BHM The Improved You

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

  1. Apr 17, 2019 #61

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Yes, short to her. 5'10" would be average height, I guess, albeit short in northern Germany.
     
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  2. Apr 17, 2019 #62

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 11: Let him in (part 1)


    As soon as Severin had closed the door behind his visitor, he dropped heavily into his chair and cradled his suddenly overstuffed head in his hands. Chucks of all people might become his new client. No, not 'Chucks'. It was 'Mandy'. No wonder the name 'Amanda Huhn' had not aroused suspicion when Herb had mentioned it. At university she had introduced herself with her abbreviated name only. Another moment of shame. She had probably found out his full name after their first meeting, as sharp and observant as she was.

    She was still no beauty but striking in her own way, and it was no wonder Severin had not recognized her when she had stepped into his office. Her dirty blonde hair was now the color of sweet honey, and the short bob complemented her angular face much better than the long, disheveled mass. She had traded her ridiculous Harry-Potter glasses in for an oblong pair of nerd frames which suited her sharp person to perfection, and her bony figure had filled out somewhat as well. Funny how fate had a way of evening out the scales.

    'Scales' indeed... Severin reflected bitterly. If even a style and asset-deprived woman such as Chu-, uh, Mandy, could undergo such a transformation, how much of a bigger loser did that make him? 'Bigger'’ being the key word here. Surely she had to be thinking of him now and wondering what might have caused him to gain this much weight. At least she had been tactful enough not to comment on it as so many people felt compelled to do. Still, the less interaction with her the better, Severin decided. After their next appointment their contact would be limited to a few business meetings, and he would not have to face the fact again that she had prospered to the same extent that he had fallen.

    There was only one dinner to get through, the dinner that Severin himself had suggested. Well, he could hardly berate himself for that; he had had to buy himself some time to think about how much he was willing to share with her lest she drag it all out of him. With her quick tongue she might cause him to part with more information than he intended to. Perhaps he could kill two birds with one stone and suggest a business dinner during which they could both talk about the contract and 'reminisce', as loath as he was to do that. After said dinner he would be able to limit their contact to the intervals specified in the contract. Yes, that would work. Slowly, Severin felt a soothing feeling of relief spread within him and he make a quick note to email Mandy later. He had better not write to her too soon. He was a busy man.

    He was.

    Really.


    ***

    Mandy's head was still buzzing when she arrived home. It was the Severin Meyers after all. Out of all people, their new tax advisor was the most irritating and yet intriguing man from her university days. As little as Mandy had thought about Severin over the past few years, all the more mental capacity did he claim for himself now. The questions were tossing and spinning around in her mind like in a washing machine. Where had he been all these years? What could have happened to make him gain that much weight? Why would he choose to become a tax advisor, a solitary desk job she would never have pictured for the gregarious, laid-back man? And why this almost palpable aura of sadness? Had something happened to him that had cast him into depression and possibly comfort through food?

    Aside from the initial shock at this unexpected reunion, however, their meeting had been… pleasant. They had worked together productively like in their study meetings, and from his remarks Mandy had gained an impression congruous with Herb's: Severin knew his stuff. From a professional point of view, Mandy believed she could recommend him to Albert without any reservations, but there was more to consider:

    Despite the fact that she was ready for a career change, she would remain with Albert and Dominic until she had figured out her next steps. Until she took it, there would be correspondence, phone calls, and meetings with Severin. Am I ready for that? Mandy wondered as she unbuttoned her blouse, ready to change into comfortable sweats and a T-shirt. Although they had concluded their meeting on a positive note, Mandy could already feel a slight flutter and a queasiness in her stomach – not the sign of a professional, and Mandy was well aware why. Despite her lingering bad luck in the world of dating, she had managed to verify Miriam’s theory that she was attracted to bigger men. While she had always considered Severin objectively handsome, her body had never responded to him the way it had when she stepped into his office. Add to that the fact that Severin's mind and diction were as sharp as Mandy had always believed they could be… already she felt like a bundle of nerves.

    After an overseeable dinner, Mandy sat down at her desk, booted up her laptop and logged on to their company email system. For several minutes she sat there with a blank email window, staring into space before she finally typed her simple message.


    Severin,

    It was unexpected to see you again, to say the least, but I was glad, too. Thank you for the productive meeting today. I will get back to you soon.


    Mandy


    ***

    'It was unexpected to see you again'.

    Mandy's email, which Severin read shortly before he called it a day, reverberated in his pounding head all night. I just bet it was, and in such new dimensions at that… At least she was as straightforward and reliable as ever. In fact, aside from her appearance she seemed to have hardly changed. What might her life have been like in the past few years? How had she fared at university? Nothing short of brilliantly, Severin assumed. Did she have a boyfriend, perhaps even a family? There had been no ring on her long, thin fingers, not that he had been looking or anything. Would she recommend him to her boss, or would she decide that dealing with him was just too awkward? Despite his trepidation, he could use the business, Severin thought as he shut down his computer and pushed his office chair away from his desk. He did have sufficient work to keep himself and his part-time assistant Christina occupied, but building up a solid client base was hard work despite Herb's support.

    Still, whatever Mandy decided, Severin would do well to use her reappearance in his life, if the 're' was even warranted, to try to make some changes in his – again. He had lost count of the number and types of diets he had tried over the years. He had even visited a gym a couple of times, but all those toned bodies were just an excruciating reminder of what he had lost and might never regain. All he had gained was more weight until it had thankfully come to a standstill, but by then Severin had been so resigned to his fat fate that nothing had been able to pull him out of this hole since. He had lost about ten pounds off his peak weight but plateaued since then. Should he try again? He had nothing to lose, absolutely nothing.

    And I have learned absolutely nothing either, Severin concluded with bitter certainty later that night as he stowed away his plate and silverware in the dishwasher after forcing down a dry Weight Watchers chicken breast and a tasteless salad. Day one and he was already craving a pizza. Since he was certain he was going to break down sooner or later anyway, he might as well leave it at day one. All that willpower and self-restraint from his athletic days that Severin so desperately needed had turned on their heel on that fateful night and never looked back over their shoulder, let alone poked their heads back in. In rising despondency, Severin sank down on his couch and cradled his pounding head in his hands. It was hopeless.

    ***
     
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  3. Apr 17, 2019 #63

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 11: Let him in (part 2)


    Dominic sauntered into Mandy's office as he often did, clutching his omnipresent mug of coffee. The man had been a caffeine addict ever since Mandy had met him, and despite her preoccupied mind she smiled at him, always glad to see her best friend.

    "Hey there."

    "Hey yourself."

    "So," he perched on one corner of the desk and took a sip, "we still on for drinks on Saturday?"

    "Of course. I’ll pick Flo up first and should be at your place around nine. The others wanted to drive themselves."

    Hopefully a night out with the guys will take my mind off this one guy, she added on a half-prayer.

    "Great." Dominic considered her for a moment. "And how was the meeting with the tax advisor yesterday? Think Herb is right about him?"

    Dominic's reaction to the news Mandy was about to impart constituted the biggest part of her worries, along with her own reservations. However, the sooner Mandy told her friend, the better. As the son of the owner and the company's legal counsel he had every right to know.

    "In fact I do. He seems highly proficient."

    "Good." He kept eyeing her over the rim of his mug. "Then why are you looking like you're trying to invent cold fusion?"

    Naturally there was no escaping his sharp mind, add to that that he had known her for seven years. Drawing strength from a deep inhale, Mandy faced the matter head-on. "Because it turns out we both know him. It is Severin, my old study partner."

    She might as well have announced to Dominic that she was part robot. His jaw dropped and his eyes bulged out of his skull. It was the first time Mandy had seen anything elicit such a strong reaction from her stoic friend, and it did not bode well.

    "Him?! How the heck can such a dimwitted moocher end up as a tax advisor? And here of all places?"

    "I know, I could hardly believe it either. In fact, I almost didn't recognize him because..." Mandy swallowed since it felt as though she was about to reveal a secret that was not hers to tell. "He has gained a lot of weight, cut his hair, and is wearing glasses."

    Dominic set down his mug with a thump and rose back to his feet. "What... I mean why…?" His strong hands groped around in mid-air in a futile search for the beginning of his question.

    "I don't know," Mandy shook her head. "I believe something terrible must have happened to him. He seemed very somber, sad even, which is another reason why I didn't recognize him at first."

    "And you want to entrust our company's finances to him?" Dominic drew up his eyebrows and his lips curled into an ungainly sneer. "A guy who doesn't even have the self-discipline to control his eating?"

    "That is unfair, Dom. We don't know the reason for his weight gain," Mandy protested, astonished at how protective she instantly felt. She always had where Severin was concerned. "And besides, why should his weight influence his competence as a tax advisor?"

    "His competence?" Dominic spat, "a guy who needed you to get through a class you passed in first semester while he was in 7th?"

    "That was seven years ago, and Herb says he could whole-heartedly recommend him. We have always been highly satisfied with Herb, so I trust his judgment.”

    "Honestly, Mandy," Dominic retorted, and Mandy could already tell she would not like what came after the comma, "I don't trust yours. You might be as rational as a Vulcan in your job, but where this Severin guy is concerned, you never were."

    "Well, neither have you," Mandy flung back, "you've always flown off the handle whenever I mentioned his name."

    "And wasn't I right about him?" Dominic erupted. "Dammit, he hurt you! You've never told me what exactly he did, but I know he was behind your slump between first and second semester!"

    Mandy had nothing to say to that since there was no way she was going to share with Dominic what had transpired between her and Severin back then. She had Miriam and Miriam only, never wanting to relive the most humiliating moment of her adult life ever again. Although it had brought a wealth of relief to meet Severin again, it had also conveyed that life-altering scene closer to the forefront of her mind, and she did not like it there. She was still hurt, but Severin seemed to have fallen deeply, and her grudge should not dictate their future interaction. Well, if there was any future interaction. First she had to convince Dominic.

    "Look, Dom," she began, rising to her feet as well. "I've thought about it long and hard, and I'm the one who should have the biggest reservations here. I do have them, you know, but like I said: I trust Herb's judgment. And if you don't trust mine, keep in mind we're talking about a few personal meetings per year and mostly written interaction in between. I can handle that. You know I can. I've turned this office around, so you can trust me to keep our finances in order, too!"

    Dominic and Mandy were standing about two feet apart, staring at one another at eye level. No one was backing down. At last, however, Mandy both saw and heard her friend inhale deeply and take a step backwards.

    "Fine. I'm sorry. You have proven you are a professional, so I'm gonna trust you on this."

    Mandy closed her eyes and willed herself to count at least to five before she answered. "Thank you."

    "You know I'm just looking out for you, don't you?" He drew closer again and settled one hand on her shoulder, a big gesture for a non-tactile man like him. "I don't ever want to see you hurt, OK?"

    "I know,” Mandy nodded, pulling him close for a hug even though Dominic was not the type. Mandy needed this for herself, and it felt good to have a pair of strong arms around her, even if they were attached to a stiff, uncomfortable body.

    "So, may I recommend him to your dad?" she asked Dominic once she had let go of him and taken a step back out of his personal space.

    "If that's what you want," Dominic nodded with visible reluctance.

    "It is."

    "Then be my guest. I gotta get to work now. "

    "OK. And thank you again, Dom."

    He only nodded and left the office, his muscled back as stiff as a board.



    ***
    Severin,

    I've decided to recommend you to my boss, and he will make a decision based on your contract. Could we meet for dinner sometime in the next days and discuss it? Plus, we could catch up on old times and it would still be tax-deductible... ;)


    How about Mexican? Any day after 6 except Tuesday would work for me.

    Best,
    Mandy



    ***

    Mandy's message arrived the next day in the afternoon. She must have made up her mind that very night if she spoke with her boss today, Severin thought in astonishment. A knot whose existence he had not even been aware of began to dissolve slowly, only to reknot itself as soon as he reread the email and the fact he was have to see Mandy again over dinner. Turning to a client file, he resolved to reply to her message in an hour or so. He was a busy man.
     
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  4. Apr 17, 2019 #64

    Chubhandles

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    Yayyyy!!! Another chapter!!!!

    I love all the puns... :)

    Dominic, though. Yikes! I thought he was really good but I’m mad at him for his self control comment. I hope he isn’t a jerk to Severin about his weight... if he’s a jerk to Severin about the way he treated Mandy that’s understandable... xD

    I’m so excited that Mandy and Severin are going to get dinner soon! I’m anxiously waiting to see how it all turns out! I’m totally here for awkward reunion dinners, angst, and budding attraction.
     
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  5. Apr 18, 2019 #65

    loopytheone

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    As somebody who is 5'2, I'm horrified by the idea of 5'10 being short. =p
     
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  6. Apr 18, 2019 #66

    Unbasher

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    OK, so my intention was NOT to write a story about height ;-) However, not that people are commenting on it, I guess the topic does have its place. Even when you've got a "society-approved" body, height can be a hindrance in dating or making connections in general as people tend to find you intimidating.
    Anyway, I'm grateful for all the feedback. Severin's and Mandy's dinner is going to be intense...
     
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  7. Apr 18, 2019 #67

    agouderia

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    The best way to get a good overview of the average height in any given country is to look at the standard clothing measurement tables.

    And sure enough, those for German men's clothing cut normal sizes to the height of 6'0"-6'1" - compared to 5'10"-5'11" in the US. Same with women's clothing - there it's Germany 5'7"-5'8" and in the US 5'4"-5'5".

    So I'm with Mandy on this one - Dominic is on the short side and probably burdened by some sort of Napoleon complex in view of Severin's 6'4"... ;)

    Nevertheless - I think I write for many readers stating we are really looking forward to that "intense dinner" - that will hopefully materialize asap!
     
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  8. Apr 18, 2019 #68

    Tad

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    The great white north, eh?
    Talking about height is just a break from "sgargglefumpf... You are killing me, more please now!!!" (And sounds so much more coherent)

    And as for height .... I remember traveling from Paris, where I was a bit taller than average, to the Moselle river area in Germany, where it seemed that even the women were all taller than me. The contrast in heights over a short drive was astounding to me (in north america the regional differences are more muted)
     
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  9. Apr 21, 2019 #69

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 12: Getting closer again... but not too close (part 1)

    At last the date and time of the dinner had arrived. Having pushed the inevitable encounter with Mandy to the fringes of his mind more times than Severin cared to count, he was now more than ready to put it behind him. As always he had arrived early and was cursing every minute that only served to increase his anxiety at this unavoidable meeting. He fiddled alternately with the candle, his shirt sleeves and his wine glass and grew tenser by the second.

    Whether he sensed her arrival or it was a mere coincidence, Severin happened to glance up right at the moment when Mandy entered the restaurant. Again he struggled to reconcile his study partner Chucks with this elegant woman in black, formfitting slacks and a figure-hugging burgundy sweater. No high-top sneakers in sight, only simple black boots. She was carrying a red coat over her arm and walking straight towards him with a nervous but nevertheless beautiful smile. Why had he never noticed she had such a nice smile? And was it his imagination or were all male eyes on her? Severin maintained she was no beauty, but a woman of her height and figure could not help but be noticed. Once again he took in her new glasses and haircut and realized she really had bloomed and matured. Oh, how the mighty have fallen and the lowly have risen, he could not help but think in an onslaught of bitterness. Now she had reached his table and all of a sudden his throat was closing up.

    "Hey."

    "Hi."

    Finally Severin jerked out of his paralysis and struggled to his feet. He saw Mandy draw closer as if... as if to hug him? Reflexively he took a step back and watched her freeze mid hug attempt. Instantly he felt his conscience smack him on the back of his head and opened his mouth to apologize... but then closed it again. Why should he have to justify himself? They were not friends and had never been, so what business would she have hugging him? Or so he told himself. An awkward moment passed until Severin finally extended his hand to Mandy, who shook it with visible uncertainty. She did not even meet his eyes during the handshake nor when she sat down across from him. After a few moments her gaze rose, settling on his wine glass.

    "Have you been waiting long? I thought I was on time.” She glanced at her simple silver wristwatch.

    Severin noticed that she had pushed up the sleeves of her sweater, sleeves that would have been long on a woman of average height but that just could not satisfy a tall woman's anatomical needs. She possessed long, slender fingers and palms, but her nails were cut short and devoid of nail polish. Her eyes were adorned with a single line of black eye liner, but otherwise there was no particle of makeup in sight. She had remained true to herself then. Severin should have known she would.

    "You are. I'm always early,” he replied to her question, suddenly thinking back to his last-minute entrances into their study rooms.

    "You're always early?"

    Evidently Mandy was thinking along the same lines, because her eyebrows were rising in both skepticism and amusement. "Who are you and what have you done with the tardigrade I studied with?"

    I stuffed him with food and misery until the world no longer recognized nor wanted him. "I could ask you the same thing about your omnipresent Chucks,” he opted to retort instead, swallowing the deluge of self-loathing rising up in his throat.

    "Touché," Mandy smiled, and Severin actually felt a little better at no longer seeing her so upset.

    "Good evening, Miss, would you like a menu?"

    A twenty-something waiter with dark hair, beard and nerd frames not unlike Mandy's had appeared and offered her the aforementioned leather-bound menu with a wide smile – a smile Mandy returned with full wattage, unlike the one directed at him a moment ago. Severin balled his hands into fists under the table. How dare that kid flirt with his… oh. He realized that his opting for a handshake instead of returning her hug must have suggested a formal, rather distant relationship between himself and Mandy to an onlooker, so he could not in all fairness blame the young waiter for attempting to make a move. Which did not mean he liked it one bit.

    "Very kind of you, thank you."

    Severin detected the onset of a flush rising in the youngster's cheeks, barely restraining himself not to snap at him. All Mandy had to do was stand up, and he would see he would never measure up – literally. And yet apparently the waiter felt emboldened by Mandy's smile since he all but floated back behind the bar, leaving Severin with the question how a once plain, nerdy girl-woman managed to draw forth such attention and smiles. More intrigued by her now than ever, Severin studied her surreptitiously as she scanned the pages of her menu.

    "Have you made your choice yet?" she inquired over the leather edge.

    "Mm-hm," Severin only nodded.

    "What are you having?"

    "A hot beef burrito."

    "Hmm..." Her longish nose disappeared back into the menu, affording Severin a few more moments to study her. "A burrito does sound good. I'll have a milder one, though,” she decided and closed her menu.

    That was fast. Severin should have known Mandy would be quick and choose some real food, too. Nicole had been just as fast, but that was only because she unfailingly chose a salad. Although Severin was well aware he should use Nicole's nutritional habits as an example for himself, he just could not bring himself to do that at a restaurant. It would be a waste of dining out. What might Mandy's dietary secret be? he wondered. At university she had been as thin as a straw, and despite the curves she had acquired over the years, she was still slender and most likely always would be. The blushing waiter arrived and put a temporary stop to his self-recriminations. With some surprise, Severin noted Mandy ordered a tall apple juice along with her burrito. A teetotaler?

    "Have you got the contract with you?" she asked when the waiter had left with their orders.

    An abrupt change of subject, but then again he had done little so far to initiate, let alone further, their conversation, Severin realized with another pang of guilt.

    "Uh, I do."

    He reached down toward his briefcase, withdrew the document in its manila folder and handed it to her.

    "Thank you."

    She accepted the folder from him, opened it and began reading immediately. After a surprisingly short time she turned the page. Suddenly he remembered her mentioning once that her mother was a librarian. Most likely she harbored the same love for books as her mother, instilled into her since childhood. Severin realized that should not have surprised him. At last she looked back up at him.

    "OK then, for now I have no questions. Everything is as we discussed. I'll show it to Albert and if he has no objections, you'll hear from him or me soon."

    Her tone was neutral, businesslike, and the more time Severin spent in this woman's company, the more he realized she had become a mature professional.

    "Your boss lets you handle the entire administration then?" he asked, both eager to keep her talking about herself and to learn more about her. She had always been an interesting person, only he had been too self-absorbed to get to know her.

    "Yes," Mandy nodded, looking more at ease now, "he's not the most orderly or patient of people when it comes to paperwork. I took over the job from a lady who had been working there for a couple of years but who only accomplished the barest necessities of the job."

    Her forehead rippled in retrospective disapproval, and it pleased Severin to see her frown at poor work performance. He whole-heartedly agreed with her on that, but refrained from lending voice to his thoughts for fear of redirecting the flow of conversation back to the people they had once been. Severin Meyers disapproving of slackers – who would have thought that possible? He asked more questions about the stonemason business, and the longer they talked, the more Mandy seemed to fall back into her habit of interrupting him and finishing his sentences. Most of the time she was right about what he wanted to ask or say, but it was annoying nonetheless.
     
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  10. Apr 21, 2019 #70

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 12: Getting closer again... but not too close (part 2)


    "Will you let me finish my sentences, you exasperating woman?" he interrupted her latest interruption, glowering at her across the table, meanwhile covered in their dishes.

    "Ooh, 'exasperating' – you ought to be careful using that kind of vocabulary. People might suspect you've been spending time with a nerd," Mandy stage-whispered. In moments like this when Severin was so strongly reminded of days long past, he was struggling not to call her by her student nickname.

    "How do they stand you at your workplace?" he groaned in mock-sufferance.

    "Easy, they need me," Mandy grinned another childish grin, and Severin could not help but follow suit. He never expected to get along so well with her. Although she was still an opinionated woman with the ungainly tendency to tread on her interlocutors' utterances, at the same time she had become a savvy businesswoman. Severin's own thoughts made him pause. As talented as she was in the field, somehow it did not fit the girl-woman Photoshopping – or Gimping as she had once put it – at every available opportunity. Had she not mentioned something about having an interest in design?

    It was funny. The more Severin thought about her, the more memories came floating back, even negligible details such as the colored shoe laces she had sometimes worn in one of her shoes. Somewhere between the middle and the end of their meal Severin felt almost... relaxed. A skinny woman like her should have had the exact opposite effect on him, but, as mean as it sounded, Severin could not think of Mandy as a woman, for despite her outward changes and a certain maturity she had remained the same likable weirdo.

    "So, enough about me," Mandy suddenly declared with a look of resolution on her face, "what made you settle in this city of all places?"

    Head-on as always. Severin should have known Mandy would cut to the chase, and he was aware he should feel grateful to get it over with. Acting on said knowledge, however, was the hard part.

    "Your previous tax advisor Herb," he answered cautiously. "Among others, I worked for his firm after my degree, and when he told me he would retire soon and would like to help me establish myself as his successor, I knew I'd better seize the opportunity and open up shop here."

    A slow, appreciative smile spread over Mandy's features and her gaze drifted off into the distance for a moment. "Good old Herb. He always believed in extending favors without expecting counter-favors. I'll miss meeting with him."

    "Thanks.”

    Mandy immediately rolled her eyes at him for that. "No need to be so sensitive. Perhaps it will be a pleasure dealing with you as well."

    "Whereas I'm already having my doubts about the amount of pleasure I will derive from our meetings."

    Mandy laughed at that, a beautiful, heartfelt sound, and for a moment Severin felt himself transported back in time.

    "And how come you have chosen to become a tax advisor?" She left him no time to linger in the pleasant past, yanking him back into the far less present instantly. "I always thought something with more..." her hands groped around for a suitable noun, "action," she finally settled on, "and interaction," she continued, "would be more to your liking.”

    Instantly Severin felt a white-hot flash of anger at her persistence. Who was she to stick her nose into people's private lives? He was about to snap at her when he let his mind re-register her words and heard the almost pleading tone in her voice. Oh my God, he realized instantly. She truly wants to know. She hasn't heard from me in seven years and is completely in the dark. Gradually he felt himself relax and his attitude towards her soften, and he resolved to tell her as much as she needed to know.

    "Something happened," he began and treated himself to a deep, invigorating breath. "Shortly after exams, Nicky, my then girlfriend... she... we were both driving in her newly chip-tuned car. She drove too fast, skidded on a patch of ice and drove the car into a tree."

    "Oh God..." All color drained from Mandy's face and her hands shot up to cover her mouth.

    "Yeah,” Severin only nodded and hurried on lest she interrupt him. "She died on the spot. I was injured badly. Among other things I broke both my legs. My right knee was almost completely busted. I spent weeks in the hospital and months in rehab. I'm OK now, but sports are over for me. And please don't tell me you're sorry," he added on an afterthought. He did not want anyone's pity and least of all Mandy's – she, who once accused him of the same thing. Besides, no amount of sorries had ever done any good to anyone.

    "I understand,” she replied in a constricted voice, her fingertips still at her lips. "I always wondered where you had disappeared to," she added, now sounding more composed. "If I had known—"

    Instantly Severin held up his hand. "I don't want your pity. And I wouldn't have wanted you to visit either."

    It was just as well that you never answered to my text! he contented himself to snap at her silently, regretting his last audible words instantly when he glimpsed the change her face had undergone.

    "I understand," Mandy repeated softly, her captivating face still bearing the expression of a wounded deer, "your family and friends must have taken good care of you. We, on the other hand, were never really friends."

    "Exactly," Severin replied with firmness, referring to the last part as she had no way of knowing how far from the truth the first part of her assumption was. He might hurt her even more with this ostensible cold-heartedness, but better her than him. Severin just could not let her know how little support he had had throughout the darkest period of his life, and how much he had thought of her during that time.

    "I assume you chose to make some major changes in your life after the accident.”

    She fixed her gaze on his again after several protracted minutes of silence, looking more sad than wounded now, but Severin still hated the expression, whether it was born of pity or of hurt.

    "You assume right," he clung to his firm tone, anxious to keep the pity hovering around her eyes at bay.

    "And may I further assume you passed Micro I?" she asked, the hint of a teasing quality having stolen into her voice and face.

    "You may. By the time I was off the pain meds, the exam results had been uploaded."

    Severin felt vastly relieved to discover the smile slowly unfurling on Mandy's face. "And?" Her smile looked expectant and vicariously excited.

    "I passed everything. Micro I even with a B," he told her with something akin to retrospective pride, a pride reflected on his dinner partner's features. "What about you?"

    "B+," she admitted with a sheepish grin.

    "Naturally.”

    He could have rolled his eyes to accompany his response but in truth he felt proud of her. Yes, proud of her. To pass a class as tough as Micro I on the first attempt in first semester, and with a B+ at that, constituted only one piece of evidence of her brilliant mind. However, he was not ready to share that thought with her, nor the admittance that he might not have passed without her.

    "I'm glad for you," he therefore contented himself to tell her. "Anyway, if anything good came out of that crappy year, it was that I realized I could achieve anything I set my mind to, so I thought about what classes I had enjoyed most and came up with accounting."

    "Huh." Mandy looked pensive for a moment before her eyes refocused on him. "Were you aware you were considering one of the toughest fields available to you? Herb once mentioned about half of the candidates fail their exam on their first attempt."

    "They do," Severin nodded, "including me, but I tried again and passed."

    He had have never worked this hard for anything without any help, but he had made it. As much as Severin had despaired over his post-accident development, this was one of the few moments he actually looked back on with pride. He had fallen but gotten up and tried again.

    "I hope I'm not sounding condescending here but... I'm proud of you." Mandy's cheeks flushed crimson but she stood her ground and did not let her eyes waver. Severin's eyes, however, were not quite as brave.

    "Uh, thanks..." he murmured, fiddling with the stem of his wine glass again.

    "By the way, what do you call a snobbish prisoner walking down the stairs?"

    "Uh, what?" Severin delivered a puzzled frown at this non sequitur.

    "A condescending con descending."

    "Oh God...” he groaned before giving in to the chuckle bubbling up his throat. Suddenly he froze, the sound of his own laughter as foreign in his ears as his father's. How long since he had laughed at something as silly as a pun?

    "Uh, Severin? Are you alright? What's the matter?"

    Severin took one glance at Mandy's worried face and swallowed every bit of emotion threatening to break free. "Uh, nothing. So," he leaned forward, changing topics before she had a chance to get a word in, “what's your story?"

    "My story?"

    "Yes. What are you doing working in the office of a stonemason's company when you've got a degree in teaching but fiddled around with Gimp in every free minute?"

    "You... remember that?"

    "Yes," Severin shrugged. After a moment Mandy seemed to resign herself to the fact that she would not be unearthing the mystery behind Severin's mood tonight and let him steer the conversation into new waters.
     
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  11. Apr 21, 2019 #71

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 12: Getting closer again... but not too close (part 3)

    "I guess you could say I haven't found my place yet," she began. "Yes, I've always had a passion for design but I've never wanted to work in advertising. I chose, or rather let my mother talk me into choosing teaching as a safer alternative, but I've never been happy with that choice either. Initially I started working for Dominic's dad because he needed someone to 'whip the administration into shape' as Dominic put it, and I have. Still, I'm in my third year now, things are running smoothly, and I need a new challenge. That is, one challenge might develop right in our company: individual headstone design.

    "Go on," Severin prodded her when she did not continue.

    "Well," she continued, visibly warmed by his interest, "it was more by accident that I ended up consulting a bereaved couple and became involved with the design of the headstone, but it turned out to be a beautiful piece. Dominic made it," she added with a pensive smile that set Severin's teeth on edge. "Since then Albert has asked me to sit in with him for more consultations, and I have designed a few more stones. He is optimistic this branch is going to pick up and I hope he's right. I mean, it's a delicate topic but I enjoy getting to know the customers... and sort of their loved ones as well. It's such rewarding work."

    "It shows." Mandy looked up at Severin's solemn tone. She obviously had no idea how captivating she looked when passion caused her face to soften and her eyes to sparkle. "So, does that mean you could you picture headstone design as a career?"

    "I don't know,” Mandy answered after a moment, "like I said, I do wish to turn my passion into a job, but if the individual headstone concept won't catch on, I don't know if I want to stay at the company. At the same time, though, I'm not ready to give up the stability of my current job. Plus, I enjoy my tasks and the atmosphere at the company... oh, I just don't know," she concluded her reflections with a rip through her napkin she had been subconsciously fiddling with.

    "I think you should give it a go," he told her, leaning forward. "I know how hard it is to start over, but if this is what you want and if Albert's predictions turn out to be incorrect, you should dare to change careers. It'll be worth it.”

    Mandy stared at Severin as if he was Moses presenting the Ten Commandments for the first time. "Has it been worth it for you?"

    The fire that Mandy had stoked up in him fizzled out instantly. "Let's not talk about that,” he evaded, finishing up his wine.

    "If you don't like your job, then maybe we should reconsider taking you on as our tax advisor," Mandy tried to ease the tension with a quip, but her humor couldn't have fallen on deafer ears.

    "I do like my job, but if you would like to reconsider, that's entirely up to you."

    His dinner partner looked positively frozen, even scared. Not only was he now as big as two people, Mandy had to think his brain housed two personalities, too. She held up both hands. "Severin, I was only joking.”

    "I wasn't. Perhaps we should call it a night anyway.”

    Before Mandy could utter a syllable of protest, Severin signaled to the waiter, who approached their table with a hint of trepidation in his smile. Apparently he had picked up on the tense vibes emanating from their spot.

    "Could we have the check, please?"

    "Certainly."

    "And could I please have the remainder of my meal to go?" Mandy had obviously shaken off the temporary paralysis and her as-ever rational mind had zoomed in on the most practical item, the fate of their meal.

    "Of course. For you, too, sir?"

    "No thanks," Severin shook his head, eager to be out of here without further delay. When he glanced at Mandy next, he could tell she had gone from upset and scared to angry. Her lips were compressed in a thin line as she reached for her purse. Oh no, she wouldn't. She'd better not believe their relationship was anything but business.

    "There is no need, I've got it. Tax deductible, remember?"

    "Oh, I do remember," Mandy flung at him, barely reigning in her temper. "Well, if that is all, Mr. Meyers, don't let me keep you. I'll just pick up my food and not take up any more of your valuable time. Thank you for the meal."

    Robot-like she rose, shrugged into her coat, grabbed her purse and delivered a curt nod to Severin. Without another word she stalked over to the bar where their waiter had just finished preparing a little aluminum container, and she accepted it from him with a sad but genuine smile. Without a backward glance at the source of her indignation, Mandy strode out of the restaurant.



    ***



    One XXL bag of M&Ms later, Mandy's icy parting words were still ringing in Severin's ears. Nor had he forgotten that wounded look on her face. He was all too aware he had hurt her almost as much as he had when she had overheard Jordan's and his conversation. He had shut her out without an explanation and not afforded her any time to react. And yet better her than me, he attempted to retrospectively justify his behavior. How dare she ask such a personal question and then joke about it?

    On the other hand he realized that he could not in all fairness reproach her for having trodden on landmined terrain. There was no way she could have known how closely his pain was still simmering underneath the surface even after all these years. She had not meant to get under his skin, but the fact was that she still did as much as she had back at university, and Severin simply could not afford to make himself so vulnerable, not after all he had worked for so hard. The two of them had been a bad combination from the start, and that had not changed.

    Then again... that was not quite true. As little business as Severin had to be eating anything, he had to eat his last words – well, thoughts.They had always worked efficiently when they were students, and up until that fateful moment in the restaurant they had even been getting along on a more personal level – so well that one could almost have believed they were old friends. Mandy was right, they had never been friends but then why had she admitted she had been worried about him?

    'I always wondered where you had disappeared to.'

    Why would she have? Severin wondered, leaning back into the cushions, staring at the ceiling. She had kicked him out of her life without a backward glance, so why would she have worried about him? Would she really have wanted to visit him at the hospital? His stomach turned at the thought, and it was not the M&Ms rearing their mushy heads, although they were contributing their share. Gone was the comfort they had initially provided, only to be replaced by a new bout of self-disgust. Oh God, I knew why I abandoned all efforts to diet after day one. I'll never get out of this.
     
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  12. Apr 22, 2019 #72

    fat hiker

    fat hiker

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    Wow. I've just stumbled onto this story at the end - I'll have to go back and read the beginning.
    Thanks for writing and sharing it!
     
  13. Apr 24, 2019 #73

    Chubhandles

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    *hops up and down* every time I read another chapter I just want more!!!
     
  14. Apr 26, 2019 #74

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 13: Two steps forward, one step back (part 1)


    Severin's troubled eyes accompanied Mandy home and into bed. At first things had gone so well – much better than she had dared to hope. Despite Dominic's valuable friendship, Mandy had never experienced much emotional investment on his part since it was simply not in his nature, whereas Severin, little more than a stranger, went from merely interested to downright involved when she talked about her career plans. That was before he withdrew back into his shell the moment the conversational spotlight turned back to him. That almost palpable sadness made a reappearance, and it pained her to see Severin writhing in its grip. But then he turned on her, and there was no way she would let him treat her like that again.



    After a fitful excuse for a night's sleep Severin was again the first thought that assailed Mandy's mind. What a jerk! came immediately after. Why had he not just asked her to drop the subject? There was need to lash out at her like that. They were getting along so well up to that point that Mandy believed they might become friends after all, and yet they ended up in another fight. Were they doomed to always argue and bicker? After last night's events Mandy could muster no motivation for the work day ahead of her, but what was the use of whining? Slowly Mandy dragged her exhausted limbs out from underneath the warm covers and traipsed into the bathroom. A shower should work wonders.

    When she booted up her work computer 45 minutes later, she admonished herself not to expect an email from Severin, but nevertheless she caught herself holding her breath when the email client began downloading the new messages. Severin! Mandy almost gasped his name out loud. He had written after all.

    1:03 AM.

    At least his night had provided as little rest as hers. The petty thought was heartening, and Mandy willed herself to delete the spam messages and to read a customer's inquiry first before focusing on the message.

    Mandy,

    I truly apologize for my behavior last night. I still find it difficult to talk about my past and you hit a nerve. Nevertheless I was out of line. May I take you out to dinner tomorrow?

    Severin


    His simple yet sincere words almost moved Mandy to tears.

    'I still find it difficult to talk about my past'.

    Mandy could all too well imagine. Anyone would have trouble dealing with such a tragedy. Add to that the loss of his figure, and you had yourself one unhappy camper. No wonder he had blown up when Mandy had used the word 'joke'. To him nothing even remotely connected to the accident could ever be a laughing matter. Although Mandy had no way of knowing just how sensitive he still was when she had asked him whether he liked his job, she regretted her premature reaction. She had always been quick to judge and condemn, in particular where Severin was concerned, and she felt anxious to make amends. Instead of keeping Severin in cruel suspense, Mandy therefore composed a reply to him immediately, which he would most likely read the very minute it arrived. Surely he was already sitting at his desk, working away, something Mandy could picture so well for the new Severin.


    Severin,
    I'm sorry, too. We two have always been a volatile combination, and I guess old habits die hard. Dinner on Wednesday sounds good. Chinese? How about walking into town and back – that is if it's OK with your knee? I'd love to make the most of this mild winter.


    Mandy

    ***



    Severin's eyes raced over the few lines the minute the message arrived. Sleep had eluded him, nor had he been able to concentrate on his work this morning. Until now. After Severin had re-read Mandy's email three times, he felt himself breathe easier, and finally the flutter in his stomach seemed to settle down. They were OK.

    Then he allowed himself to focus on the factual content of her message. Actually, walking did sound good. Thanks to his physical-therapy exercises and excellent insoles, he had hardly had any trouble with his knee in the past few years, and he was well aware he should get out more. Suddenly he no longer cared about keeping up the facade of the detached, busy man and replied to her message immediately.


    Good idea. My place at 7? There are many good restaurants in the area.

    Severin


    Mandy's response was as brief as it was quick: Yes.

    ***

    At 7 Severin could hear his own thoughts cackle evilly in his ears as he discovered that nothing was going to be OK if their manner of greeting was any indication. When Mandy showed up on his doorstep, her restaurant-hug attempt gone bad seemed to cause her to hesitate to try again, and naturally Severin failed to provide alleviation. They ended up exchanging a sort of awkward nod and set off on their walk in uncomfortable silence.

    "How far is it to the restaurant area?" Mandy finally asked.

    "Only about fifteen minutes." Fifteen interminable minutes if we don't manage to keep the conversation going.

    "Great," Mandy smiled. "You really picked an ideal location for your home," she added after a few moments of silence.

    Severin saw Mandy nod in appreciation from the corner of his eye and ventured a glance at her.

    "A quiet, decent neighborhood and yet everything in walking distance," she added. "I noticed the supermarket and some other stores on the way here."

    "It is a good spot," Severin agreed, although he had to admit to himself bitterly that he hardly ever made use of aforementioned walking distance. Most days he simply could not muster the willpower to run his errands on foot. His erstwhile forced isolation had long since become a habit, and he still felt as if every eye of every thin person rested upon him in derision and judgment, which was he did not like to expose himself to their view for longer than necessary.

    Severin's own last thoughts made him wonder and think back to a similar train of thought just two nights ago. He should be feeling as uncomfortable in a skinny woman's presence as he did with strangers at a supermarket, yet with every step beside Mandy he felt more like a part of this world again. The air tasted wonderfully fresh after so many hours shut up indoors, and despite the barren landscape, Severin's nose picked up a myriad of scents. If only he could work up the self-discipline to go walking more often after a long, strenuous day.

    "Incidentally, where do you live?" Severin chose to discard his self-disparagement, eager to learn something new about Mandy.

    "Close to the city center off of Winter Road. It is by far not as quiet as here, but everything I need is close by so I hardly need to use the car. I'm a terrible driver," she added with a laugh.

    "You are?" Severin asked, suppressing a chuckle himself. For some reason this piece of information fit her.

    "I am. I prefer cycling or walking because I have difficulty dealing with heavy city traffic. Inconsiderate lane-changers, pedestrians with their earbuds in – I'm always grateful when I can leave the car in its spot. Sometimes I'm thinking about getting rid of it altogether."

    "Huh. You must really hate driving."

    "I sure do,” she grinned. "I've already researched car sharing and I love the concept."

    As it turned out, Severin's worries about not being able to fill fifteen minutes had been unwarranted, as both of them were still in deep conversation when they had reached the Chinese restaurant. Hoping not to look as overwhelmed by that fact as he felt, Severin held open the door for Mandy and soon they were sitting across from each other at a table for two. Again Severin had to restrain himself from staring at her form-fitting black sweatshirt and her dark blue jeans. She truly had become a woman.

    "Would you like to eat à la carte or from the buffet?" Severin asked her as soon as a tiny waitress had handed them their menus.

    "I would love to eat from the buffet, but my digestive system can’t handle that much food in the evening," Mandy answered with a regretful smile. "We could come back here for lunch sometime, though," she added, clearly enthusiastic about her own idea, and it was this smile which kept Severin from fidgeting in embarrassment at the notion of stuffing his already overstuffed body. Her reaction confirmed to him once again that his dinner partner appreciated food and would equally let him do so without censure.

    "Gladly," Severin therefore agreed with a smile of his own, "so, what are you having tonight?"

    "Do you like sushi? We could order a plate together as an entrée."

    "I do like sushi and I also like your idea. Let's do it. What about the main course?"

    "I think I'll have some egg-fried rice with shrimp. What about you?"

    Before Mandy had suggested returning here for the buffet Severin had planned to forgo the duck in favor of something healthier but now… "I'll have the duck."

    "All right then, let's order."

    Only five minutes later their sushi arrived, and Severin availed himself of the accompanying chopsticks. Mandy's eyes followed Severin's movement with sudden astonishment.

    "You can use chopsticks? Wow, and that from the man who barely managed to eat a sandwich without making a mess."

    "That was the old me."

    "I prefer the new you," Mandy smiled, leaning forward.

    "Why, because now you can feel better about yourself?"
     
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  15. Apr 26, 2019 #75

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 13: Two steps forward, one step back (part 2)


    Although Severin would have liked to swallow the hateful words, Mandy suddenly looked to be in a less than forgiving mood. She threw her chop sticks down with an almighty clatter that caused several heads to turn and Severin's eyes to jump to hers.

    "Suuure, because when I want to feel better about myself, Severin Meyers is my go-to person! I was being sarcastic, in case you didn't notice. So far almost each of our meetings has ended in my feeling worse about myself, thank you very much!"

    For a moment Severin simply stared at the reddened face across from him before he heaved a deep breath.

    "I'm sorry," he finally answered, his head bowed but his eyes still on Mandy's. "It's... it's not easy for me when you keep referring to my old life, and I tend to overreact."

    Now it was Mandy's turn to bow her head. "I'm sorry, too. I don't know why I keep doing that. It's just that... we still don't know much about each other, so that our past is the little I have to go on."

    "Perhaps we can change that, as long as you respect there are some things I'd rather not talk about."

    "Fair enough. Just give me a heads-up should I venture into landmine-riddled territory, OK?"

    "OK," he smiled back and swore he could see the blood in Mandy's face cool down to a reasonable temperature.

    "So, let's work on getting to know each other: what do you like to do in your free time?" Mandy asked and picked up her discarded chopsticks.

    "Well, it's been a long time since I have had any. I am still busy getting my firm off the ground. What about you?"

    "Well, I like to go out with my co-workers or spend time with Dominic and Miriam – if she has time that is. She is another good friend I met at university, but she's usually very busy with her job and her little son."

    It seemed Mandy's face clouded over at the mention of her friend's child. What was the story there? What had her love life been like?

    "Uh, what else?" she went on quickly, not meeting his eyes, "well, obviously I spend a lot of time at the computer with my designs. I altered the logo of our company and helped set up our website but I also come up with ideas for my dad."

    "Your dad? Does he own a business, too?" It struck Severin that he knew nothing about her family.

    "No, he is a social worker and works at the youth center with young adults. Whenever they have a new workshop or campaign, I get involved in the advertising."

    Suddenly she clamped her lips shut and the fire vanished from her eyes.

    "I'd like to see some of your work sometime,” Severin told her, captured by the fire that seemed to have lit up behind her eyes.

    "Sure, if you're interested," Mandy replied, tilting her head as if assessing the sincerity of his request.

    "I am. So, what's on Tuesdays?"

    "Tuesdays?" Mandy frowned at his non sequitur.

    "You wrote the other day that 'any day except Tuesday' was suitable for you."

    "I did. You have a good memory. Uhm, I am taking a CAD class. We use such a program at work, and I thought it couldn't hurt learning how to handle it, too, in particular if I become more involved in the headstone design."

    "Like I said, it sounds like an unusual but definitely feasible career path," Severin nodded.

    The waitress arrived with their main course, putting a temporary stop to their conversation,.

    "Have you got any brothers or sisters?"

    Severin shifted in his seat. So Mandy had seized the opportunity to change the subject and learn more about him. "Nope, only child. You?"

    "Same. Uh, When did you buy your house?"

    Severin heaved a surreptitious sigh of relief. Although Mandy looked like she was bursting with the urge to ask him where he had finished his degree, she seemed to sense she was approaching landmine territory and steered over to a neutral topic.

    "A year ago. I have had some alterations done, but on the whole it was in very good shape since it is only a couple of years old."

    Mandy smiled at that, sharing she had developed an interest in building, renovation and restoration ever since she started working at Waldhorst's, so she asked more questions and answered some of her own about her little apartment.

    "Have you ever considered investing in a house or condo as well?" Severin asked, more stoked up by their conversation than he had felt in a long time. "At the current interest rate the timing would be ideal."

    Mandy shrugged. "I have but currently I am still undecided. As long as I'm single, I like to stay flexible."

    "That makes sense."

    At least for someone as desirable as her it did. To him, flexibility had not factored into his decision to buy a house instead of a condo. He was investing into valuable real-estate and not hoping he would have actual use of the space one day. Still, Severin thought abruptly, there was no reason why he shouldn't help Mandy some free advice. Clearly she had not come into riches over the past seven years, but neither that circumstance nor her single state should preclude her from making a smart financial decision.

    "On the other hand it would be no problem putting a condo back on the market should your situation change.”

    "I know.”

    "And you could work out a payment plan with your bank that would allow you to amortize the same amount you are currently paying in rent."

    "I know!"

    Whoa. It seemed Mandy possessed landmines of her own and he had just set one off. Now she leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.

    "I'm sorry, but I just don't think that I'm ready for such a step yet. Look, I'm glad for you that you found this beautiful house which gives you flexibility for any type of family situation, but I'm just not at that point in life yet."

    "And you think I am?" Severin erupted, feeling his face heat up, "do you think I need all that space or will ever? It was a business decision, an investment!"

    For a moment Mandy simply stared at him, evidently overwhelmed by his eruption before the true meaning of his words sank in. "Uh, Severin," she began gently, "there is no reason why you wouldn't need the extra space in the future."

    "Oh please!" he scoffed, pushing his plate away from himself. Mandy's own anger, bubbling and foaming though it had been just a moment ago, had cooled instantly in the face of Severin's reaction.

    "All right, I'm going to say it out loud for you probably never will: yes, you've gained a lot of weight. There, it's out. But do you know what? I. Don't. Care."

    She enunciated every word, her eyes never leaving his. Although she hard hardly revealed a state secret, it was still the last thing Severin had expected her to say out loud. Why had she, though? What was she getting at?

    "Well, I do," he finally bit out.

    "Yes, obviously, but you seem to think everyone else is holding it against you, too. Well, they aren't!"

    "And what would you know about it?" Severin spat, his temper barely contained.

    "How would a plain, fashion-impaired nerd know?" Mandy flung back at him, causing him to flinch. Although she had most likely not intended her words as a reminder of his ugly insult form seven years ago, the old wound reopened immediately and his gaze dropped.

    "Look, what I've learned is that there are people whose opinion matters and others whose doesn't"

    "Well, my opinion is the only one that matters to me," Severin hissed back, now in full possession of his faculties again.

    Mandy's fists hit the tabletop simultaneously."Well, it’s about time you realized that; you have always been the only one who mattered to you."

    "Don't pretend to understand me," he snarled back, "you don't know anything about me!"

    "Why, it must be self-discovery day – how can I if you clam up every time I try to get to know you?"

    "That's because it is none of your business!"

    "Uhm, excuse me?" Another tiny Chinese waiter had appeared by their table and was wringing his child-size hands. "Several patrons have requested I ask you if you could keep it down. Please?"

    Severin withdrew his wallet and dropped several bills on the table. "That's all right, we were finished anyway. Can we have our food to go?"

    "Please," Mandy added softly.

    "Oh now you remember your manners?" he exploded. "Where were they when you were prying into matters that don't concern you in the first place?"

    "Uh, sir, please?"

    "I'm sorry," Mandy apologized to the man, "we'll leave."

    They both shrugged into their coats and left their table, to the visible and partially even audible relief of the adjacent diners.

    "I'd rather walk back by myself. I remember the way," Mandy told Severin when they had both received their aluminum containers. Her face was completely shuttered, only her eyes dared Severin to object. Although a man of his breeding was loath to let a woman walk in the dark by herself, no matter how much she had infuriated him, Mandy's eyes conveyed all to clearly the message that he would not be a welcome companion and that there would be no arguing with her.

    "All right," Severin nodded at last, his earlier irritation suddenly deflated like a poor-quality balloon. "Still, be careful, OK?"

    "I will," Mandy nodded after a moment's reflection. A minute later the darkness had swallowed her up.
     
  16. Apr 26, 2019 #76

    RVGleason

    RVGleason

    RVGleason

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    Whoa! This is really getting interesting. Can’t wait to read what happens next!
     
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  17. Apr 26, 2019 #77

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Thank you! I'll keep you in suspense for another few days ;-)
     
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  18. Apr 26, 2019 #78

    thatsnimpossible

    thatsnimpossible

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    I'm obsessed <3 I just wish they'd stop fighting and admit to the sexual tension! God I love this story xx
     
  19. Apr 27, 2019 #79

    Chubhandles

    Chubhandles

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    It seems like Severin and Mandy are going to get banned from every restaurant in the area if this keeps up, haha.

    I’m excited for the next chapter!
     
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  20. May 1, 2019 #80

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 14: Why can't we get along? (part 1)

    'How would a plain, fashion-impaired nerd know?'

    Mandy's reproachful words kept ricocheting around in Severin's heavy head that he was cradling in his hands, slumped on one of his high kitchen chairs. His glasses lay discarded on the granite countertop in front of him. How could he have forgotten how well Mandy could relate to his situation? That ugly moment from seven years ago seemed destined to stand between them until he had apologized to her. However, how was Severin to go about that when he could not seem to keep up with apologizing for his ongoing transgressions?

    Yet even in the midst of all this self-reproach, there was something to which he was clinging like a lifeline: Mandy did not mind his weight gain. Although logically there should have been no reason to believe her, in the deepest recesses of his heart he did. She had always been the most sincere, outspoken person of his acquaintance, and she had uttered every word with care and deliberation, all the while looking into his eyes. She. Did. Not. Mind.

    Their first dinner suddenly came to mind, and with it Mandy's brief look of hurt and confusion when Severin had pulled back instead of accepting her hug. She had wanted to hug him because apparently she had no reservations about hugging a big man. No, of course she doesn't, Severin reminded himself bitterly, rubbing his eyes. How could he ever forget the obese student she had chosen over him after she had shut him out of her life? Come to think of it, he had glimpsed the odd couple several times on campus after that. In this moment he realized that Mandy truly did not care about appearances. Suddenly exhausted with both relief and shame at this discovery, Severin laid down his pounding head on his arms, welcoming the coolness of the granite through the thin fabric of his shirt.

    If Mandy honestly meant her words, should he not allow her to step closer than arm's length? God knew he could use a friend. That is, he did not yet know about Mandy's side of the story. Did she feel they could become friends? There was only one way to find out.



    ***



    The piece of furniture designed to convey its occupant to the land of peaceful slumber sat deserted behind Mandy, who was currently curled up in her office chair in her robe and thick, fuzzy socks, logging on to her corporate email account. There was no chance of sleep until she had resolved the matter brewing on her mind. She had to write an apology to Severin. The first thing they had to do when they met again was exchange private phone numbers, but as it was, she had no choice but to write to his business email address or text his work cell. Given the late hour, the choice between the two was obvious.

    Finally the in-box was displayed, and a single word instantly claimed her attention: Severin. She had always liked the sound and spelling of his name, as old-fashioned and incongruous with his former alter ego it had been. With a suddenly moist palm she moved the mouse and clicked on his message. This time she did not bother reading the other messages first. This was her personal time.





    Mandy,



    It feels like each of my emails starts with an apology, but I really am sorry for my behavior last night. My reason was the same as before: I'm still having difficulties dealing with all these changes in my life, and in moments like this I just can't restrain myself.



    I would very much like for us to get along and to get to know each other better. Would you be up for another walk on Friday? 6 at my place?



    Severin





    Mandy's heart softened as she read the email he had sent at 10:14 PM. Their continuous altercations had to weigh as heavily on his mind as they did on hers. And again he had apologized first even though she bore the majority of the blame this time. Instantly she typed her reply:





    Severin,



    This time I wanted to be the first to apologize because I should have been more sensitive. You did tell me there were certain things you didn't like to talk about, but instead I was being my usual nosy self.



    I would very much like to be friends, so 6 on Friday it is. Perhaps we even dare go out for dinner afterwards ;)



    Mandy



    ***



    On Friday it was again Severin and not his assistant who answered the door.

    "Hey," he greeted Mandy with a shy, endearing smile and stepped back to let her enter.

    "Hey," she smiled back at him briefly, unsure how to greet him. The closer they were growing, the less appropriate did a handshake or a nod seem. Mandy was still pondering the matter when she registered that Severin had lifted his arms and was drawing closer to her. Despite her hesitance she followed suit, and a moment later she was treated to the novel experience of being held by a man as tall and wide as Severin. Michael had never felt sufficiently comfortable for her to hug him, preferring to keep other people as unaware of his girth as possible, and none of the bigger men she had dated had been as tall as Severin.

    Brief though the moment was, her suddenly hypersensitive mind registered every detail from the brush of his belly against hers to the soft contours of his upper body and the feel of these broad shoulders underneath her fingers. She had to rise on tiptoe, but in fact it was their difference in height and weight which made their embrace such a perfect fit. He smelled of fresh laundry, aftershave and that unique ingredient individual for every person that she had sometimes detected on him when he had stormed into their study room slightly sweaty. Both this scent and the reminder of how much he had changed for the better sufficed to call forth this low-belly flutter she had sometimes reluctantly felt as a student, and it was with a prickling face that she let go of him.

    "I'm glad to see you.” He looked it, too. In fact, the man before Mandy bore little resemblance to the serious, gloomy person she had barely recognized as her former study partner. "And I really like your hat."

    "Isn't it neat?" she beamed back at him, freakishly happy that he liked the knit knight-helmet-style hat with the visor and the coxcomb. "A co-worker's wife once picked up her husband and brought along their little son who was wearing one of those. Turns out she's an expert knitter, so I ordered one right away and she brought it over just the other day. And you haven't even seen the best part!"

    She reached up and pulled down the knit visor which slid up and down easily with the aid of buttons serving as hinges.

    "Oh my gosh, that is so you!"

    Severin belted out a deep, rich laugh, and this time he did not check himself. It was a beautiful sound Mandy surprised herself by wishing to hear it from him more often, and it required all of her willpower not to hug him close again.

    "So, are you ready to leave?" she forced herself to ask instead.

    "Ready," he nodded, his remarkable eyes still sparkling with mirth. How handsome he looks when he smiles! From the beginning Mandy had appreciated the sense of style he had acquired over the years: so far she had only seen him meticulously shaven, dressed in neatly pressed shirts and jeans. His black wool coat and simple but classy dark shoes lent a certain elegance to his big frame. And yet it was when he smiled that he was looking the most remarkable, and Mandy had to swallow hard not to stare at him.
     
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