Discussion in 'Recent Additions' started by Unbasher, Mar 7, 2019.
Count me in for the Dominic/Severin standoff
Chapter 19: Not amused (part 1)
Mandy could tell that Dominic was not blessed with the sunniest of moods when he marched into his office, coffee and temper obviously simmering.
"Hey Mandy." As always he perched on his usual corner of the desk. "You know, it feels the only times I ever get to see you lately is in this office. What's with you lately? It's like I talk to your voicemail more than to you. You always seem busy."
The gentle sound of guilt knocking at the door to Mandy's conscience which she had managed to drown out so far now demanded to be heard with the subtlety of a marching band. The truth is, she had been fobbing Dominic off repeatedly and joined fewer of their outings than she had before.
"I... I've been... seeing someone," she finally admitted.
Instantly Dominic lowered his coffee mug at the same time as his eyebrows rose. "Oh? Who is he? I mean, where did you meet him?”
"It's… it's Severin," Mandy blurted, anxious to get the news out that were sure to elicit nothing even remotely related to approval from her oldest friend.
"Him?!" Again Dominic's jaw seemed to unhinge, like it had when Mandy had first mentioned that Severin was the company's new tax advisor. "You can't be serious."
"I never would have thought it would happen either… but it did," she shrugged and could not suppress a smile at the thought of the man who possessed the ability to make her heart beat faster and her palms glisten. Evidently her smile had not escaped Dominic whose eyes were narrowing.
"What happened to taking care of yourself? What happened to being professional?"
Suddenly he sounded like the lethal lawyer Mandy had always suspected him capable of being, and it was for the first time she realized she never wanted to find herself at the opposing side of a negotiating table with him.
"Well, evidently my worries about not being able to deal with him were unwarranted. As for being professional: I am. Severin and I seeing each other does not interfere with my work. Look," she added as the idea surfaced, "why don't I introduce you two? You'll see he is both a decent person and a highly skilled tax advisor. You may interrogate him to your heart's desire, Mr. Prosecutor," she dared to tease him. Dominic would probably take to the idea. As for Severin, she felt sure he could easily handle such an examination.
After a moment's contemplation, Dominic nodded. "All right."
"Great. I'll ask him to pick me up sometime this week so I can introduce him to you and your dad."
Although a sour look crossed Dominic's face at the words 'pick me up', he nodded again. "Fine. Talk to you later. I got a lot of stuff to do. "
"OK, I'll let you know when he comes."
But Dominic had already left the office without another word. What is with him? Mandy wondered. He had always been protective of her, another reason why he felt like an older brother to her, but where was all this hostility towards Severin coming from? Had she better warn him? On the spot she resolved not to. It would give Severin the wrong idea about Dominic's and her relationship.
On the follow Friday Severin pulled up in front of Mandy's workplace, a few minutes early as always. Wiping his slightly moist palms on his jeans, he willed himself to control his breathing. Soon he would not only meet the owner but the son as well. He vaguely remembered the tattooed man in whose company he had sometimes spotted Mandy on campus but had never liked the sound of this 'friendship'. For some reason Mandy had never seen him as anything other than a friend, but that did not mean the same went for him. Which straight guy would be friends with Mandy for seven years without making a move? He strongly doubted that his appearance on the company premises would reassure Mandy's 'friend' as she seemed so convinced it would. However, meeting his father was the right move even though he had handed all the administration over to Mandy.
A few minutes later, Severin discovered his trepidation that Mandy's boss, a physically hard-working tradesman, would not take kindly to an oversize intellectual, was entirely unwarranted. He did not comment on his weight either facially or verbally as so many people were prone to do in various stages of awareness. He was a white-haired bear – well, baby bear – with an iron grip for a handshake and a soft spot for his Mandy. Can't blame him there, Severin smiled to himself, a sentiment which did not apply to the son to whom he took an intense dislike the moment he set eyes on him. 'Down' on him, he indulged his pettiness for a moment. No matter how strongly Mandy might deny it, Severin was certain Dominic Waldhorst had a thing for her. While the kid contented himself with watching Severin with narrowed eyes, his father and Severin chatted for a few moments until Albert excused himself with another firm handshake.
"It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Meyers. It seems our Mandy here has chosen well as she always does." He added that last part with a paternal smile, and Severin watched her return it with a heart bursting with pride at his competent, popular girlfriend. "If you'll excuse me now, there's something I need to clear up with Mandy before I release her into her well-deserved weekend." He turned to Mandy. "Could you come with me to the workshop for a minute? I wanted to ask you something about Mrs. Frank's headstone."
"Of course." She turned back to Severin and Dominic. "Mind if I leave the two of you alone for a moment?"
"Not at all." Dominic drawled with a malicious glint in his eyes. How can Mandy be so blind where he is concerned? Severin wondered, taking care to grit his teeth stealthily lest Mandy notice. Had something happened between them that she would prefer to keep from him, or was she actually that oblivious? Mandy directed an insecure smile at both of them and followed Albert out of the office.
"So," Dominic began, his hands in his work pants pockets and his head tilted to one side. "We meet officially at last. I can't say I remember much about you. At any rate I don't remember that much about you."
Although Severin had expected some such remark pointed at his weight gain, it hurt nonetheless; and he hoped it did not show. "Let's be civil here, shall we?" he replied as casually as he could muster. It would not do to indulge his temper at Mandy's workplace.
"Civil? I'd rather be straight with you."
Ah, so he cuts right to the chase, Severin thought, raising his eyebrows. From what he had learned about him from Mandy, he should have known he would. Dominic closed the distance between them with a few energetic strides, and suddenly his index finger was in Severin's face. "Just because there was never anything between me and Mandy—"
"Mandy and I,” Severin could not hold back. OK, he did not want to.
"Whatever, smart-ass. I'm not going to let you hurt her again. Mandy never told me what exactly happened between the two of you, but I know you said something shitty to or about her. At first I hated you for it, but then I was kinda glad you did it because she finally saw you for what you really were and kicked you to the curb. I told her she should have done that long ago."
Severin let his heated words wash over him as his thoughts zoomed in on his initial piece of information: Mandy had never told Dominic about the scene in the cafeteria.
"Yeah, that's right," Dominic snarled as if guessing his opponent's thoughts. "She never said a word. She's both too proud and too good a person for that, but I know you gave her shit about her looks.”
Severin's heart contracted almost painfully at this moment of shame, but Dominic continued mercilessly: "And now that you've gone to fat, you think you've got a chance with her because you think she's got a good heart. Let me tell you, she's got more than a good heart! She's beautiful and brilliant and could be married three times over already if she weren't so oblivious to guys! She can certainly do a hundred times better than an overstuffed, shallow douchebag like you!"
Severin knew she could, and yet he felt a surge of anger rising in him like a mighty flame, letting him forget what he had become. "Now you listen, shorty," he glared down at him, relishing every fraction of an inch he towered over him. "You don't know a single thing about me. Whatever happens between Mandy and me is none of your goddamn business. She's a grown woman as you were just so fond of pointing out to me, and capable of making her own decisions."
"That she is," Dominic shot back, not backing down an inch. He had guts, this guy, Severin had to admit. "But I'll be damned if I let you hurt her again. If I ever see her so much as frown, you'd better pray I won't find you."
The truth was, Dominic could not have done him a bigger favor than to insult him like he just had. Although it had hardly happened before the accident, Severin had never taken very kindly to people telling him that he did not deserve something. Now he only wanted to make Mandy his own more than ever, and there was not a damn thing Dominic would be able to do about it.
"No, you'd better pray that Mandy has not heard any of this," Severin replied softly and with deliberation. "If she hears how you're threatening her boyfriend, perhaps she'll think twice about who is hurting whom."
Dominic's face gave nothing away. "You'd never tell her because we both know how that would make her feel."
He had Severin there, but he also chose not to let anything on. "Be that as it may, you'd better get that temper under control before you get back to your rocks. It wouldn't do to let your personal life interfere with your work. There are some people who just can't keep those two separate.”
Chapter 19: Not amused (part 2)
He could that Dominic was about to explode on him when he heard a door open. Instantly Dominic retreated one step, inhaling deeply. A few moments later Mandy entered the room with a wary smile. She had to have known she was leaving two volatile chemicals unattended, but she had certainly never guessed how close she had come to cause an H-bomb-like inferno.
"Uh, everything all right here?" she probed cautiously as if she was sensing the tense vibes emanating from both of them.
"Just fine!" Dominic threw at her before he stormed out.
"What was that all about?" Mandy turned to Severin wide-eyed.
"Let's just say that your idea of the conduciveness of this meeting bore fruit with Albert but not his son."
"Did you… have words?"
Yep, and almost fists, too. "You could say that," Severin answered and went on quickly before she could ask another question. "Please, let's get out of here first and I'll fill you in later, OK?"
On Monday morning Mandy entered her office on legs that felt like wet spaghetti. Despite a wonderful weekend with Severin – they had attended a classical concert on Saturday and lingered on the Christmas market in town on Sunday – the conversation when they had returned home had not left her mind. She had a strong suspicion that Severin had delivered but a watered-down version of what had transpired, and she felt both afraid and determined to confront Dominic.
When the object of her thoughts marched into her office about a quarter of an hour after her arrival, however, her indignation and thus determination instantly won the upper hand when she caught his etched frown and set jaw. Apparently she was in for a continuance of their altercation, and she was becoming increasingly sick of people dictating her life and questioning her decisions.
"Hey,” Dominic began and took up his usual spot, eyeing her over the rim of his mug.
"Hey." She was in no mood for games and got straight to the point: "Care to tell me why you turned my suggestion of a professional examination into an exchange of personal insults?"
"So your boyfriend tattled. Not a good quality in a man.”
"Shut up, Dominic!" she erupted on her sneering friend, causing him to close his mouth in astonishment. "For your information, he did not tattle! It was written all over your face on Friday! God, why are you being so unreasonable? What's it to you who I date?"
"Well, I care about you!" he shouted back.
"I know you do, and I'm sure you mean well, but that does not mean that I will let you question my decisions!"
"He is not good for you! He will hurt you again!"
"Again, this is my decision." Incredulous, Mandy watched her friend's hands curl into fists.
"But you deserve so much better than that fat, shallow loser!"
"Do you realize that you're sounding like a jealous juvenile?"
For once, eloquent Dominic had no retort, and Mandy watched his face, so aggressively distorted a second ago, and now sagging. It was in this moment that Mandy heard the echo of her own words and felt the proverbial scales fall from her eyes.
"Oh my gosh. You are jealous." His face was all the proof needed. "Dom, are you... I can't believe I'm asking you this but… do you have feelings for me?"
"Yes, dammit!" The limpness had fled his body, only to be replaced by a new type of anger. "I've been in love with you for seven years!"
For a moment Mandy stared at him open-mouthed. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. Why… why did you never say anything?"
"Because… because you're all about hugs and making people feel good, whereas I... I don't do… physical stuff.”
'Physical stuff'? What did that mean? Was Dominic … asexual? Mandy dimly remembered a YouTube video about not all asexuals being averse to touch, but what else could her friend mean? She had always been wondering why he had never had a girlfriend in all those years, and now it turned out he had always been her... secret admirer? Meanwhile Dominic still had not managed to locate sufficient words to compose an elaboration on his cryptic comment.
"And what were you going to do, Dom? Hoping I would always stay single? Wait, is that why you offered me a job here in the first place, so you could keep me close by?" Only then did she realize she was yelling.
"That wasn't the reason!" Dominic shouted, his voice shaking. "As for what I was going to do: I have no fucking clue, OK? Why do you think I never said anything? I've been racking my brains for years and never found an answer!"
Despite the hurt he had caused Mandy her heart went out to him. How horrible it had to be to care about a person but not be able to get close to them.
"Could I have done anything to… help you?" she asked him gently, yearning to ease his pain, but her friend only shook his head.
"I don't think so. You've always been oblivious where guys are concerned."
"That's because there never were any, remember?"
"That is what you think!" Dominic shouted, all gloom suddenly gone. "Hell, Mandy, you don't even realize how many guys stare after you each day, do you?"
"Uh, no? Because they don't?"
"How would you know? When you look into the mirror, you still see the nerd – not that there was anything wrong with her in the first place – but you have changed! You've always been the smartest, funniest woman I've ever known, and over the years you've become beautiful, too!"
"I have not!" Mandy erupted. "Sure, I've learned to use makeup and finally gotten a decent haircut but I'm not beautiful!"
"See, that's where you're wrong, and that's why you don't notice how guys react to you! Hell, all those years you have been blind to everyone, including me, and the one time you do notice a guy, it has to be that fat Meyers loser?"
"Stop calling him that!"
"Well, to me he'll always be a at loser, and he'll never deserve you either! You could do so much better than him!"
"Why does everyone think they know what's best for me?!" Mandy exploded, yelling at the top of her voice now. "I'm a grown woman, dammit, and neither you nor anyone gets to question who I choose for a partner!"
Despite her tirade Dominic's anger seemed to abate. What was going on behind her friend's suddenly so smooth facade? The only change Mandy discerned in his demeanor was a suspicious look which had crept into his eyes.
"'Why does everyone think'?" he repeated, evidently gathering ammunition. "'Neither me nor anyone'? Who are you talking about?"
"None of your business!"
Dominic tilted his head to the side, still so disgustingly calm. "Fine, have it your way. However, speaking of business," he added, a smile of the insincere variety suddenly teasing his lips, "you can't go out with our tax advisor."
"Please enlighten me, why not?" Mandy enunciated with such artificial sweetness it would have killed a diabetic.
"Conflict of interest."
"Seriously? Is that all you have? You know damn well there is no conflict of interest here! If anything Severin would make even more of an effort—"
"And what if you two break up, huh? Will he still act in our best interests?" Dominic flung at her, his temper flaring again.
"For one: we have only just begun seeing each other. For another: yes, he will! He is a professional and would never to anything to harm his clients or his own firm!"
"And you know that because you know him so well, huh?"
"Yes, I do," she declared, not backing down.
"No, you don't. You don't really know him. He hurt you once and will hurt you again, no matter how much you think he's changed."
"Well, right now you're hurting me more!" Mandy shot back. "You're insulting Severin, and you're insulting me."
"While I have no problem insulting him, the last thing I want to do is hurt you."
The last part was uttered so tenderly that Mandy's blood ceased boiling and her breathing decelerated a little. "Then don't," she pleaded after a moment. "I'm so infinitely sorry I never realized you had feelings for me but… there's nothing I can do. I'm interested in someone else. Besides, you have always been such a good friend to me, I don't think I could ever see you any other way. Please don't throw away what we have because of something you can't change.”
She saw and heard her friend take a deep breath before he answered with a face as cool as the marble work piece which he was currently working on.
"You know, I've pretty much accepted you don't feel the same way for me. If you had, something would have happened at some point. What I can't accept is that you're dating him. He. Does. Not. Deserve. You."
"Again, you do not get to decide that," she bit out, feeling her blood simmer again.
"Then there's nothing else to say," Dominic snarled, curling his hands into fists again. "Still, that's only one side of the issue. I have this company's future to consider. You can't date our tax advisor."
"Yes, I can. Our relationship does not interfere with my or his work!"
“No, it won't – definitely.” Mandy couldn't help herself. This was simply too ridiculous.
"You're still an employee of this company!"
"As are you! It is your father who has the final word on such matters!"
A deadly calm suddenly took possession of Dominic's face. It felt to Mandy as if she didn't know him anymore.
"Excellent point. I'll talk to him as soon as possible.”
He left Mandy standing there with her mouth still hanging open. In this moment, she realized that she had lost him forever.
Loved the standoff. Proud of Severin for holding his own despite his insecurity.
This is wonderful as usual and I can't wait for more!
Chapter 20: Family or company? (part 1)
Feeling almost as helpless as he did at the Thai restaurant – almost because this time it was not he who had caused Mandy such grief – Severin held her close against him and simply let her cry. When Christina had poked in her head at not even ten in the morning and told him that Mandy was already there, he had known something was wrong and told his assistant to hold all his calls. When he joined Mandy in the entry and took her upstairs a few minutes later, he immediately knew he never wanted to see that heartbroken look on her face ever again, that look of utter defeat and despair he had glimpsed just before she had launched herself into his arms.
In between sobs she choked out the whole story, and as relieved as Severin felt that Mandy had finally realized her friendship with Dominic was over, he could have punched that dweeb for reducing her to this state. Now he hated the guy more than ever, even though his actions had brought them closer together. Severin could all too well relate to her agony of losing a close friend – plural actually. As glad as he was today to finally realize he had been deluding himself about his popularity at university, sometimes ignorance was a blessing.
At last Mandy's sobs subsided and Severin could feel her thin body gain composure. At some point she pulled away, took off her glasses and wiped her teary face with one of her sleeves. Her eyes were red and swollen and she looked the image of defeat. Wordlessly Severin reached out and cupped her cheek with his right hand, stroking it gently with his thumb until her overstrained eyes closed and she leaned into his hand like a cat.
"Just hold me for a while, please," she whispered at last and placed her arms around his neck again, still feeling as fragile as a child.
Although Severin hated this helplessness to which a woman's tears could reduce a man, holding her and simply being there for her lay just within his power, and he pulled her close against him only too gladly. Gently he stroked the hard panes of her back and let his fingertips trace the ridges of her spine. It might defy belief that such a skinny woman would be attracted by an overweight man, yet all evidence corroborated the concept. Perhaps, he thought, there was something else he could offer her in addition to his financial situation, his humor and his intellect: he could offer her care and comfort. If anything positive could be derived from his new size, it was the 'protection factor'. Hardly anyone saw the need to comfort tall people, subconsciously attributing to them strength and self-sufficiency, and from all he had gleaned from and about Mandy so far, she shared that fate. With a man of so much more mass than her, she might find security and relief in his arms that she would not have found in the skinny edition of him.
Although Severin thought he should have felt appalled at the flicker of acceptance of the new him, he felt himself grow calmer at the thought. If he could be a better partner to Mandy now, why should he condemn everything he had become? Thankfully he was distracted by a deeply inhaling Mandy before the voices in his head could engage in a vociferous altercation. It was way too soon and definitely not the right moment for this kind of self-reflection.
"Better?" he murmured into Mandy's ear when her breathing quieted and slowed down.
He heard her take one last ragged breath before her puffy face reappeared. He knew all about parched throats, depleted eyes and hollow heads, and he reached out to cup her cheek again.
"And I just decided to take tomorrow off, which makes me feel a lot better," she chuckled weakly.
"If you hadn't thought of it first, I would have suggested it," Severin smiled at her, running his thumb across her skin which felt sticky with dried tears.
Mandy drew another deep breath, all the while never breaking eye contact. "You know, the more I get to know you, the less my favorite insult – dimwit – seems to apply. That's not fair."
"Whereas you are still a brat."
Mandy only smiled for an answer. As broken as she had looked only a minute ago, all the more ready did she appear to start afresh. This woman never failed to amaze him, and again he could not entirely suppress the question how he would have fared if he had had her by his side after the accident.
"You know," she began, "you don't have to stay with me the whole time. In fact, I think I'd like to soak in your tub for a while if that's OK with you."
"What an excellent idea," Severin smiled at her, running his fingers through her hair the way she liked it before he remembered something. "Uh, I don't have any sensitive-skin bubble bath."
"That's fine." Her eyes grew soft. "But thank you for being so thoughtful. And thank you for being there for me."
"Hey, I'm your boyfriend. It's in my job description," he smiled, trying to make light of the situation.
"Well, still. I'm not used to it, remember?"
"Yeah... well then, if you're sure you're feeling better, I'll go back to work while you stay in the tub for as long as it makes you feel good. And don't hesitate to come get me if you need me, alright?"
Careful not to disturb Severin the next morning, Mandy slipped out of bed, pulled on last night's thick socks and Severin's robe and padded out of the bedroom. She needed to be alone right now. Thanks to Severin's tender administrations and his excellent cooking, yesterday's crying session had not reduced her to the pathetic post-cry lump with the pounding head and golf ball eyes she usually morphed into, but even Severin could not change the facts.
Albert had agreed to her request for a day off without any questions, and she wondered if that was because Dominic had not had the opportunity to speak to him yet or if Albert simply needed some time to think before he confronted her. Whatever his reason, Mandy felt grateful for her one day of reprieve and the opportunity to avoid Dominic so that she could compose herself a little. Exhausted beyond expression, she slipped into one of the high kitchen chairs, rested her arms on the cold, hard granite surface of the bar – the wide sleeves kept sliding down – and confronted herself with the equally cold, hard truth:
She had lost Dominic. Everything was going to change. The easy blend of her work and private life that she had always treasured would no longer be able to continue. People were going to ask questions, make assumptions and take sides. Albert might not want Mandy to leave the company, but she might end up with no other choice. A harmonic working atmosphere was essential to a company's success as it directly affected the work performance of its employees. Dominic and Mandy would no longer be able to work together. One of them would have to go, and between the owner's son and an outsider the choice was obvious.
Severin's deep voice prodded Mandy out of her ever growing despair, and the next thing she felt were a pair of strong arms encircling her shoulders from behind. His warm face nudged its path along her neck until it came to a rest against hers where she could feel his slight morning stubble.
"Hey," she smiled despite her gloom and felt herself breathe easily for the first time this morning. Severin's scent and the feel of his arms against hers were proving to be the best remedy for the fears that tormented her, and she simply let him hold her for a while, savoring his closeness. After a minute, however that closeness was no longer enough. She needed to get closer, and the backrest was in the way. Without a word she shrugged out of his embrace, swiveled her chair to face Severin and rose to her feet in order to claim the kiss she was suddenly starving for. Severin's hair was a bird's nest and his eyes were still slightly puffy with sleep, but to her he looked so handsome she could scarcely believe they were in his apartment together, kissing each other good morning. I love the feel of you against me, she thought, pressed up against him, I love your taste, I—
"I love you."
As soon as Mandy had blurted the words, she felt Severin stiffen underneath her arms, and she pulled back gently but with determination. She needed to be the first one to speak before he panicked. "Uh, that being said, let me add that there is no subtext here. I will not sulk or pester you with insinuations until you say it back. I only ask that you don't treat me like a time bomb."
Despite his evident tension, a chuckle escaped Severin, and he pulled her closer again. "Promise.”
Chapter 20: Family or company? (part 2)
I love you.
Although Severin had found his voice again, that did not mean that he was done processing what Mandy had just told him. Right now was not the moment to engage in said processing but he would have to at some point. Somehow he managed to quell the foaming flood of emotions and simply enjoyed the feel of her in his arms.
"So, what are your plans for your free day?"
"I think I'm going to head out to the sauna and maybe the pool as well. It's the one place that never fails to calm me down," she sighed, but the corners of her mouth lifted a little.
Although it was comforting to know that Mandy had found a means to heal the wound from the blow she had just received, the thought of her alone in a sauna full of dirty old men – the usual matinal sauna population – caused Severin's stomach to twist and his jaw to clench. Mandy was his and his alone to see naked. Yet how could he deny her that sole source of comfort? Despite the surge of jealousy and panic that he had never felt in his previous relationships, he would never go so far as to act on that jealousy. The only way to ease his mind would be to accompany her next time, but the mere thought sufficed to intensify that twist in his guts. He in a sauna was bad enough, but he next to a woman as slim and pretty as Mandy – never. The same went for the pool.
In that moment he panicked. Was he ready for this relationship? But even as he thought those words, he knew the opposite was even more unthinkable. He could not go back to a life without Mandy, so if his letting her go to the sauna unaccompanied was what it took to keep her happy by his side, so be it.
"That sounds like a good idea," he willed himself to smile at her and ran his fingers through her hair the way she liked it until her eyes closed in almost feline appreciation.
"Oh, I just remembered that you have your CAD class tonight. Are you coming back after or are you staying at your place tonight?" Please say you'll come back, he silently willed her to say.
"I'm not sure yet. Right now I feel as if I want to lie in bed for the next two months. I'll call you when I leave the sauna, OK?"
Severin hoped his disappointment did not show. He couldn't blame her. When he had realized he had no true friends beside Jordan, he had wanted to lie in bed for the next two years, and God, had he come close to doing just that. "Take your time and do what's best for you, all right?"
"Thank you for being so understanding."
Mandy's smile looked real even though it was based on a lie, as Severin was as far from being understanding as he could be. He simply didn't have a choice.
"Let's eat some breakfast and then you go enjoy your day."
He kissed her one last time before he pulled away, utterly reluctant to do so when he might not have her in bed beside him tonight.
Indeed he felt her absence acutely all day even though he managed to drive out all the emotional events of the past days and to concentrate on his full day: his tasks from the day before, a new client and several important phone calls. If Mandy and he were to have a future, he needed to learn to focus on his work despite whatever was going on in his personal life – a skill he heretofore had had no pressure to develop for lack of need. Seven years was a long time for anyone to stay single, but after the dramatic changes Severin had undergone, he was even more anxious about not being able to handle a relationship. At the same time it was this relationship he could not afford to mess up. Mandy had told him she loved him, and even though he could not yet deal with that new development, he knew that he had to keep her in his life.
And yet an ever intensifying panic was suddenly siphoning off his concentration: what if Mandy realized that he had cost her Dominic? What if she decided that he was not worth the sacrifice? What if… what if the guy was right and he would hurt Mandy again? Then she would neither have him nor Dominic. More or less successfully Severin managed to shove the painful questions aside and to complete his work until it was way past lunchtime. Just as he was sitting down for a simple bowl of tomato soup – Mandy's good influence – his phone chimed and he snatched it up eagerly.
"The sauna did me a world of good. I'll come over after my CAD class."
Although Severin should feel disgusted at his goofy-happy reflection on the screen of the phone, all he felt was an all-consuming exhilaration while he composed a brief but affectionate affirmative before he sagged against the backrest of the kitchen chair like a deflating balloon. His Mandy still wanted him and would be back tonight. He would get to hold her in his arms again. Suddenly he sat up.
Damn, I must have fallen hard, he realized, blinking several times. He had fallen for his former study partner just like Jordan had predicted, although with a seven-year delay.
Jordan. He needed to talk to Jordan. His call to him was long overdue anyway, and even though he could already picture his friend's shit-eating grin, he simply had to fill him in. Fortunately, Jordan was able to take private calls at his workplace and indeed Severin seemed to have caught him at a good time.
"Sev! About time you called. How're you doing?"
Jordan was the one person besides Herb who actually meant those words he had come to loathe from all other people.
"Great, actually," he smiled into the phone, a fact Jordan picked up on immediately.
"'Great'? Out with it, Sev, something happened, didn't it?"
He could have said that Jordan was way too intuitive for his own good, but that would be a lie. It was one of his best qualities.
"Yes, it did," Severin answered and steeled himself for his friend's reaction to his addendum, "You remember the conversation we had in the cafeteria once about my nerdy study partner?"
"I do." Jordan sounded wary and Severin could not blame him as they rarely talked about his past.
"Well, I met her."
"What?! Did you call her after all?"
"No." Severin drew a deep breath. "Remember when I told you my former boss was retiring and recommending some of his clients to me?"
Of course he would. Jordan's memory was close to infallible.
"Well, a few weeks ago I set up an appointment with a woman managing the office for one of these clients. And then she walks into my office, I introduce myself to her and she tells me she thinks we know each other. Turns out she's Chucks, my old study partner."
"Way," Severin grinned, suddenly no longer nervous but anxious to let his friend in on everything that had happened.
"Wow… I mean, you hear of such weird things all the time, but now it happens to you?! Uh, how come you didn't recognize her?" he added.
"Uh, apparently she got the make-over I once thought she should get. She… she's still a little too skinny but… she looks gorgeous now," he finished softly, picturing her wide smile.
"Hang on. You're not going to tell me you..." he let the sentence dangle in mid-air.
"Yeah, I am. We're together now."
Another pause. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. Sure you're not kidding me?"
"OK. When, how and how often, you dog?"
Severin groaned and filled his friend in on the non-sexual details. That was none of his business. He barely made it from one period to the next without an interruption from the usually so calm Jordan.
"You must bring her with you on Christmas!" he insisted when Severin had ended. "Or are you visiting her family?"
"Uh, J, we've only been together for two weeks; we're not talking about meeting families yet."
"Oh, don't count on that. Girls are into that sort of thing. You might find yourself opening gifts under her parents' Christmas tree in a couple of weeks."
"Well, at any rate you're bringing her for my birthday, and that is non-negotiable."
"I wasn't about to negotiate. In fact, I can’t wait for you guys to meet her."
"Great! Perhaps you can come even sooner."
"With all those bacteria running rampant in your household at the beginning of every year? Fat chance."
"Touché," Jordan chuckled into the phone. "Well, maybe we will be spared this year. Never give up hope, right?"
"I guess not," Severin agreed, aware of the double meaning. "OK, you slacker, get back to work. I’ll talk to you soon."
"You’d better. Bye."
Chapter 20: Family or company? (part 3)
With his thoughts and respiration restored to their usual pace, Severin spent the remainder of his afternoon working. Later that day he showered and slipped into bed early with his current novel. When he finally heard the click of the door downstairs – he had pressed his spare key into Mandy’s hand earlier that morning – he set aside his Kindle and listened to each of her light footsteps. Her time in the bathroom was brief. After a day of thorough cleansing in the sauna all she probably needed was to brush her teeth, and so it did not take long until the bedroom door opened and Mandy's slim shape appeared, clad in the sleep shorts and tank top she had hung up in the bathroom that morning. Severin noticed at once she was looking far more at peace than this morning.
"Hey." She blushed but smiled back and walked around the bed. The next moment she was under the covers and he pulled her close for a deep kiss. He had missed her. "I'm glad you're here. How was your day?"
"Just like I hoped."
Mandy smiled a heartfelt smile of contentment and Severin joined right in, running his fingers through her hair.
"I love it when you do that," she sighed, close to a purr.
"What a coincidence, since I love doing it."
At some point he lowered himself onto his side again and pulled her against him in order to gather her close against him. Here was to never going to bed alone nor waking up alone. She was his now.
Mandy realized she had chosen wisely to recharge her reserves because the very next day Albert entered her office with a grave expression on his face.
"Mandy? May I speak with you?"
With a sinking heart she pushed her office chair away from the desk and rose to her feet to face both Albert and the weighty news he was about to impart. "I know what you're about to say. Please, let's just get this over with. "
Albert's eyebrows contracted. “Let's get what over with?”
"Don't worry, I'll train my replacement thoroughly."
Albert's arms crossed over his chest and his head tilted to one side. "What are you talking about? You're not going anywhere. I mean, unless you want to."
Now it was Mandy's turn to frown. "OK, Albert, why don't I stop assuming I know what you want to tell me and just let you talk?"
"Exactly, why don't you?" her boss grinned, displaying his white, crooked teeth. "Please sit." He pulled the second office chair across from hers and settled down in it. "Mandy, Dominic came to talk to me yesterday," he began, and she held her breath for his next words. Why would he assure her that she was not going anywhere when Dominic had indeed made him privy to her personal life?
"He said that you and Mr... I forget his name, our new tax advisor?" he waved his strong hands in mid-air as if they might catch the elusive name.
"Severin Meyers," Mandy supplied warily.
"Yes, him. Uh, well, he said that you two were... seeing each other." Albert waited until he saw her nod. "He also said that he saw a conflict of interest there."
"Yes. And do you?"
"Truth be told, I don't."
"You don't?" Mandy sat up straighter and felt her eyebrows wander up her forehead. She had always thought Dominic and his father so alike in their views about the company, and now they would differ on this crucial issue?
"No," Albert repeated in a calm voice. "If he was an auditor, I would agree with Dominic, but seeing he's not..." he shrugged. "Sure, there's always a risk in dating someone you sort of work with in case things don't work out, but since I'm talking to you and not some airhead, I don't have to tell you that. You'll act as reasonably as you always do."
"Thank you, Albert," Mandy allowed herself a slow, cautious exhale. "But... you really don't mind?"
His strong, broad hands settled on his knees, and a thoughtful expression took possession of the dear weathered face she had come to value so much.
"I mean, there were times when I hoped that you and Dominic would... well… but seeing you've been friends for years and neither of you made a move, I realized it would never happen. You know what's best for you, not me."
About time somebody realizes that! Mandy almost exclaimed. And thank heavens that Albert had not picked up on Dominic's feelings for her. Did he even know about his son's… orientation?
"Thank you, Albert." Now she breathed almost freely. "You might not believe it but you're one of the few people who actually leave my decisions up to me."
"Oh, I believe it, and I know Dominic has a way of… not doing that."
He gave a contemplative, regretful nod before he pushed himself to his feet, crossed over to her and settled one hand on her shoulder.
"I want you to be happy, Mandy, and I hope you'll be happy here. I like the direction you are taking our headstone branch in, and I don't want to lose you. Dominic will have to find a way to deal with his issues."
Words failed Mandy as he squeezed her shoulder and walked past her towards the door.
"Mandy?" Albert had paused in the doorway and was looking at her out of suddenly sad, tired eyes. "Just for the record: I would have loved having you as a daughter-in-law."
Chapter 21: A time of reprieve (part 1)
It was just as well that the Christmas holidays were looming on the horizon, Mandy thought later that day as she was walking up the stairs to her apartment. She would drive over to Severin's later, but she needed to pick up her mail. The time would afford both herself and Dominic to think about their future, although the way she knew him, he would not budge one inch. If the holidays did not suffice to instill some sense into him, there was the company's customary winter break. Depending on the weather, most stonemason and construction companies closed down for the winter so that she and Severin would be able to enjoy some time together. Mandy only hoped Dominic would do some serious thinking and come to his senses. Thank goodness they were not in the habit of exchanging Christmas gifts. Her heart would not have been in it this year.
And what about next year? Albert had maintained that he would do next to anything to keep her on, but she had her doubts whether that included separating from his flesh and blood. At any rate Mandy was looking forward to this short period of reprieve so much that she did not even consider another aspect of the holidays until her father called her, just as she was about to head out the door again. When his name lit up on the display, Mandy realized the next time she would see her father would be on Christmas Eve. Even though Severin and she had only been together for a short time, Christmas was the time to be with one's family, and since Severin had cut all ties to his, he belonged by her side.
"Hey Dad," she answered his call with a slight tremor in her voice.
"Hey there, sweetie, I'm sorry I haven't called in so long. We've been so busy getting this new program off the ground..."
Mandy could tell he was smiling, and her heart warmed as she pictured him sitting in his favorite easy chair.
"So, about Christmas: Karl has invited us to attend his kids' nativity play in the local church and to have dinner with his family afterwards. How does that sound?"
"Like a plan!" Mandy grinned. Karl was the carpenter for whom she had designed the company logo. "But Dad, there's something I have to ask first." Both her father and Severin, in fact, but since the former was the one who had broached the topic first, he would hear about it first. After a fortifying breath.
"I've met someone."
"You have? That's wonderful news, honey! Where did you two meet?"
"He's our new tax advisor."
Again her father's joy was audible. "Haven't I always said that most people meet their partner at their workplace? Well, or in your case their extended workplace? How long have you been together?"
"Only five weeks but I wondered if I could bring him along to Karl's. That is, I haven't asked him yet but he's estranged from his family."
"I'm sure Karl will be happy to have him. What's his name?"
"Severin? What an unusual name... hang on, wasn't there a Severin you studied with at university?"
Of course her father's memory for names would fail to fail him. Once again Mandy felt relieved her father only knew they had been study partners but never what had transpired between them back then.
"Yes, and before you ask: he is one and the same."
"What a small world, huh?" she heard her dad grin. "Well, I can't wait to meet him. Go ahead and ask him, and I'll let Karl know you might be bringing a plus one. Uh, I assume you're spending the night?"
"If that’s OK."
"Of course it is! I have to be over at the youth center around noon the next day to help prepare the Christmas party, so you two might as well stay for a few more days so I’ll see something of you at all."
"I’ll talk to Severin."
"You do that. All right then, honey, I’ll call you as soon as I know when the church service begins. I love you."
"I love you, too, Dad."
And she loved Severin all the more for saying yes when she asked him that very evening – both to Karl's as well as to Miriam's New Year's Eve party, an invitation which she had decided to extend right along with her dad's. Severin's surprise was evident but so was his subsequent joy. Only five weeks into their relationship and he was about to meet her father and her best friend. In addition, they were due at his friend's Jordan's a few weeks later. Things were evolving fast, and even though Mandy wondered if she should pace herself due to her lack of relationship experience, she did not want to.
She did not come over to Severin's every day, and sometimes they spent time at her apartment, too, but she loved being in Severin's home. She loved starting and ending the day with him and discovering new things about him every day. And vice versa, if she read her boyfriend correctly.
Sometimes Mandy gave in to the urge to finger the newcomer on her key chain, just like she was doing now, lounging on Severin's couch, waiting for him to finish his day. A few mornings ago Severin had been holding her in his arms as he always did in the few minutes available to them after the ring of the alarm clock, but that time his face had looked too solemn for such a young day. His grave eyes flickered over her face for a few moments before he spoke.
"Mandy? You've been using my spare key for a while now, but so far you've always left it here when you didn’t need it. I… I’d like you to keep it. That is, if you want that, too."
Mandy's suddenly overtaxed mind oscillated between joy and incredulity. "It is a very becoming key, isn’t it?" she stalled, taking pleasure in Severin’s chuckle.
"At any rate it becomes you."
It did, she realized once again as she let her fingertips caress the small piece of metal. Severin had changed so much. She hardly thought of the university student anymore. He was simply Severin, and Mandy loved the man he had become. She knew it had been unwise to blurt out she loved him but she couldn't hold back in that moment, and truth be told, she didn't regret the admission so far. Severin might not have said it back yet, but she could wait as long as he continued to look at her and hold her the way he did. She had been home from work for about fifteen minutes, and he usually joined her in about that much time. Indeed it did not take long until she heard his heavy footsteps on the stairs, and a moment later he man himself entered.
Although his face bespoke his fatigue, the smile blooming there never failed to call forth those delicious tingles, and Mandy hopped up from the couch, eager to greet him.
As always she relished his softness under her fingers, and she rose on tiptoe to claim her kiss. Why would anyone prefer a skinny athlete when one could have this? She loved the way her fingertips and palms sank into his flesh, and sometimes she just could not pry herself away from his ample rear end, just like now.
"Mmmm, you're delicious…" she smiled up at him and lowered herself back on her feet, subconsciously licking her lips. Even when Severin was not expecting clients, he dressed in a shirt and a good pair of jeans and always kept a pair of dress shoes underneath his desk to slip into in case of an unexpected visit.
Severin looked a little embarrassed at her compliment, as he often did when Mandy addressed his obvious physical assets. Well, obvious to her at least, but she was working on getting him to join the fan club.
"Uh, right now I feel anything but delicious. God, poring over all those papers all day will give you such a crick in the neck," Severin groaned and massaged his neck with one hand while he tilted his head from side to side, trying to work out the kinks. Although his face was marred by a pain-induced frown, Mandy could not tear her eyes away from him, and those wide shoulders were beckoning more and more by the second.
"You know, one thing you should know about me is that I'm an excellent massage therapist," Mandy sent what she hoped was a seductive smile his way, longing to get her hands on her man. Well, 'excellent' might have been bending the truth a tad, but she had honed her initially heavy-handed technique on dozens of innocent friends or family members over the years. Severin paused mid-motion in order to eye his girlfriend with a blend of hope and skepticism.
Chapter 21: A time of reprieve (part 2)
"Are you now?" he drawled, apparently warming to the idea.
"Why don't you find out?" Mandy murmured with a flutter in her lower belly. She had not seen her man all day, and the longer she looked at him, the hungrier she got.
"All right," Severin nodded slowly, a smile spreading on his face now, and if at all possible, he was looking even more desirous than a moment ago. "Where should I sit?"
On me. "On the couch. I'll sit up on the backrest." Cradling you between my legs. "Oh, and could you remove your shirt, please? I'd hate to wrinkle it, and in addition I can get a better feel of your muscles."
Severin's slight hesitation betrayed his lingering self-consciousness about his weight, and Mandy abandoned all her schemes of seduction momentarily. A neck and back rub would have to do, and perhaps they would lead to the fulfillment of her wish after all. Unsuspecting of her intensifying lust, Severin complied and sat down in front of her in his T-shirt. Mandy shifted in order to accommodate his wide frame and began to prod his stiff neck gently in order to locate the knots. Gradually she applied more pressure, and soon Severin was groaning under her fingers.
She felt positively addicted to the feel of his broad shoulders and to the soft flesh she fingered underneath the T-shirt. The swell of his hips and the roundness of his belly were beckoning, but since both were still out of bounds with this self-conscious man, she let her hands wander up to the upper part of his torso again.
"God, you have such sexy shoulders," she groaned, unable to contain her lust any longer. "You have such sexy everything."
Severin stiffened and remained silent.
"You do," Mandy murmured into his ear, feeling her nether regions tingle more and more. "I've been lusting after you all day, and the moment when you finally came upstairs… I could have sunk my teeth into you, no matter which part."
Whether it was her words or her own heavy breathing in his ear, Severin shifted. Finally she could see his eyes – huge and for the most part still disbelieving but growing more trusting by the second.
"You really mean that, don't you?" he finally murmured, taking possession of Mandy's right hand.
"You know I do," she whispered back, letting herself glide down the smooth backrest until she was kneeling on the cushion where she straightened up to claim the kiss she was starving for.
"God, you're so beautiful," she heard him murmur before his lips meet her own.
Not really, but perhaps I might just do. If you continue to look at me like that, I might one day believe I'm no longer lacking in your eyes.
Judging by Mandy’s regular breathing, she was still asleep, her lithe, long shape pressed against his equally long but bulky one. Ever so gently Severin began stroking her shoulder and allowed his fingers to wander downwards to her hip. Hill, valley, hill, valley… for all her slenderness her curves were undeniably feminine. As the hem of her tank top rode up slightly, the tips of his fingers found warm, smooth skin. It was as if he never seemed to get enough of his Mandy.
"Mmmm, good morning to you, too," his girlfriend's sleepy voice greeted his touch, and Severin could tell she was smiling.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"I'm glad you did, though," she answered in a surprisingly alert voice, her brain evidently clicking into action one second after she had woken up. She turned until she faced Severin. Well, or would be facing him, as neither of them were able to make out much of each other's faces in the darkness. What did that matter, though, when all he needed were her soft lips and his favorite taste? With a low groan he melted into her mouth and tried to pull her even closer with his free arm. She belonged right here with him and with no one else. Silently he vowed he would always strive to make her happy because she deserved it. If she gave him the chance, she would never have to look for a better partner.
Oh my God. Suddenly it was as if Severin could hear the echo of his unspoken words in his ears, and he gritted his teeth in order to keep the emotions at bay at the realization that he could indeed be a worthy partner to this wonderful woman. The sensation of bunched-up fabric, however, made him halt mid-kiss, and in a sudden onslaught of panic he realized that Mandy had slipped her hands under his T-shirt and was pushing it upwards. Instantly he stiffened.
"Please, Severin?" she asked softly. "I want to be as close to you as possible."
"All right," he whispered after several protracted seconds during which he had been holding his breath subconsciously. Now he slowly let himself exhale. Yesterday’s back rub and ensuing… rub of everything else had constituted another major step in their physical relationship. For the first time, Severin had not flinched when his girlfriend had invaded what lay beneath his T-shirt, and he had let her stroke, knead and grab his ample flesh to her heart’s desire. However, he still subscribed to the belief that any visual contact would snuff out her desire in an instant. Ridiculous, as he told himself, given the lack of illumination in his bedroom, but he just was not quite there yet. He would, but he was taking baby steps.
Anxiously awaiting Mandy and Sevarin's next installment.
Chapter 22: Family (1/2)
Mandy’s father could not have denied his paternity if he had wanted to: his lanky 6’ 2”, the glasses and the longish nose were a dead giveaway. What touched Severin most about the man, however, was the way he was currently hugging his daughter hello at his front door. A smile illuminated his barely lined face and he pressed a tender kiss to her cheek. No, actually the hug was less touching and more like a fist to the gut, and with Severin's gut it took a lot to cause that sensation. What he would not have given for at least one of his parents to look at him like Mr. Huhn did at Mandy, with such pride and simple joy at her presence.
"Dad, this is Severin."
As Mandy released her father’s hands in order to turn to him, he found himself revising his own thoughts: 'What I wouldn't give for at least one of my parents to look at me like that.' What he saw in his girlfriend’s eyes was exactly what he had just longed for a moment ago. Mandy’s face was glowing with happiness and… yes, actual pride. Why should he continue to futilely long for parental approval when he had all the approval he could ever wish for?
"Hello Severin, finally I get to meet you." A wide, genuine spread on Mr. Huhn’s face and he shook Severin's hand with vigor.
“Likewise, Mr. Huhn."
"Gabe, please," Mandy’s father insisted, and Severin simply nodded, incredulous at this renewed proof that 'family' could mean something other than coldness and unfulfillable expectations.
Mandy's childhood home was a tiny two-story structure from the fifties. Since they were due to meet Karl's family at the church soon, there was no time for a tour, but what Severin had seen of the worn but well cared for interior so far bespoke warmth and of course a fondness for books. Lack of funds, too, but at least it didn't seem as though Mandy's father was truly struggling. His and Mandy's differences in wealth had neither been topic nor issue so far, and Severin hoped it would remain that way.
Fifteen minutes later, Severin's SUV stopped in front of the church in the town in which Karl lived with his family. A small but noisy crowd of people wrapped up in everything their closets had to offer had gathered outside the small, crumbling church building. The entire village was in a deplorable state of deterioration, but as with most small places too many young people moved away for the state to deem it worth to intercede financially. Gabe pointed out Karl to Severin and they all shook hands – or rather gloves – with the short, broad-shouldered man with the ponytail before he was called inside to assist in some last-minute preparations for the nativity play. After they had greeted Karl's parents as well, Gabe suggested spots up on the gallery and they all trudged up the old, creaky wooden stairs. Inside it was almost as freezing as outside and their breath hovered around them like little ghosts.
"Look, there they are." Gabe pointed out two boys of around ten or eleven in minimalist shepherd disguise. "Those two shepherds are Timo and Björn. Ellie – Karl’s wife – complained a few days ago that neither of them bothered to practice their few lines and would probably blunder through their words. Looks like they're having a last-minute rehearsal."
"Oh, I’m sure they’ll be fine," Mandy smiled, her eyes still on the two boys. "And if they aren’t, it will be fun.”
She would make an excellent mother, Severin thought, watching her. It might not be appropriate to think this, but since when did thoughts conform to propriety? The service began with 'O Christmas tree', a classic. Automatically Severin's mouth shaped the familiar words. He just reached the first higher note when he noticed from the corner of his eye that Mandy was no longer singing but watching him. A quick glance at her revealed an expression of rapt fascination, and it required all of Severin's willpower to pull her eyes away from hers and focus on the music again. Mandy had been wishing to hear him sing ever since he had told her that he liked it, and now he was finally able to offer her the chance without standing in the spotlight. Although the knowledge that he had her undivided attention caused his stomach to knot, the thing disentangled more and more as the song progressed, and when Severin sang the last note, he felt nothing but calmness and bliss, the kind of bliss only music could provide. At last he permitted himself to look at Mandy again, who had not taken her eyes off him throughout the entire song.
"Severin, you have an amazing voice," she breathed, her eyes shining up at him with nothing short of admiration.
"'Amazing' would be taking things too far," Severin smiled at her, a little embarrassed after all.
"She isn't." Gabe leaned over. "Mandy, you didn't tell me Severin was such a great singer."
"That's because this is the first time I've heard him sing."
There was no trace of reproach in her voice, only that infinitely soothing fascination. Ever since they had gotten together, her eyes had made him feel whole and even worthy, but all those looks were nothing compared to what he read in her face now. She was proud of him, actually proud. The realization caused him to swallow hard, and it was all he could do not to kiss her as she deserved to be kissed.
The service continued and the children’s efforts were endearing. Mandy was particularly wrapped up in what was going on on stage and did not even seem to notice that she was huddling deeper and deeper into her coat, shivering in the frigid air. Wordlessly Severin opened his jacket, settled his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer towards him.
"Give me your hands," he murmured and enveloped her icicle-like hands in his as soon as she had taken off her useless gloves.
"I love how warm you are," Mandy smiled up at him and snuggled closer before her eyes refocused on the happenings below.
Björn and Timo did blunder through their lines, but despite Karl’s chiding after they met in front of the church, Severin could tell how proud he was of his children. Another happy family... The two boys shook hands with everyone courteously, and even though they stared at Severin longer than was polite, he did not feel too discomfited by it. Ellie beamed when she greeted them.
"I’m glad you could make it, and that you have decided to come, too, Severin."
"Thank you for having me."
They decided to leave the car in its spot and follow Karl’s family to their house from which they walked to the church. In this small place, everything was within walking distance. Mandy happily swung her and Severin's joined hands as they drew toward Karl's and Ellie's home. She seeemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the service and was looking forward to an evening of warmth, laughter and food. Ellie had already prepared all the ingredients in bowls that they would need for the raclette, so it did not take long to set everything up. Not even the vegan 'cheese' for Mandy was missing. Dinner was excellent, and the conversation flowed as profusely as the drinks. The two boys had flitted off with their gifts already, the privilege of German children who got to open their gifts on New Year's Eve, not Christmas Day.
Ellie’s and Karl’s kind, inclusive manner opened Severin automatically so he didn't even have to muster a conscious effort to make himself part of the group. When he talked about current or former clients’ escapades – anonymized of course – he caught Mandy staring at him in rapt fascination several times.
Later, much later, Mandy led Severin into her minuscule childhood bedroom with the pitched ceiling which now housed a queen-size bed, an old armchair and a dresser.
"This is where you grew so tall?" Severin teased her when they entered and placed their bags on the armchair.
"I sure did," Mandy proclaimed proudly, “it was all I needed."
Severin contemplated her in her old room for a while. "I like it.” He pulled Mandy close, massaging gentle circles on the back of her head. "Let’s go to bed."
They pulled apart just long enough to strip down to their underwear – Severin’s T-shirt was not included in the stripping process – and slipped beneath the covers where Severin switched off the lights, turned onto his right side and pulled her into his arms the way they liked to lie.
"This has been a wonderful evening," Severin broke the silence after a while. "And I really like your dad."
"I’m glad! I can tell that the feeling is very mutual," Mandy smiled.
"Does he know we went to university together?" Although he had braced himself for the topic, their academic past had remained untouched all evening.
"Yes," Mandy's soft voice finally penetrated the darkness. "When I told him we were together, he remembered there was a Severin I studied with. His memory for names is close to infallible," she added with an audible smile. "Still, all he knows is that we studied together briefly and didn't keep in touch. I… uh…. I never told my parents anything about what happened at the time."
For a moment Severin didn't dare to breathe. Although her keeping quiet about that humiliating moment had probably been born more out of self-protection than anything else, he felt grateful to her all the same. Most likely she had asked her father not to bring up their acquaintance tonight, sparing him from having to relive one of his lowest moments.
"Thank you." He pulled her closer.
"Nothing to thank me for."
Chapter 22: Family (2/2)
Due to yesterday’s late hour and the wealth of emotions, Mandy and Severin enjoyed an extended lie-in before an equally extended breakfast. Gabe had already left for the youth center, but since they were staying another day or two, they would still have the opportunity to get to know each other better and to exchange gifts. Which did not mean that Severin was willing to put off giving Mandy hers. After they had finished breakfast, he reached into the pocket of his sweat jacket and withdrew a small box. "Mandy, I’ve got a little something for you. When I saw it, I immediately thought of you."
Mandy accepted the box from him with an astonished smile. With rising excitement Severin watched her unceremoniously rip the neat wrapping paper off the box, the way he would have imagined for someone ‘yearning for a little chaos’. At last she pried the box open and her eyes widened at the small silver studs.
"I thought you would appreciate a word’s most basic building blocks: letters," Severin smiled at her, anxious for her reaction. "The A is for someone who claims to be ‘right most of the time’, and the Q… well, that's in case of the unlikely event that you should not have the answer yet."
Mandy broke into a giggle and leaned over in order to kiss him. "Severin, this is so thoughtful, thank you so much," she told him, her eyes shining with joy and love. "I would love to have something equally personal for you but… I am not familiar enough with your taste yet," she finished in a small, almost embarrassed tone. "But then I thought about how much I love to see you smile and had an idea."
A moment later, he accepted an envelope from his girlfriend, who watched him pry it open with care.
"Mandy, this is absolutely perfect!"
After a resounding kiss Severin leaned back in his chair again and examined the tickets once more. 'Pyromania', a fireworks competition to be held in July next year in the court yard of a castle about half an hour away. Not only had Mandy picked these tickets in order to make him smile, she was convinced they would still be together come summer. She probably did not even realize what this meant to him.
"Hey, what does your knee say to going ice skating this afternoon?" Mandy’s grin was huge in her face.
Ice skating?! Severin almost blurted his shock out loud before he reconsidered. Skating was easy on the joints and should therefore be manageable for him. However, even though he used to be good at it once, how would he fare now? What if he made a fool of himself?
"Are you any good?" he countered her question with one of his own. Besides buying himself a little time, her answer might provide him with a clue as to what would be the wisest decision here.
"Terrible, as with every type of sport!" Mandy laughed, her eyes sparkling. "I can just about stay upright and I've never learned how to brake, but it's just so much fun!"
Severin contemplated his girlfriend's suggestion anew. If she was indeed a terrible ice skater, he would be able to hold her hand and stick to a very slow pace. He could manage that, right?
"Then let's do it," he smiled, suddenly eager to embark on the activity. As long as he did not dare to use the pool, walking was his only option, and he was craving something more fast-paced.
"Great!" Mandy beamed, and Severin already knew he had chosen correctly, no matter how well or badly he would manage on the ice.
The small, old-fashioned ice rink they arrived at after a thirty-minute walk looked as if it had seen better times, but nonetheless the small ice surface was populated by a colorful crowd of all ages and sizes. They were lucky and able to rent skates in their respective sizes, and while sitting next to one another, tying the laces, it was as if Severin's organs were trying to outdo one another: his stomach was knotting in trepidation while his heart was bouncing with joy at the prospect of finally gliding over the ice like the lithe, agile man he had once been.
At last there was no putting off the experiment any longer. "Ready?" he turned to Mandy.
As if on stilts they made their slow, awkward progress toward the entrance to the frozen surface.
"Uh-oh, here we go," Mandy mumbled and put one skate on the slippery ice, only to flail her arms like a clumsy albatross.
"Hey, hold on." Severin grasped her right hand while his other firmly held on to the solid fence. Once Mandy was standing securely, it was his turn to set foot on the ice and he did so with his breath held. OK, that was easy.
"Ready?" he asked Mandy again and she only nodded. Finally permitting himself to inhale, Severin moved his right foot forward and they started to glide.
Nothing had changed. The movements, so familiar once when Severin used to practice many kinds of sport, came back so naturally to him that he had to bite down hard to keep from whooping with joy. He felt light, free and... yes, in this moment he felt whole.
"Severin, you're an amazing skater!" Mandy exclaimed as they picked up speed and he continued to hold her securely by his side. "Honestly: tax wiz, amazing singer and expert ice skater – what else are you hiding from me?!"
Even if he had wanted to, he would not have been able to wipe his grin off his face. Together they dashed across the smooth surface, expertly evading their fellow skaters, until they were both so warm that they glided over to the exit to get rid of their jackets.
"You know," Mandy suggested with sparkling eyes and her face glowing with pride – yes, pride again – "Would you like to go by yourself for a few rounds? You’ll be a lot faster without me. Plus I get to watch you in all your glorious splendor."
Although Severin was about to protest that he did not mind being slowed down, her second argument tickled his newly awakened confidence. Mandy was proud of him and she found him attractive. If his skating a few rounds by himself would serve to prolong and strengthen those feelings, why should he object? Besides, he did itch to test how fast he could go and still be safe. He rested both his now glove-free hands on Mandy’s shoulders and held her gaze.
"If you’re sure."
"I’m sure," she nodded with so much love in her eyes that Severin could have picked her up, carried her home and plundered her glorious body again like he had this morning. Instead he opted for the socially accepted version and kissed her with everything he felt for her until they were both panting.
"I forgot ‘expert kisser’ earlier," Mandy murmured when they let go of one another again. "Off you go then. I want to see you skate."
"Aye aye, Ma’am."
Severin stepped onto the ice again while Mandy stayed behind the fence with his coat and gloves in her hands. This rush, this ease, this weightlessness – on the ice it did not matter that he was no longer thin. All you needed was technique and you were gliding as freely as a thin person. In addition, as he let himself consciously take in his surroundings after a few rounds, he found nobody was staring, at least not in a way that made him inferior. On the contrary; a few youngsters were following his fast-paced progress open-mouthed and one woman in her forties even smiled at him. Not in a flirtatious but definitely admiring way. At him, the new him. Not that that woman was doing anything for him – the object of his desire and affection was still waiting for him behind the fence with a radiant smile on her pretty face. Still, the discovery that he could be attractive to the world again after all was so overwhelming that he had to fight another whoop combined with an air punch.
Had it all been in his head then? The stares, the disgust, the condemnation? Not in his parents’ eyes, that had certainly been real enough. However, if he thought about it realistically, why would people condemn him? For one thing, most people did not really care about anyone but themselves. Secondly, there were so many overweight people nowadays, and many way bigger than him. Thirdly, it was not exactly written on his forehead that he used to be thin, so why should he cower in front of strangers?
With each new discovery and every stride of his skates, Severin realized that, contrary to what he had believed for the past years, he had not become a useless lump. This new body was still capable of many things he used to do with its thin edition: ice-skating, walking… and sex with his precious girlfriend of course. His sweet, beautiful Mandy, who had seen through to the true him when no one else had, himself included.
Said girlfriend, however, was feeling anything but precious at the moment. Initially she had been enthralled by the look on her boyfriend's face as he flew over the ice, his face alight with the passion she had always thought her partner should possess. What a transformation compared to that morose individual she had met in his office so many weeks ago. Aside from the fact that every surplus pound on him made her lower belly flutter, even someone uppreciative of bigger men would admit he moved with ease and grace when he was on skates. Suddenly her heart sank. Not only on skates did she display about as much grace as a stork – she had never even mastered the art of slow-dancing elegantly. Not that she had ever minded, but what if Severin would one day? Aside from her design skills and her verbiage, what did she bring to the table?
Sorry for the late update. Keep prodding me - it'll make me feel bad and appreciated at the same time
Unbasher - you should maybe place more trust - and derive motivation from - in the indirect means of response we have here at Dims.
If you look at your story on the main page of the Recent Additions Forum, the 4th column shows the number of views it is getting. And if you follow that, you will clearly see that each new installment makes the count jump upwards - to a what I can tell here from experience is to a very satisfactory level.
The Dims Library has always been the place here most frequented by lurkers - guest viewers who need their share of fat fiction but are not willing to sign up, let alone post for whichever personal reasons. As someone who did that for app. 7 years herself, I know what I'm talking about.
Just as a helpful hint for managing expectations ....
Huh, funny I never took the lurkers into consideration, given that I was one myself for over four years ;-) Thanks
I get it! My speed of posting updates is in direct correlation to how many responses I get. Writing is a joy but without external feedback, I am using only my own impetus to write and post...and because I generally know where it is going, I sometimes find myself less motivated to get through rough patches.
Ty - i love your stories!! The posting on my phone is just SUCH a pain!!
I've been an almost daily lurker since 2006 or so. I decided to change that today so I could tell you that your story fills me with giddiness and joy.
Hey, I'm so glad!!!! Welcome to Dimensions, and feel free to PM me or the other members if there is something you'd like to know
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