel more confident to keep uploading :)
     
  20. Mar 25, 2019 #20

    loopytheone

    loopytheone

    loopytheone

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    Oh, I really like it too and have been eagerly awaiting updates! I just worry that I will pressure people by being like "I like this, write more of it".
     

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