Chapter 14: Why can't we get along? (part 2) Severin had to pull himself together not to stare at Mandy either. Thankfully their walk aided him in this resolve; instead of proceeding directly to the restaurant, they explored the walking paths around his house first before they turned their steps into the direction of the restaurant area, all the while conversing about everything that was not too personal. Again Severin felt this novel sensation, this incredible feeling of being alive, healthy and strong. How much time he had wasted shutting himself up indoors, eating himself out of shape… how might he have fared if he had made more of an effort to contact her after the accident? Yet even as Severin considered the issue, he realized he would never have worked up the nerve even if he had known she would have offered the quiet understanding she had given him so far. Then again, most likely she would not have offered it at the time. "I'm getting hungry, what about you?" Mandy's voice dissipated the clouds of Severin's somber reflections, and he turned to look at her, feeling better instantly. "Me too." He felt relieved that she had addressed the issue of nutrition. An overweight man admitting hunger to a skinny woman? Just pathetic. Over the years he had made the most of himself, but the fact remained that a man of his stature should be making the least of himself. "So, what do you feel like?" Mandy asked, unaware of the somber direction his thoughts had taken. "How about Italian?" Severin pointed to a glowing sign up the road, eager to turn back to the pleasant present. From the corner of his eye he saw Mandy shake her head. "Although I'd love to, I need to go easy on dairy products. I have casein intolerance, which means my body can only tolerate little amounts in regular intervals, and I just ate a cheese sandwich yesterday." Instantly Severin stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. "You have casein intolerance? Does that mean you had to stay away from dairy products every time you ate a Subway sandwich when we studied together?" Again she shook her head. "No, I developed the intolerance about a year later. It's a bit annoying since lactose-free products don't help, but it could be worse.” Severin had wondered what her secret was. So in addition to an undoubtedly active metabolism and regular exercise she had casein intolerance – no wonder she was still so slender. Her condition ruled out most snacks and deserts. Why couldn't he have such an intolerance? "How about Thai then?" Severin suggested, remembering a restaurant just a few streets further. "Thai is perfect." Mandy smiled warmly up at him, and in that moment Severin could just about imagine how the waiter at the Mexican place must have felt. Mandy truly had a way of making people feel better about themselves. Twenty-five minutes later, the two of them were digging into their fish and vegetable filled plates and the bowl of rice they were sharing. "I love Asian cuisine," Mandy rhapsodized with a wide smile as she transferred another spoonful into her mouth, "exotic spices, coconut milk, and best of all: no dairy." "I'm glad to see that you enjoy food. Nicky never did." Whoops. Severin had never intended to blurt out that particular piece of information. What if Mandy interpreted it as a signal that he was opening up about the topic? Instantly he bowed his head and clamped his lips together, hoping her linguistic aptitude extended into the realm of body language. Indeed she did not pry, and a moment later Severin dared to raise his eyes to his plate again and resumed his meal. "Can you cook?" Her question was so abrupt that Severin fully focused on her without any qualms whatsoever. "Can I cook? Uh, about as much as anyone I suppose." He truly could if he take the time, which he hardly ever did. Add to that the fact that he had no one other than himself to appreciate the results. "I mean, do you enjoy it?" Mandy probed, looking openly curious. "I do, when I take the time that is. What about you?" "I can manage anything that involves egg," she grinned, "other than that I'm pretty much hopeless." Another reason why you're still so thin, it popped into Severin's mind, but this time he shooed it away immediately. The more time he spent around this cheerful woman, the less inclined did he feel to give into his lingering self-disparagement. "And I don't want to learn either," Mandy continued, thankfully unaware of his thoughts, "there are so many other things that I would like to explore, and cooking is not one of them." "There is nothing wrong with that,” Severin shrugged, "at least it helps you maintain your figure." Darn it! he cursed himself instantly, why does this keep happening? If Severin had thought he had committed a major blunder when he had mentioned Nicole, this most recent remark was ten times worse. He hardly dared to raise his eyes to Mandy's, and when he did do it at last, he did not care in the least for Mandy's expression so perilously close to pity. It was not quite pity, more of a quiet understanding, but still Severin wished he could unsay those words. "I have told you before: I don't care you've gained weight," Mandy stated simply, her calm gaze locked with his. "Well, I do," Severin blurted before giving his mind a chance to process her words. "Well, then you have three options." Mandy leaned forward. "Accept it, lose weight, or have surgery. At some point you've got to deal with what life has in store for you." "Easy for you to say," Severin flung back at her, "evidently life has been nothing but kind to you!" "'Evidently'!" Mandy hissed, tossing her napkin which she had just picked up back on the table. "And what evidence are you referring to? My appearance?" As if her own words had just dawned on her she sat up straighter. "Of course, because that's how you've always judged people: by their appearance!" "And you haven't?" Severin snapped at her. "From the moment we met at university, you pigeonholed me as a lazy, narcissistic monster! Besides, what are you referring to?" "My mom died of cancer three years ago." Her voice broke on the word 'cancer', and her head dipped in defeat. Instantly Severin felt like the biggest jerk on the planet. "Oh Lord. Mandy, I'm so sorry..." Helplessly he sat there, feeling the pain radiating off Mandy's narrow shoulders, which were shaking with the silent tears she was trying to conceal from him. Even though he was feeling as powerless as most of his gender do in the face of a crying woman, Severin could not just let her cry alone. He was well aware that he would most likely screw up again, but he had to try. Cautiously but with determination, he scooted out of his side of the booth and crossed over to hers, finding himself once again confronted with the ramifications of his changed physique. Had he still possessed his old figure, he could simply have slid into the narrow space next to her, but with his new dimensions he depended on Mandy's cooperation. With heightening shame and color, Severin therefore waited until she finally scooted over and let him take a seat beside her. Feeling like the clumsiest person in the history of men, Severin settled his left arm around Mandy and pulled her close to him. A frantic search for something soothing to say produced nothing, and so he simply sat there, holding her and hoping she would calm down soon. I was breaking his heart to see this cheerful woman in such agony – an agony for which he was responsible. At least no one in the restaurant was taking any notice of them, or if they were, they were tactfully keeping their distance. Finally Mandy's sobs subsided and she placed her glasses on the table in order to wipe her eyes with her napkin. Feeling it to be the appropriate moment to remove his arm, Severin clumsily did so, feeling as if it did not belong on his body. At last Mandy scooted away a little further and turned towards him. "We've got to stop doing that," she whispered, “making assumptions and jumping to conclusions about each other." "Yes, we do," Severin agreed from the bottom of his heart. Where she was concerned, he had screwed up more than with any other person, and the fact that she was guilty of the same mistake did not excuse his behavior. "I'll try to be less touchy, OK?" "And I'll make an effort to be less judgmental." She drew a final ragged breath but was looking more composed now. It was the first time that Severin had seen her without her glasses, and despite the puffiness beginning to show around her eyes, he noticed that they were a blend of clear gray and blue. Nothing overly striking but nevertheless intriguing. As he had noticed in their first Micro tutorial, her mouth was a bit too wide, her nose a little too long and her face overall more angular than was considered beautiful for a woman, but her features could not help but draw attention. Add to that her remarkable height and slender curves, and it was no wonder that so many male eyes were always on her whenever she crossed a room. "Friends?" she offered. "Friends." Severin truly wished that, and tentatively he squeezed her hand before sliding back out of the booth. When he had resumed his former seat, Mandy's glasses were back in place, as was her composure. "So, when is your birthday?" "Uh, my birthday?" "Yes. Friends should know each other's birthdays," she replied simply. "That makes sense," Severin agreed with a smile, grateful for her quick mind and tongue. "Mine is April 15, and yours?" "July 12. I'm 26 years old." "I'm 29."