BHM The Improved You

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

  1. Mar 25, 2019 #21

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Ah, I get your point. Well, in my case pressure on :) it's motivating. Besides, the story is finished. It just needs some through revision since I wrote it before I realized who I was. Anyway, keep pushing :)
     
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  2. Mar 27, 2019 #22

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 6: Friends (part 1)


    Although Mandy would not have guessed it, Michael was someone who might become a friend. Due to his extreme timidity and the omnipresent exam pressure, they only met a few more times, and even then they only worked or talked about the exams. Still, with each meeting Mandy chipped away a bit more of his walls, eager to discover more of the person behind them. Also – and her face burned every time she dared admit it to herself – she felt herself becoming addicted to the feeling of being in such proximity to a large man. Whatever it was her body was doing, she wanted more of it.

    Which did not, however, ease the foremost issue on her mind: the last time Mandy consciously remembered seeing Severin had been in the Micro I exam, and initially she had hardly been able to concentrate. Mandy might have spotted his tall, athletic shape once or twice after that somewhere, but she could not be sure. It was not like was keeping her eyes open for him or anything. It was for the best she had kicked him out of her life.

    But then why did it feel like the worst? It was as if the earth had swallowed him up, and despite all attempts not to waste any more thoughts on him, Mandy could not stop herself from scanning the student crowd for his shaggy mane and hazel eyes in the new spring semester. She should be celebrating the fact that she had passed all of her exams – Micro I with a B+! – and that Macro I remained the only course left to loom threateningly on the academic horizon. The other classes were said to be difficult but manageable whereas Micro and Macro had a downright vicious reputation. And yet celebration was the last thing on her mind, a fact caused by the first thing on her mind. And her troubled mind would not let him go.

    "Hey Dominic, have you seen that jerk Severin this semester?" Mandy asked her friend as casually as she managed as they were walking to one of the lecture halls together in the fifth week of their second semester. "I haven't seen him since the exams."

    Dominic gritted his teeth at her question. "Why are you still so interested in him? I thought you didn’t study together anymore."

    "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response. I'm just curious if he passed his Micro I exam. I'm nosy, you know that.”

    "Yeah, I do,” he grimaced, “still, as much as I'd like to help you out, I haven't seen him around."

    Mandy could tell Dominic was done with the topic. “I guess we've got a peaceful semester ahead of us then,” she added with a smile that felt as fake as her green Chucks. Peace was the last thing she felt. Severin's absence had been weighing heavily on her mind and heart, and despite their falling-out, Mandy still missed him. They might have known one another only for a few months, but he had claimed a space for himself in her life that nothing or no one else had managed to fill so far. And yet Mandy realized that it could not go on like this. Decidedly she jerked herself back into the present: "Come on, let's find Miriam.”

    She was another good friend Mandy had made in one of her Education classes in the first week of the new semester. Mandy that she could not sit in a lecture or tutorial without making a friend, for she had met her through a concurrent snicker in an education lecture. The professor had seemed to simultaneously lecture and practice his steps for a dance lesson, given the way he had been prancing around on the podium, and when Mandy had finally succumbed to her ever increasing mirth, she heard a dark-haired girl with a cute face a few seats over break down as well. After they had mutually ascertained the source of their respective giggles, they had become fast friends and Mandy counted herself lucky to have three – well, four if she counted Miriam's boyfriend Ben – people on whom she could rely in this factory of egotistic narcissists. Michael might still need a lot of persuasion to join their group for activities or lunch, but she was working on him.



    ***



    Jordan leaned forward on his elbows in the chair by Severin's hospital bed, the sleeves of his neatly pressed shirt rolled up toward his elbows. Worry was such an ill-fitting garment for his usually so composed, calm face. Everything about Severin's best – and apparently only – friend was so disgustingly perfect. The only proof he was not part robot was his propensity to leave kitchens in a terrifying state of disarray.

    "You know, I've been meaning to tell you: the glasses suit you."

    "Thanks...“ Severin mumbled, letting his friend's compliment drift past him. Not that he cared much about his appearance these days, but the concept of glasses still felt unfamiliar to him. It was not so much that he believed the thin wire frames did not suit him – he knew they did. Severin just got irritated with them fogging up, and of course wearing them during his often rough soccer games was not an option. Nicole had once told him with a grin they made him look smarter than he was, and at that time he had thought it funny. Now, with Chucks’s similar comments ringing in his ears constantly, he no longer felt like laughing.

    “Has Miles been here to see you recently?" Jordan interrupted his bespectacled digressions.

    “No. He has been here four times, but aside from some brief texts I haven't heard from him."

    “What a jerk," Jordan grumbled, running a hand over his recently shaven head. “I haven't seen much of him either lately; it feels like he is avoiding me."

    “Or rather me, and you by extension."

    “Yeah, I guess." Jordan agreed gloomily. “I think it's the hospital that gives him the creeps, not you. I'm sure he'll come around once you're back. When did you say you are getting out of here, another week?"

    “One and a half. You know… about that..."

    Severin's gaze dropped and his restless fingers scratched a sudden itch on his ribcage – ribs which were beginning to disappear beneath soft flesh. He had put off the awkward subject long enough, and it was finally time to impart the news to his best friend. “I won't be coming back any time soon. I've already missed too much to catch up, so I've decided to use the rest of the semester and summer break to get better. The rehab center my dad has picked for me is three hours north from here, and after that I'll move back in with my folks since the therapist my dad wants me to see has his practice close to my their home."

    Jordan's face fell a little at this news but he nodded in quiet understanding. Severin should have known that he would take it this way.

    “Nicky's parents terminated our apartment lease shortly after her funeral and had my stuff sent to my parents," he added with another stab to his heart.

    “They did? Wow, they are being awfully radical about it," Jordan remarked with his eyebrows raised.

    “Her dad is. He wants to finish this chapter once and for all," Severin mumbled.

    “I take it they never came to visit you again?"

    “No. We've never been close, and I can't blame them for never wanting to see me again. Even if I hadn't been in the car with Nicky, I'd always remind them of her.”

    “That makes sense," Jordan nodded pensively. “So I guess this means we won't be seeing much of each other for the next few months, huh?"

    “I guess. At least you will have more time for yourself and... what was her name again?"

    Severin tried to make light of the fact to which Jordan had just given voice: they would not see each other very much for several months. Initially he might drive over once or twice to see him, but as soon as the semester pace picked up again and the exams reared their ugly heads, Jordan would have no more time for that.

    “Leann,“ he smiled when he pronounced his new girlfriend's name and Severin felt another stab, this time one of unwarranted jealousy. Jordan is my friend and he deserves to be happy, dammit! he berated himself. It was not his fault he was lying here broken and alone. Suddenly Severin noticed Jordan's eyes had grown solemn again.

    “Sev, of course I won’t mind having more time with Leann, but it’ll be weird not having your scrawny butt around."

    'Butt' was one of Jordan's closest approximations to swearing, Severin noticed fleetingly, feeling his throat close up at this re-discovery of how well they knew one another. What have I ever done to deserve a friend like him? he asked himself in intensifying self-pity. Nothing, nothing whatsoever. And speaking of deserved treatment, there was one thing Severin had to talk to him about before he went out of his mind.

    “Jordan?"

    “Hm?"

    “Do you, by any chance, remember what I said in the cafeteria about the girl I studied with for Micro I?"

    “All too well, actually," Jordan replied with a puzzled frown. “Why do you ask? Have you heard from her?"

    “No, and I probably never will. I… I screwed up royally with her."

    “What do you mean by 'screwed up with her'? I thought there was never anything going on between you two, at least that is what you said, even though I thought different at the time."

    “Yeah. 'You have met your match in her' were your words.”

    “They were." Jordan looked astonished Severin would remember. “So, did anything happen between you and her? I thought you found her so ugly?"

    “I never thought she was ugly. She just… went out of her way to look frumpy. And to answer your question, there never was anything going on between us but… I don't know, lately I can't seem to get her out of my head."

    “What's her name?"
     
  3. Mar 27, 2019 #23

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 6: Friends (part 2)


    Again Severin felt the searing heat of shame in his face and bowed his head.

    “I don't remember. Although she introduced herself to me, I guess I wasn't really paying attention. I'd call her 'Chucks' because she seemed to possess a dozen of them, and I never saw her wearing any other shoes."

    Jordan’s frown felt like punch in his enlarged gut even though his voice remained level. “I could say forgetting a woman's name is pretty lousy but you already know that. Well, back to my question: why are you asking about her?"

    With a deep sigh Severin raised his eyes to the tiled ceiling for a moment as if someone had printed the answer to the nagging question up there.

    “Good question. I barely got to know her. We only studied together and hardly talked about anything personal. Besides, I had so much going on at the time that I always took off as soon as we were done. And truth be told, I don't know if I would have bothered getting to know her even if I hadn't been so busy."

    “True," Jordan commented with a deadpan expression.

    “Thanks."

    Every day Severin realized more and more the gigantic proportions of his prickhood, and with every new self-discovery Jordan was proving to be an even more valuable friend.

    “Sometimes the truth hurts," Jordan interrupted his gloomy reflections and shrugged. “There are times I wonder why I’m friends with a cocky idiot like you who still hasn’t learned to tell time,“ he added with a grin, and Severin felt himself returning it despite the leaden feeling he could not seem to shake lately.

    Unable to deal with such an emotional admittance, Severin gripped his sheet hard, tightening and twisting it around his hand until his knuckles turned white. At some point the pain allowed him to shake off the overwhelming emotion and to refocus on the topic at hand:

    “Anyway, what I meant to say is: I hardly know her and yet she's… she' gotten under my skin. She'd challenge me, even offend me sometimes, and most of the time we'd up bickering about something. She's the only one who's never tried to flirt with me and I've never known a smarter person than her."

    “That's what I meant when we were talking about her in the cafeteria," Jordan commented with a pensive look on his face, leaning forward on his elbows again. “That look on your face when you talk about her… I think you have fallen for your little study partner."

    Severin had nothing to say to that. He had been racking his brain for an answer to that question himself and arrived at no conclusion he liked.

    “Sev, it's OK to feel that way," Jordan broke through his despair gently. “Not to speak ill of Nicole but… even if she were still here, it always felt like you two never really… belonged together,“ he finally settled on. “You made a beautiful couple but… I always wondered how deeply you guys' feelings really went. I mean, I have never heard you talk about her the way you are talking about… 'Chucks', was it?"

    Severin only nodded, still processing his friend's words. He and Nicky had never seemed like they belonged together? Yet as Severin asked himself that very question, he realized Jordan was right. Of course he had cared about her. He could not have stayed with her for so long otherwise, yet in all those years Severin had never had one discussion with her that held deeper meaning the way he had with Chucks.

    “What about her side of the story?" Jordan suddenly asked, rising to his feet and beginning to pace. He stopped in front of one of the nondescript, silver-framed picture of some landscape, the kind that hospitals most likely mass-ordered from the same supplier. Again Severin watched him run his hand over his head.

    “Has she ever given a signal that she…" his hands groped around for the next words. “…felt something for you?"

    This heart-to-heart was making Severin increasingly uncomfortable while Jordan was not looking affected in the least. He had always been emphatic and thoughtful, a woman’s dream actually. Yuck, here I go again...

    Still, as little as he liked to talk about Chucks, the more Severin knew he had to, and no one else but Jordan would understand. Again Severin gave in to his inner masochist and pulled the sheet tighter for good measure before he looked up at his friend who was sitting down in the chair again at last.

    “Not once, but then again we never spent much time together. I mean, I told you I wouldn't have wanted to date her and I still think she's a make-over waiting to happen but lately..." his gaze and words trailed off.

    “Would you like to call her?"

    “Hell, no!" Severin erupted almost panicky, glaring at his unfazed friend who had placed his elbows on his knees again and whose chin perched on top of his interlaced hands.

    “No way,“ Severin added with emphasis, shaking off his torture sheet with rising anger. Although he might have considered asking her to visit him at first, the more time passed and the more desperate he became, the less he dared even speculate about the idea.

    “I didn't think so.” His voice still sounded calm. Sometimes Severin hated he never blew up. “Sev?"

    Had his friend not been looking openly interested and concerned, Severin would have kicked him out of his room, but instead he gritted his teeth and braced himself for the personal question he knew to be waiting behind his closed lips.

    “What happened between you two? I've always wondered about that."

    If Severin had thought the flames of hell were licking at his face when he admitted he had forgotten Chuck's real name, he felt himself being burnt to ashes at this moment. It had been just a tiny fraction of a moment that her impenetrable facade had crumbled, there in the Micro I tutorial room, but it was still enough to make him want to punch himself. And now he had to relive it all over again.

    “I…" Shit, this is tougher than I thought, Severin cursed himself. One thick swallow later he felt his voice actually kick back in. “Do you remember what I answered when you told me your opinion about her and me?"

    “Unfortunately."

    Jordan’s voice was as dry as Severin's throat felt. He had no desire to look up at his matching face.

    “Well, even more unfortunately she happened to stand nearby and overheard everything.”

    His friend’s face paled and he closed his eyes for a moment. “Oh shit..."

    His hand reached up to rub over his eyes, and when he lowered it and refocused on Severin again, he could see the vicarious hurt in his eyes. Again the realization of how much more emphatic Jordan had always been felt like a whiplash, as did the discovery that he would never have known the word 'vicarious' if not for Chucks.

    “I know,“ Severin responded, his own voice hoarse in his ears. "And the cruel irony is that I didn't even mean what I said!"

    Jordan nodded slowly, but his face was looking agitated. “Sev, that is terrible. But how do you even know that she overheard us? Did she tell you?"

    Severin cringed at his own answer.

    “She did. She confronted me in our next tutorial, telling me I was… despicable and that… that she had no interest in associating with me any longer. She then moved to a different seat and has been avoiding me since."

    Now it was Severin's turn to rub his burning eyes. How he had hurt her… it was a despicable thing to say even though he had not meant it, and as Jordan had pointed out, Chucks had no way of knowing that he hadn't. Severin felt Jordan's hand on his shoulder but could not will himself to face him.

    “What matters now is how you want to deal with this. You can let the wound fester, beat yourself up over and over to make it bleed again or you can do something about it."

    “And ask her to come visit me?" Severin erupted in his face and saw him retreat a little. “Even if I had the guts to apologize, would I ask her to come and pick up my apology because I can't hop on crutches that far? Hell, no!"

    Jordan raised his hands before he resumed his seat. “You don't have to ask her to come, not that I think calling her would do any good anyway. She sounds like the type of person who would hang up on you."

    “That she would,“ Severin grimaced but could not suppress a little smile at the thought of the proud girl.

    “I am liking her more and more," Jordan smirked. “Anyway, what if you wrote to her? I know you’re not the romantic-letter type but—uh, no, never mind, you don't have her address, do you?"

    “What do you think?"

    “Then text her. You don't have to mention the accident, but at least let her know that you're truly sorry."

    “I will think about it,“ Severin finally told him. It was the best he could do.
     
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  4. Apr 2, 2019 #24

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 7: How we change (part 1)


    "We need to talk about what happened. May I call you?"

    Chucks never replied to the text Severin finally worked up the nerve to send two days after he had talked to Jordan. Initially he checked his phone for an answer at least every ten minutes but the stubborn piece of technology remained cruelly silent except for the occasional text from one of his so-called friends. Cowards, all of them, Severin thought bitterly, anyone can send a text... Except Chucks couldn't even seem to do that. He should have known better than to hope that the proud, judgmental woman would give him another chance.

    Eight days later the day finally arrived: Severin was being discharged. His nurses fussed about him even more than usually, a fact which no longer annoyed him but one that he would miss dearly. As his mother was currently attending a symposium that could not possibly spare the illustrious Professor Meyers, it was his father who came to pick him up. Despite his wife's frequent absence, Severin knew his father had always remained faithful to her. Theirs was more of an intellectual, rational union, but those few permitted to know them more closely could tell how much they valued one another. Still, the fact remained that 'value', just like its warmer relations in the family of emotions, were not expressed openly in the Meyers household, and after weeks of attentive care, Severin did not relish the notion of returning to the atmosphere he had fled as soon as he could after graduation. Thank goodness he would be spared from spending the weekends at home as the therapy center was several hours away.

    Rain-saturated clouds should have billowed on the horizon if Severin's mood was anything to go by, but in fact it was a clear, sunny spring day that awaited father and son. Severin's last night at the hospital had been a restless one, and by 5 AM he was already packed and showered, sitting in his new, despised conveyance for the next weeks, a wheelchair. He was dressed in gray sweatpants and a navy T-shirt, both of which he had paid a male nurse to purchase for him, when his father entered. As usual, his appearance was as impeccable as his son's was causal.

    "Hello, son," he nodded at him from the open doorway before a slight frown crossed his handsome features as his gaze fell to his Severin's midriff. "Are you ready?"

    Severin only nodded and propelled himself forward while his father picked up his bag effortlessly. He had had his son's other possessions picked up a few days before.

    “You know, you might want to ask your friends to stop sending you chocolate; you're getting a little pudgy, son,“ Mr. Meyers commented with a nod at his slight bulge.

    Weeks of bed rest with hardly any exercise, plus tons of comfort food had caused his flesh to turn soft and his belly to grow. Clothed in a hospital gown at first, Severin had not noticed just how much weight he had gained until the cast was removed and he discovered that his sweats fit too snugly for comfort. After Severin's decision not to attend the private university his father had picked for him, his athletic achievements had been almost the sole source of pride for his exacting parent, and now with that disappearing right under his nose, Severin could feel himself sinking in his estimation by the second.

    “I know,“ he contented himself to mumble and wheeled out of the room in his wake – a room he had once considered a prison but was now reluctant to leave behind. He nodded at his team of nurses on his strenuous way out. Had they meant to hug him goodbye or express their regret at seeing him go in any other way, their intentions were thwarted by the dour look on the face of the man preceding their charge. Solely Mrs. Biggs, too secure in her age and position to let herself be daunted by anyone, stepped forward and scooped him up against her soft, generous shape.

    "Bye, my dear. We'll miss you around here."

    Swallowing hard to dislodge the lump in his throat aspiring to gigantic proportions, Severin nodded and offered a small smile at the elderly lady. "Thank you, Mrs. Biggs. You've all been gems."

    "So have you, hon, and I'm sure they'll love you just as much at the therapy center. And after you let yourself be taken care of at home, do you hear me?"

    This time Severin only nodded, unwilling to disclose the nature and extent of his home care. Sweating and panting, he followed his father who was taking little care to slow down his stride. He needed to get back into shape and get his life back on track.



    ***



    Severin did not predict he would be getting his life back on track at a snail's pace. After five weeks of instituted rehab, he was now in the excruciatingly capable hands of his father's choice therapist, Greg. Physical therapy was a pain in the posterior – and in every other body part – and Greg was inexorable. Severin winced as he limped towards the shower after his second therapy session. He still depended on his crutches to convey him to his destinations, but he always tossed them aside when he only moved around his room and adjoining bathroom. It was all going way too slow for his taste, he thought as he rid himself of his sweaty workout wear with trouble, and unfortunately there was no possibility of speeding the process along since he could not practice any sports besides the prescribed exercises. That is if one counted Greg's well-meant suggestion that Severin go swimming.

    As with many athletes abandoning their formerly active life abruptly, whether wiling or unwilling, Severin's body was not adapting well to his change in diet and exercise. Where his flesh had simply turned soft after his extended stay in bed, it was now turning doughy: on his thighs, his rear end, and most of all his belly. The roll of flab that had formed around his middle he could actually grab and jiggle even standing up. Over the course of his rehab he had outgrown all the clothes he had brought with him, which had no longer fit him well to begin with, leaving him with no option but to order several pairs of sweats and T-shirts online in – he could not help but clench his jaw at the thought – triple XL. Disinterested in establishing a support network with his fellow patients, he had instead sought solitary refuge in his room between his therapy workouts, following his self-imposed medical treatment of cocoa, fat and sugar. Naturally his therapists had strongly admonished him, but several snarled retorts had sufficed for them to keep their distance, and their mouths shut. After all, their charge's father was paying handsomely for his recovery, so they had been loath to incur the young man's ire, and possibly a change in institutions.

    With his body so out of shape, Severin knew he had no business visiting a pool, and at the rate he kept devouring his favorite medication, that prospect was moving further and further into the future. The sight of his exposed bulge only intensified his bitter reflections as he stepped into the shower. Of course he knew he had to stop eating. However, having the house mostly to himself and nothing to occupy himself with besides his physical-therapy sessions, Severin simply could not muster any of the self-discipline he had always been able to draw on in his trainings. Weeks of bed rest had weakened his willpower, and it felt to him as if he was watching helplessly from the outside. Of course he knew it was all his doing but he just could not seem to stop stuffing his face.

    His parents' twin expressions of shock when they had picked him up from the rehab center had only caused him to sink deeper and deeper into the well of despair and sugar, which was the only means that unfailingly brought his spirits up again – at least until he inevitably had to face himself in the mirror. Although he had soon banished all mirrors from his room and automatically turned away every time he passed one in their house, he did have to shave. Running the razor over his rounding cheeks was just enough to make him want to drown himself in sugar again. Of course he could and should plan the rest of his semesters and perhaps think about possible topics for his thesis. Only two more semesters to go and then... Severin paused in the act of applying soap to his hands. And then what, actually?

    Severin liked to think he had chosen business as his major because it would offer him the biggest choice of careers and not because he still clung to the hope hope that his father would be pleased with his choice. Instead he had merely nodded when Severin had told him, as to him it had been a foregone conclusion. Severin could have changed his mind and major right then and there just to elicit a reaction other than his father's usual detached indifference, but in truth he had had no idea what to study instead.

    Scrubbing himself, Severin forced his thoughts away from his father and onto the past seven semesters. So far his grades were nothing to brag about but not abysmal either. As with so many people gifted with superior intelligence, Severin succumbed to boredom all too soon when feeling unchallenged, putting forth only minimalist effort, in particular with blah-blah classes like Marketing or Corporate Social Responsibility. As for Micro and Macro, it was common knowledge those classes served primarily selection rather than educational purposes, so failing those at least once was practically the norm.
     
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  5. Apr 2, 2019 #25

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 7: How we change (part 2)

    Over the course of his studies there had been a few classes Severin had actually enjoyed, such as accounting, taxes, and law. As with his other classes, he could have put in more of an effort and achieved better grades than his B minuses on those exams as well, but at least those classes had been challenging.

    Severin turned off the water and reached over the shower door for his towel. What he needed was external input, but from whom? Jordan of course, but he wasn't due to visit for another week, currently visiting his girlfriend's family. As for the other person who had always prodded him outside his comfort zone, she was out of the question.



    ***



    However lucky Mandy was in the friends department, the more badly she had always fared with regards to relationships. Not that she was currently looking – the abrupt parting with Severin and his subsequent disappearance had affected her more than she had anticipated, and it took until late spring until Mandy finally ceased looking for him surreptitiously everywhere on campus. It was one blissful, sunny Tuesday when she discovered she could finally think about him pain-free and with a sort of objective distance. She had meanwhile even confessed everything to Miriam.

    Sometime toward the end of May, the two of them were sitting on the couch in the off-campus apartment Miriam and Ben shared. Ben had just left to visit his parents, and Mandy felt glad to have Miriam all too herself. Those two were usually joined at the hip, already planning to get married and start a family right after graduation. As happy as Mandy felt for her friend, sometimes she could not entirely suppress a wave of jealousy either. Miriam, as sensitive as ever, picked up on her friend's gloom right away when she had seen her boyfriend off and settled down next to her on the couch where she had prepared a bottle of wine and some salty snacks.

    "Hey." She placed her small hand on Mandy's arm. "I know what you're thinking, girl, and I know everyone keeps saying it but: it will happen for you, too. I know you'll find someone as smart as you are, someone who makes you laugh and who appreciates you."

    "That makes one of us,“ Mandy sighed, taking a sip from her wine glass. She always had to be careful with alcohol since it did not take much to knock her out. "Lately I'm not so sure it will happen.“ Here I am, she reflected gloomily, 21 years old, and I've never been on a date. I have friends who are boys but no boyfriend.

    "Uh-uh." Miriam's chiding voice yanked her off the gloomy path her thoughts had taken. "You are such an amazing person. I think you just need a little more time to meet your match than other girls. Not many men can keep up with that sharp mind and quick tongue of yours."

    'Meet your match' – Mandy had heard that expression before, namely from Severin's friend. However, what had followed these words had wounded her more than she could have anticipated.

    "And don't forget my six-footness,“ she sighed in one of her rare moments of despondency about her height. Apart from Michael and Severin, Murnau's population seemed to be composed of midgets.

    "Hey, I wish I were as tall as you!" Miriam protested, sitting up straighter, which did not remedy their height difference to any extent. Her friend was 5'4," chubby, and downright adorable with her snub nose and sparkling eyes. Although Mandy would not have given away an inch of her height even if she could have, sometimes she wished she had her friend's cute looks.

    "And don't you dare tell me you wish you had my face. I can see that's what you were just thinking, wasn't it?" Miriam added with a threatening index finger. She would make an excellent teacher.

    Mandy only nodded with a grimace. Guilty as charged.

    "You are amazing, I mean it," Miriam insisted, scooting closer, placing one hand on her friend's arm. "And you can make a lot of your natural looks, too. For instance, I think a pair of nerd frames, like Michael's for instance, would suit you very well."

    "Nerd frames?"

    Although Mandy was loath to deal with the usually brushed-aside topic of her appearance, Miriam might have a point there. Mandy herself had never possessed the gift of makeup and hair transformation and had never sought to acquire these skills either. But what if Miriam was right and Severin was wrong? What if she could make more of herself and be attractive to a man waking up next to her? Nerd frames... huh, who better to wear them than me? She suddenly felt a smile tickle the corners of her mouth.

    "It might be worth a try,“ Mandy replied slowly, trying to picture herself with nerd frames.

    "I'm sure they would look great on you! And if you like… I think you would look spectacular with a short bob."

    "Cut my hair?" There was only so much makeover she could deal with. “Uh, I'll look into that glasses issue, but nobody is touching my hair for now."

    “Fair enough. So, when are we going glasses shopping?"



    ***



    "Hey, Mandy, I like your glasses!" Michael blurted, his features for once unmarred by his signature blush.

    "Thank you!" Mandy beamed at him as she took up her spot next to him on the stairs, scooting closer than she would have just one day ago. As always, Mandy felt sad for him that his obesity was forcing such limitations upon him, preventing him from such a simple thing as sitting with his fellow students. In the tutorial where they had met it was only possible for him to sit in the front row because there were no desks attached to the seats. Plus, that particular tutorial room was one of the more modern ones whereas the stability of the decrepit furniture in the old Audimax was not to be trusted. Oh God… The thought of Michael on one of those seats should definitely not induce such prickles, but it did. Hastily Mandy crossed her legs and focused on the conversation.

    "Miriam took me shopping the other day. I admit I was skeptical at first but I'm liking them more and more."

    "And so you should,“ Michael replied, now blushing again, “they really suit you.”

    Even after having been friends with her for several months, he still seemed to feel embarrassed when talking about personal matters. Mandy wished he would learn to trust Miriam, Dominic and herself to see past his weight. That is, she couldn't see past it, only in a different way. As much as she had wracked her brain for an answer, she still had not figured out why his size did not put her off like it did so many people. For one thing there something so comforting about sitting next to a big man. With him Mandy did not feel as physically dominant as she did in the presence of most men. With Michael, however, Mandy felt more... feminine? she prodded at the adjective. No, that was not quite it, although was close. And there was something else about his weight besides the comfort factor, something that lately caused her to change her underwear more than once a day. However, once again her soul-searching would have to be deferred. The lecture had begun.
     
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  6. Apr 2, 2019 #26

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 7: How we change (part 3)

    A few days later Mandy was sitting on Miriam's and Ben's couch again, and Miriam eyed her in appreciation.

    “So, how do you like your new glasses?"

    “More each day." Mandy beamed at her. “Dominic and Michael do, too. I'm really glad I listened to you.”

    "Of course you are." Miriam delivered a smug grin before her expression grew more solemn. “Uh, speaking of Michael… you know… uh..."

    While Mandy watched her fidget, she braced herself for the question that was sure to follow.

    “I have been wondering about something for some time: do you… do you think he is into you?"

    "Why would you think that?" Mandy hedged, as her friend's fidgeting had failed to provide her with sufficient time to come up with an answer.

    "Just a feeling. And you guys do spend a lot of time alone."

    "Because he is still so shy," Mandy defended herself, “I wish he would join our group more often."

    "So do I. I like him, but I can imagine how difficult it must be for him to be around normal-sized people. Do you think he has an eating disorder or some medical condition?"

    "I don't know. It's not exactly a topic that comes up in our conversations," Mandy sighed, feeling grateful that her friend had veered off topic so soon, but pensive at the same time. Ever since Mandy had met Michael, she had been wondering about the same question.

    "So what do you guys talk about?"

    "The usual. Lectures, exams, plans for the future, the like.” Mandy tried to make light of it even though she realized she was not off the hook yet.

    "Nothing more personal?"

    "Well, I know a little about his family and he of mine, but we mostly stick to neutral topics."

    "And he's never... you know, let anything on? Or made a move?" Miriam kept prodding.

    "No."

    At first Mandy clung to the hope that she had made her point but then Marureen nudged her knee. "And what about you?"

    Sometimes Mandy could have strangled her nosy and persistent friend but she knew Miriam would never let the matter go. "Well, obviously I haven't made a move either. I'm still working on getting him to believe us thin people are harmless."

    "'Thin people', speak for yourself..." Miriam mumbled with a frown at her midriff, and this time it was Mandy's turn to stop her friend from self-disparagement with a poke of her elbow. "When you said you haven't made a move, was there a 'yet' implied? I mean, could you imagine being with an obese guy?"

    Given the manner Mandy's body responded to her friend's last two words, she resolved on the spot to open up to her friend. Well, at least a little. Perhaps it would help her figure out what was the matter with her.

    "You know, I have been wondering about the same thing," she began. "More in theory rather than because I have actual feelings for Michael. I don't, it's just that… somehow I.. I like the feeling of a large man beside me,“ Mandy finally finished and watched Miriam's eyebrows disappear into her bangs. Thankfully, however, she held her tongue and waited for her friend to continue.

    "See, I have always been the tallest girl in my grade, taller even than most of the guys. There is something refreshingly different about being with Michael. He is the only one who doesn't make me feel so overpowering. Well, besides Severin, but that jerk doesn't count."

    "Nope, he most certainly doesn't!" Miriam raised her glass and they clinked. She had never met him either but had formed enough of an opinion about him to vicariously loathe him. "So, what are you saying?" Miriam probed after they had taken another swallow. "Are you attracted to big guys?"

    "I don't know,“ Mandy hedged, "I guess it's possible but how would I know? I've never been with a big man." Or any guy for that matter.

    "There is nothing wrong with liking guys with some meat on their bones, you know," Miriam smiled reassuringly up at her. "Everybody has their type and you can't help what you like. Me, for instance, I could never be with a shorter guy – if he existed,” she added with a giggle, and Mandy joined right in.

    "So you believe being attracted to big men is a real thing?” Mandy asked, suddenly desperate to get to the heart of the matter.

    Her friend nodded emphatically. “Why wouldn't it be? After all, people come in all shapes and sizes, so why shouldn't the same go for things we find attractive? I actually happen to know a girl who's into bald guys.”

    Mandy contemplated that for a while. “I guess it does make sense.” Was it really physical attraction then she felt for Michael? And if so, was it really just the way she was wired and there was nothing wrong with her? She tried to picture her bony and Michael's chubby hands intertwined, walking through the city beside his hulking form, matching her swift stride to his lumbering gait. Instantly her body responded and she contracted her vaginal muscles as if that would spare her panties from ruin.

    “I have a feeling it is very much a real thing for you,” Miriam's soft voice tiptoed into her daydreams, causing Mandy to finger her hot cheeks with her cool hands.

    “I guess it's possible. I mean, I'm not sure if I could deal with all the limitations that come with obesity,” she added when her fantasies conjured up the juxtaposition of Michael's size and café chairs, “but you've definitely given me some food for thought here.”

    “Could you imagine being with Michael as a person? I mean, what do you want in a guy?"

    At least that was a topic Mandy had put sufficient thought in already. "Well, he needs to be on my intellectual eye level. I'm not so unrealistic as to hope for a fellow word nerd, but I would at least like for him to appreciate my sense of humor, and I want him to make me laugh, too. I know that's a classic, but it's the way I feel."

    Suddenly Michael's signature blush rose in front of her inner eye. "Confidence. He would need to be confident. Huh, I guess that takes Michael out of the running.”

    "I guess it does," Miriam responded softly, "If he hasn't learned to trust you by now, I wonder if he ever will."

    "Exactly," Mandy remarked just as softly. "And one final thing for the wish list: he has to be a decent person." Which is why Severin has never been in the running.

    "I think that goes without saying. So, he has to make you laugh, huh? Does that mean Dominic is not a candidate either?"

    "What?!" Miriam's as abrupt as nonchalant question almost caused Mandy to knock over her wine glass for which she had just been about to reach. "What gave you the idea that he ever was a candidate?"

    "Hey, don't give me that face. You didn't bat an eyewhen I asked about Michael, so why should you when it comes to Dominic?"

    "Because we're just friends," Mandy replied in a firm tone, "and there's never been a hint of anything happening between us."

    "Would you like for something to happen?" Miriam persisted.

    "I... I don't know. I've just... never looked at him that way. Just thinking about it feels wrong. Not only has he never made a move to touch me, I don't even think he likes being touched."

    "Huh." A pensive look settled over Miriam's face. "I have noticed that, too, but never said anything. I guess if he had wanted to make a move, he would have."

    "Exactly."
     
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  7. Apr 2, 2019 #27

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    @wiesoauchimmer: Thank you for reading and liking. These little signs of appreciation are what keeps an author going.
    Or should I say: Danke fürs Lesen und Liken. Diese kleinen Zeichen der Anerkennung motivieren einen Autor, weiterzumachen :)
     
  8. Apr 5, 2019 #28

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 8: The future (part 1)


    When Severin opened the door to Jordan, his friend could not conceal his shock at Severin's increased dimensions. Naturally he had noticed his friend's weight gain when he had visited him at the hospital. However, he had believed that, once discharged, Severin would throw himself into a workout frenzy, and had therefore refrained from commenting on it before. They had kept in touch by phone during Severin's rehab but Severin had always been curt and evasive when it came to his physical progress.

    After they had hugged more awkwardly than ever before, Severin clumsily conveyed himself back up the stairs, Jordan silently following in his wake. Upstairs he settled down on his bed like he did most of the time these days while Jordan took a seat across from him in an office chair, contemplating his friend. The scene was eerily reminiscent of their meetings at the hospital.

    “When are you coming back, Sev?" Jordan began at last. "Only a few semesters more and you've got your degree. These crutches can't be much fun, but with some more practice you should be fine. Everything is pretty much healed now, isn't it?"

    “It is but... I don't know if I'm going back."

    Whenever Severin let himself think of resuming his studies, he began to panic. No one should see him like this. Nor was he ready to visit the places again that he had once spent time in with Nicole. Although he still had not shed a single tear over his dead girlfriend, the realization that that vibrant woman was no longer in the world had finally set in and was pressing down on him like an invisible weight, just like his visible weight was continuously pulling him down.

    “Then what are you going to do once you get back on your feet?" Jordan was looking deeply upset now.

    'Back on my feet'… at the rate I'm going, I'll soon not even see my feet anymore. Turning his eyes away to his overspilling gut was a poor alternative to Jordan's critical gaze. Severin forced himself to inhale deeply and look back at his friend, who suddenly looked so broken that Severin had to swallow hard.

    “Look, I'm worried about your health,“ he began. "I know you still have to be careful with your knee, but why don't you come to the pool with me? Swimming is the best—"

    “No!"

    No way he was going to parade his fat rolls at the pool. He might not be really fat yet, but the mere thought of having joined the ranks of the invisible crowd, the ones that beautiful women's eyes carelessly swept over without another thought… he could not bear that. Once he had had it all, and now he was watching it disappear right under his nose with every pound he was gaining, and yet all he could do was keep eating.

    “I'm not going to the pool,“ he snarled from between gritted teeth.

    “Sev, you need to get out and you need to get healthy. It hurts to see you—"

    “Oh, so it hurts? Then you might have the fraction of an idea of what I'm going through! Hell, I of course I know that I need to get healthy and finish school, but I just can't do it! I can't even let myself think about tomorrow, let alone anything that comes after!"

    “I know!" Jordan interrupted his heated tirade by raising both hands in surrender. "But Sev, please don't shut everyone out. At least don't shut me out. I know you hate yourself right now, but what happened was not your fault! You said it yourself: once Nicole had gotten something into her head, there was no talking her out of it. Please stop beating yourself up over it. Take your time to figure out your next steps, but never stop talking to me. Will you promise me that?"

    When his friend was looking at him like that, how could he possibly say no?? What's more, Severin knew he was right. He always was. Suddenly Severin felt the heat of shame prickle in his face. What a pathetic friend he was. Jordan was his one lifeline, his sole connection to the outside world, and he would be a fool to cut this lifeline. Jordan would have every reason to abandon him. He was investing so much time and energy into their friendship, and so far was getting close to nothing in return. If not for myself, Severin realized, at least I should do it for him and promise him what he asks. It is little enough.

    "I promise.”
     
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  9. Apr 5, 2019 #29

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 8: The future (part 2)


    ***


    Promising Jordan he would think about his future was the final nudge Severin needed, and with more energy than he had mustered in months did he rise the next morning, shower and shave before he settled back down on his bed again to engage in some serious thinking. What were his options? Obviously a job that involves a lot of sitting... and not too much social interaction, he added bitterly. Severin had never been a loner, but a dead girlfriend, being abandoned by your friends, losing your mobility and with it your looks had a way of changing a man.

    Leaning back against the pillows, he reflected on his studies, riffling through his course load in the search of the classes he had enjoyed the most – that is if 'enjoyment' was not to cheerful a word, as so many were these days. Accounting, law and taxes, as he had once figured out in the shower. Did that not scream 'tax advisor'? Although Severin could feel his own forehead ripple in skepticism at the thought of his choosing a job with such a dull reputation, he realized with ever growing clarity it could be the perfect job for who he had become. With more energy than he had felt ever since he woke up in the hospital, Severin booted up his laptop and waited impatiently until the Google Search page was displayed.

    Requirements: four years of college plus at least two years of experience before you were was eligible for the exam – which most candidates failed. German taxation laws were insane. In fact, Severin vaguely remembered something about 70% of the world's taxation publications were written in German. Severin grimaced at the screen. Was he actually considering one of the toughest career options available to him? Perhaps he had better abandon the plan right here and now. There was no way that he...

    Suddenly a new realization set in, gradually but with increasing fervor: he had passed Micro I. Granted, with help, and Severin still could not but cringe at the thought of her, but he had put in a lot of effort for the weekly tasks and written the exam on his own. He had always had a knack for numbers, and if he was really, brutally honest with himself, he knew he could be as close to his diploma as Jordan if he had prioritized differently. There was a realistic chance that he could succeed if he chose this path.

    Severin treated himself to a deep, refreshing inhale at this discovery. He stood a chance at this. His parents and so-called friends might have given up on him, but Jordan had not. And Chucks had always believed he could be more than he was. She had never said so, but he had guessed her thoughts more than once. His Micro I grade had proven it: he was smart and he could become a tax advisor if he set his mind to it.

    Another aspect came to mind: the path he was about to choose would be hard enough without any will-wishers and skeptics insisting that he could not do anything but fail. There was no way Severin would finish his degree in Murnau, nor any other normal university for that matter. He had been shut up for so long that he could not bear the thought of other students, in particular the female portion, staring, and not in the admiring way he had always taken for granted. One contemptuous look or remark might cause him to stumble and abandon his high aim. A correspondence course was the only way he stood a chance of turning this bold plan into reality. The second step was getting his own apartment. Thanks to his father's generosity, Severin was financially independent. He needed to be able to study without any interference, and most importantly: if he longed for chocolate or any other food for that matter, he had to be free to indulge his craving without his parents' disapproving eye.



    ***



    It was amazing how time could fly. One semester blended into the next, and Mandy passed most of her exams, only three of them on the second attempt. Gradually she completed all of her required internships in her summer breaks, and almost each one was an enriching experience. She finally settled on computer science as her second subject. Yes, she was still on the teaching-career path despite her lingering uncertainty, an uncertainty she had confided to Miriam or Dominic repeatedly. However, neither of them had been able to give any advice in that matter, as they were one of those lucky people who had never questioned their own career choice. Miriam would become an amazing teacher, Mandy was certain of it, and Dominic was doing very well, too, as Mandy had suspected from the start. He had aced almost every class so far and would most likely finish one semester early.

    Although she had always been the type to make male friends easily, the connection with Dominic was different. To him Mandy was not just a fun jock girl but a true friend. The two of them might not have shared the heated discussions she had always enjoyed with Severin, as Dominic was simply not a passionate person, but they trusted each other and had each other's back. Despite Miriam's regular insinuations, he had never made a move nor was Mandy interested in him beyond their friendship. From the moment she had met him, she had thought he was good-looking but at 5'10" was just too short for her taste. More importantly, however, he lacked spirit. In all the years she had known him, Mandy had never seen him roar with laughter nor yell in a towering rage. He always seemed to be in the same balanced, focused mood.

    Michael had sadly faded out of her life again. Although Mandy had always enjoyed spending time with the bright, likable man, over time it had become too exhausting to always be the one to draw him out. Mandy could understand his weight excluded him from many things other people took for granted – visiting theme parks or movie theaters – but he was the type of person who excluded himself from others, too. Plus, he was just so shy that Mandy had never even felt comfortable to hug him hello. No, she could not walk on eggshells all the time.
     
  10. Apr 6, 2019 #30

    Chubhandles

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    I want to come out of my introvert hole to say how wonderful I think this story is!!! I’ve been following it and enjoying it since the beginning but haven’t said anything yet because I’m a little shy... I love this, though!!! Severin and Mandy have a really good dynamic, and I’m so excited to see when Mandy meets the new improved Severin!
     
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  11. Apr 6, 2019 #31

    RVGleason

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    Looking forward to how this story develops. :)
     
  12. Apr 6, 2019 #32

    Unbasher

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    Thank you so much for coming out of your "introvert hole"!! Speaking up is usually worth getting over oneself, in particular if it is for a praise :) I was feeling a little daunted at first because I didn't get any feedback for my story, but now I feel encouraged to keep posting!
     
  13. Apr 6, 2019 #33

    thatsnimpossible

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    I'm loving this, please keep uploading regularly the suspense is real ❤
     
  14. Apr 7, 2019 #34

    Xyantha Reborn

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    I kepe trying to read this on my phone and failing; looking forward to reading more tomorrow!
     
  15. Apr 7, 2019 #35

    Unbasher

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    Thank you, that means a lot!! I will definitely keep posting.
     
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  16. Apr 7, 2019 #36

    loopytheone

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    I keep meaning to get around to commenting on this. But you have a knack for creating characters that are flawed and vulnerable, like real humans and that makes your stories interesting. A lot of stories have one of the characters underdeveloped or just portrayed as kind and perfect all the time. So it's nice to see.
     
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  17. Apr 7, 2019 #37

    exjock

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    What a fantastic story! Well thought out for sure
     
  18. Apr 7, 2019 #38

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 9: Where do I fit in? (part 1)


    Life has cruel ways of making us realize how trivial most of our concerns are, and Mandy now belonged to those who could attest to the veracity of these overused words. Her mother was dead in the ground, mauled by a tumor within four months. Even weeks after the burial she felt as if in zombie mode. In her brief spells of lucidity she berated herself for having been so focused on her career choice. What did all that matter now? Through the dense fog of despondency and self-recriminations she was barely able to register what Dominic was saying just now.

    “Mandy?"

    Finally Dominic's voice broke through her grief and she raised her eyes to his, taking him in next to her on his bed in his decoration-deprived but tidy room at his parents' house as if she was seeing everything for the first time. Any other person would have reached out to hug their mourning friend or to at least grasped her hands, but not Dominic. In all these years he had never initiated any significant physical contact besides their brief hello and goodbye hugs, and in times like this Mandy actually felt grateful for his non-tactile personality. Between those people expressing their condolences with awkward distance and those intending to comfort her with a well-meant hug, she vastly preferred the former. It was those well-meant touches that reduced her to a sobbing heap of despair. She knew that she would have to learn at some point to hold it together.

    “I'm sorry, Dom,“ she sighed, willing herself to concentrate on his face.

    “You don't have to apologize," he waved away her words with a sweep of his hand, “I just hate to see you like this. Please, just give me a chance to distract you and to give you some fresh ideas at the same time."

    “That sounds like a plan.” Mandy heaved another sigh, and actually felt a little better after this extra share of oxygen. “I wish I had learned a trade or something I could fall back on. I really envy you. You can stay at your father's company, you can join a law firm or even start your own – you have all these options whereas I..."

    “Have them, too!" Dominic insisted, scooting closer. “You can teach, you can work in a company--"

    “Doing what?" Mandy interrupted, her anger rapidly gaining the upper hand over her gloom. “I've learned a lot of things in theory but I've become proficient at exactly nothing. All that hype about getting a college education – it's all just a big hoax if you ask me. In a trade or any other job training you truly learn something, but all I've learned here is how to stick it out when things are tough and to learn impossible amounts of information by heart!”

    “You have a point," Dominic provided dully when she did not continue.

    “See? I just don't feel ready to become a teacher. How can I teach business if I have never really worked in a company besides as an intern? I need more experience, and even then I have no idea if a school is the right place for me.”

    "So why don't you get more work experience?"

    Mandy perked up at Dominic’s suddenly enthusiastic – well, his kind of enthusiastic – tone.

    “I've been meaning to ask you anyway: why don't you work for my dad for a while? He needs some help in the office desperately. We've got some working there part-time, Erica, but to be honest, I would have fired her three times over already. It's just my dad says he has no time to advertise the position and interview other candidates. Plus," he added with a shrug, “I think he's afraid Erica will take all her knowledge with her and leave her replacement hanging."

    "So you're suggesting I insinuate myself into the company as a harmless assistant, all the while picking her brain until I am ready to take over her responsibilities?" Mandy asked with a wry smile that made her realize just how unused to the activity her cheeks had become since her mother's diagnosis.

    "No, you are saying that. I would never use such fancy words," Dominic retorted with a grin, “ut in the essence you're right."

    "Honestly, Dom, running the office? I can no more picture that than I could picture teaching.”

    "For one thing, I'm not talking about anything permanent here," Dominic responded calmly, “and for another, I know how efficient and organized you are. I can imagine whipping our administration into shape would be right up your alley.”

    'Whipping the administration into shape', Mandy had never thought about it that way. With every second that she did, however, the more intrigued she felt.

    “I’ll think about it, OK?" she finally told her friend. It was the best she could do.



    ***



    Mandy should have known she would be met with no resistance from her father when it came to her changed post-graduation plans. It had mostly been her mother who had urged her to study teaching, whereas her father had always encouraged her to keep her options open. And so, six months later, shortly after having been awarded her diploma, she found herself sharing an office at Waldhorst Stonemasons with Erica Wilson, a kind but indeed inefficient lady in her late fifties. Waldhorst's was a second-generation company with five employees, which was a lot in this branch.

    This must be the eighth sigh or so I have heaved today, Mandy thought, turning away from Erica so as not to let her glimpse her facial reaction. Not even three weeks into the job, and already her frustration at Erica's low productivity was threatening to gain the upper hand. Although she did explain the processes and documents rather well, which was is not something Mandy took for granted after her many internships, Erica was unable to produce an answer other than 'We've always done it that way' whenever Mandy unearthed yet another unnecessary step in the work flow. Why would anyone click oneself through a questionable path of folders and subfolders when there was such a beautiful thing as shortcuts? Or how could a successful business such as Waldhorst's not have a website? Treating herself to a fortifying breath, Mandy willed herself to not even think about the snail-paced internet connection.

    Careful not to offend Erica – as her mouth had maneuvered her into such situations before – she had phrased her suggestions for improvements gently, but her fine-tuned antennas had sensed the reluctance emanating from the older woman whenever she had broached the subject of change. It was this reluctance which caused her to hesitate to confirm Dominic's opinions about Erica's efficiency to his face lest he pass them along to his father Albert, the proprietor. However, in the end it was the man himself who finally came to her rescue.

    “Hello, Mandy."

    She looked up to see Albert standing in the doorway to Erica's office, smiling openly. Albert Waldhorst was a broad man with thick, white hair and mustache of about 5'10" who, unlike many other short men, felt confident even in a tall woman's presence, and who had made her feel welcome from the start. Erica had already left as she seemed prone to doing lately, knowing everything was well-handled in her absence.

    “Oh, hello, Albert.” Mandy sat up straighter, anxious at his visit despite their mutual appreciation for one another. He was her boss after all.

    “At ease, Mandy, at ease. Are you settling in OK?" he smiled, sauntering into the office until he had reached Erica's chair. Wordlessly he pulled it closer to hers and sat down, paying no heed to the dust print he would leave on the cushion. Many would have to rub it off meticulously later or Erica would throw a fit.

    “I am,“ Mandy answered warily, as she sensed his question was not meant as the hollow phrase it has become in our society, but as a true, curious inquiry.

    “Then why are you looking as though you want to strangle your computer?"

    Because I am. Mandy bit her lip. Just before Albert had entered, she had been this close to chucking the old-fashioned, bulky monitor off her desk because Google Maps just wouldn't load.

    “Because I do,” Mandy opted for honesty, as she usually did. Albert was a straightforward, outspoken man himself who would not hold her words against her, in particular since her anger was directed at an inorganic enemy. “You need new hardware urgently, not to mention a new operating system and folder system. And you really need to tell Erica to switch to electronic banking!"

    Albert's bright green eyes had remained fixed on Mandy's throughout her short tirade, and he took a few moments before he answered. “OK, I know just enough about computers to find the 'on' button. As for internet banking, I take it you've spoken to Erica already?"

    “Yes but she does not share my opinion and I don't feel comfortable imposing—"

    “Mandy, this is not imposing," Albert interrupted, holding up his hands. “In fact, if you can think of ways to bring this company forward, it's your duty to tell me and to make them happen. What else?"

    “What else what?" Mandy almost knew for certain what he was insinuating, but she needed to be sure.

    “What else needs to be changed in the administration in your opinion?"

    “Uh, could you give me some time? I do see a few things, but I would like to put some more thought into it."

    “You got it,” Albert grinned and slapped his thighs, sending up a fine cloud of dust in the process. “Still, I want to settle this computer issue right now. If you can get a good deal on some hardware, I promise you'll have it within a week. Also, I'm hereby ordering you to reorganize our files in the way you see fit."
     
    thatsnimpossible likes this.
  19. Apr 7, 2019 #39

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 9: Where do I fit in? (part 2)

    “Uhm, OK?”

    “OK. Well, I'd better let you get cracking on finding a new computer.” The owner rose to his steel-toed feet.

    “Uh, fine. Uhm, Albert?”

    “Yeah?”

    “It would help me a lot if you could let Erica think everything was your or anyone else's idea but mine."

    Albert laughed, the lines on his face deepening. “Don't worry, I'll think of something, and if she gives you any trouble, come to me. I need my administration in shape, and even though I respect Erica, I believe she needs your help desperately."



    ***


    As with most temporary solutions, they last the longest, as Mandy was now in her second year at Waldhorst’s. There were changes to which Erica had been able to adapt grudgingly – even she could not deny the charm of a fast internet connection – but as their altercations had increased in number, volume and frequency, Mandy had known with growing certainty that their days together were numbered. Luckily it was Erica who had taken the step, resigning in favor of a receptionist job about a year ago. Now, after a difficult period of being the only one in charge of trimming the fat, most things were now running to Mandy's satisfaction.

    However, for all the peace and smoothness with which she run the daily operations, Mandy was growing more and more restless. She did enjoy learning new procedures and software such as payroll, meeting with Herb Winters, their tax advisor, and she loved their team. However, the fact remained that business was not her dream. Mandy could not really regret having majored in business and computer science, but no more could she deny the ever intensifying urgency with which her true passion was calling. Mandy longed to design and create, but other than the occasional private projects she had no idea how to find an appropriate outlet. She had been over this dilemma time and time again and had arrived nowhere, all the while well aware she was complaining on a very high level, as despite the lack of challenge, hers was a secure job.

    Stifling a sigh, Mandy tore away her gaze from the nothing she had been staring at and turned back to her screen to check the Thunderbird calendar. If she remembered correctly, they were expecting customers soon. Indeed they were, and Mandy prepared the company's consultation room next door to her office with drinks and cookies as she always did, before she slipped into the safety shoes parked underneath her desk and made her way over to the workshop. Albert would have forgotten as usual. Indeed he was deep conversation with Flo, one of her favorite co-workers, a short man in his early thirties with a blond curly ponytail.

    "Albert!" Mandy yelled over the din of the exhaust extraction system and the rattle of various pneumatic hammers. "The Landers, the couple about the headstone, will be here soon!"

    "What?" Her boss looked just as confused as Mandy had guessed he would. "Uh... oh yes, uh, shoot, I will be right there, I just need to—"

    "It's OK, Albert, I'll take care of them until you're ready,” Mandy waved away his preoccupation, and saw his face break into a relieved smile.

    "Thank you so much, Mandy, you are a treasure. I'll be there in five."

    A few minutes after Mandy had returned, dusted herself off and slipped back into her boots, a well-dressed couple in their sixties appeared in the entry. Mandy could instantly tell by the pale, gaunt face that the woman was the bereaved party, and she took care to welcome them with a warm but subtle smile and handshake.

    "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Lander, my name is Mandy. Will you come with me, please? Mr. Waldhorst will be right with you."

    The couple nodded and followed her, he with his arm around his distressed-looking wife, and Mandy invited them to sit them down at the consultation table.

    "What would you like to drink?"

    "Roland, dear, I'm not sure I'm ready to pick out a stone." Mrs. Lander was looking at her husband with a pleading expression. “I only went ahead with the traditional burial because Mom always insisted it was the way it should be done, but Dad never wanted a big fuss made over him." She turned to Mandy, her expression apologetic. "I'm sorry, dear, perhaps I never should have set up the appointment. I should be used to talking about him by now but..." She dropped her head into her hands and her husband caressed her shoulders tenderly.

    Mandy's heart went out to the woman. Who was capable of making such decisions at a time like that? Funeral directors often didn't even bother telling the bereaved they still had time to make up their minds about the headstones since since the fresh soil on a grave took at least six months to compact. Although Mandy was dimly aware of her lack of authority, the emotions welling up in her at this all-too-familiar dilemma prodded her to speak up. "I understand what you're going through, Mrs. Lander,” she told the woman softly. "I lost my mother to cancer two years ago. My father and she didn't see eye to eye on the funeral arrangements either. She shared your father’s attitude."

    Mrs. Lander's troubled gaze slowly rose from her lap and focused on Mandy's intently. "I'm so sorry you lost her, dear." Thankfully she did not reach out to grasp her hand or anything, or Mandy would have broken down here and now. Even after two years the wound was still raw. "And... and what did you end up deciding?"

    "Well, in the end it was something my father said that convinced her," Mandy began softly. "He'd been reading an article about how more and more people nowadays are choosing an anonymous grave or a forest burial over a traditional one, and how it deprived their loved ones of the chance to mourn them properly. My father told my mom he needed a place to mourn her, too, and that she should leave the decision up to him since he was the one left behind. In the end she gave him free rein. When she...”

    Mandy heard and felt herself choke. It was still difficult to talk about it.

    "When she was gone, we sat together and thought about what kind of stone would reflect most the kind of person she was. The process was both painful and precious to both of us, and in the end the stone couldn't have been more… well, her. My dad visits it every few weeks."

    Mrs. Lander had been listening with rapt attention. All traces of distress had disappeared, now replaced with thoughtfulness. "What does her headstone look like?"

    Now that topic never failed to draw forth a smile from Mandy. "May I show you? I have a photograph saved in my phone."

    "Oh, please do, dear."

    A moment later Mandy passed her phone to Mrs. Lander, watching her study the stack of sandstone books with one opened on top into which were carved her mother's name as well as date of her birth and death.

    "She was a writer?" Mrs. Lander looked up at her with an openly curious expression.

    "A librarian."

    "It is beautiful.”

    "It really is."

    "You know," the elderly lady began, handing Mandy back her phone, "I've ever thought about it that way: 'How would I like to mourn him?'"

    "I like that thought,” her husband put in, and Mandy remained silent to give them some time to think. "You know, dear, maybe we've come to the right place after all."

    "I was just about to say the same thing!" his wife exclaimed, looking almost happy now. "Thank you so much, uh, what was your name again?" she interrupted herself with an embarrassed smile.

    "Mandy. Mandy Huhn."

    "What a cheerful name,” she smiled and reached over to squeeze Mandy's hand, a non-condolence gesture and therefore something she could accept. "Mandy, you've given us some food for thought here and I am very grateful to you."

    "It was my pleasure,” Mandy smiled back at the couple warmly, meaning every word. She could not remember when she had last felt so alive. Ironic, actually, as she had just consulted a bereaved couple. It was in this moment that Albert chose to appear, and he shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. Lander. When Mandy rose to say her goodbyes, however, his strong hand on her arm prevented her from leaving.

    "No, please stay, Mandy."

    Wordlessly Mandy held his gaze for a few moments, but in the end she simply nodded, closed the door and resumed her seat.





    "Mandy, you continue to astonish me." Albert began when the couple had left. “Not only have you whipped our office into shape, but you've just convinced a hesitant couple they're in good hands with us. I've heard most of your conversation but didn't want to interrupt."

    "You have? Uh, I was not sure whether I was out of line to share—"

    "No, you weren't." Albert insisted, his wise eyes boring into hers. "In fact I believe it was the only thing that could have convinced that woman, and I'm almost 100% certain we'll get their order."

    “I agree.”

    The Landers had left on an almost cheerful note, and they had promised that they would call soon.

    “Mandy, I would like you to sit in on more consultations," Albert continued, “you've given me an idea here with your 'individual mourning' concept. Customers might open themselves up to a traditional burial again if they knew we can offer such an individual way of remembering the people they've lost. Plus, you've proven with your input for our website and most of all with your mother's stone that you've got a knack for design."

    Mandy was about to object she neither had a degree nor any professional training in headstone design, but Albert held up his hand, forestalling any such argument.

    “What do you say to trying your hand at designing the Lander's stone and see how you like it? Then we can talk again."

    He was right. Why shouldn't she give it a try? She had always wanted to create her own designs, and even though she would never have thought her first real design job would be a headstone, it could be a viable option.

    “All right.”
     
  20. Apr 7, 2019 #40

    agouderia

    agouderia

    agouderia

    Library Girl Staff Member Library Mod

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    Unbasher .... did you seriously name your female lead character Mandy HUHN ........????
    I can't believe it!
     

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