BHM The Improved You

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

  1. Jun 25, 2019 #161

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 26: The improved you (part 1)


    The remainder of the car ride passed in silence, and by the time Severin let them into his house, he was indeed more than ready to talk. In particular Miles's last comment had struck home: whatever he had thought he could offer Mandy, he would never be enough. She deserved a confident, healthy partner who could accompany her to the sauna and the pool, and a father to her children who was fit enough to challenge said children to a race. It was time they both faced the music. Severin had barely taken five steps into the main area before he turned around to the anxious-looking woman behind him.

    "You're right, my and Miles’s reunion was not a happy one, but it was eye-opening!" He paused. "Mandy, what are you doing with me? Why would you want to... settle for me?"

    Mandy's eyebrows contracted, and a frown took possession of her face. "What do you mean by 'settling'? Severin, you're exactly who I want."

    "But how could you possibly? Nobody in their right mind would pick me!"

    Mandy's frown deepened. "I knew that Miles was a worthless bastard the instant I met him.” She balled her hands into fists, staring past Severin's shoulders. Then her eyes refocused on his. "Severin, please try to forget whatever he said. His opinion does not count, only what you and I are feeling."

    "Well, I'm feeling that you are getting the shitty part of the deal here. I get this smart, funny, talented and beautiful woman--"

    "Stop it!" Mandy interrupted his heated tirade. "Don't you dare continue! Imagine you were reading your absolute favorite book and I'd come in, take it away from you and say, 'You can't possibly like this book, let alone call it your favorite. Nobody else likes it so it's got to be crap.'”

    "It's not the same."

    "On the contrary! And it is not just the you-can't-know-what-is-good-for-you issue but also the fact that I'd would be insulting your book. That hurts! Severin, you are hurting yourself and you are hurting me by pulling away or by talking about yourself that way. You keep so much anger bottled up inside you—"

    "Damn right I do!" he interrupted Mandy at the top of his voice, and she closed her lips abruptly. Said lips were then assailed by Mandy's teeth as she watched him pace the carpet. "Damn right I'm angry! I'm angry at myself, angry at my parents, and angry at Nicole! Goddammit, what was she thinking, racing her car like that, putting us both at risk?! Some days I just hate her!"

    His shoulders sagged and his head bowed in defeat as he slumped down on the couch. "Back then I thought I loved her, but the more I look back on our relationship, the less I believe it. I guess I've never loved anybody."



    Severin was walking the fine line between rightful self-reflection and unhealthy self-pity, Mandy realized, feeling something in her chest contract. She knew she had to tread carefully or Severin would push her away further than their relationship might be able to bear. Quietly she closed the distance between them and took a seat beside him on the couch, careful not to make physical contact.

    "I have no way of knowing if you loved Nicole or not, or any of your other girlfriends," she began gently, "but what I do know is that you've never loved yourself. You're the person you have to love before all others, which is easier said than done. Trust me, I know how hard that is.”

    His head came up. "How would you know?"

    "How would a gangly, on-the-shelf weirdo know? Really, Severin?" Mandy retorted and felt herself transported back to their second argument at the Chinese restaurant.

    He hung his head at that. "Sorry. Sometimes I get so caught up in myself..."

    "Sometimes?" Mandy teased him in an attempt at humor. However, this usually so reliable tactic proved to be premature, as Severin erupted with a vengeance that made her flinch.

    "You have no idea what it's like not to recognize yourself! It was like I was watching from the sidelines, unable to stop what I was becoming, and then one day I wake up in this body that doesn't feel like mine! On good days I can be sort of proud my achievements and even tolerate what I've become. But on most days I can't face myself in the mirror."

    His heated tirade ended with his head bowed in defeat, but Mandy knew better than to reach out and pull him close. He would only have interpreted the gesture as pity and pushed her away. She forced herself to sit there with a bleeding heart, watching him with burning eyes and wishing he would give a signal that she was permitted to touch him.

    "Severin?" she asked softly when he did not look up at her for what felt like more than a minute. "May I say something or would you rather be alone right now?"

    "No, go ahead," she heard him mumble, but he did not raise his head.

    Feeling her intestines twist tighter, she willed herself to wait until he did raise his head, and it required all of her willpower not to touch the broken man in front of her. His face was a distorted mask of self-loathing and despair, yet no face was dearer to her than his.

    "I meant what I said: I prefer the new you."

    "But how can you possibly?"

    "I just do. I told you I was attracted to who you could be and now… you are," she finished softly.

    "Are you telling me that you're attracted to fat men?"

    As Mandy looked into Severin's face contorted with self-loathing, she knew they had reached a turning point. With one single word she had the power to either restore his confidence in himself or risk he would push her away forever. It was a no-brainer. Again, honesty had never let her down, and she had to trust that now would be no different. Willing her breathing and face to remain calm, she fixed her eyes on Severin's.

    “Yes.”

    It seemed to take Severin's features the duration of a seven-course meal to ease out of their grimace. Mandy hardly dared to breathe and eventually felt her eyes water, discovering she hadn't even let herself blink under his protracted stare.

    "You can't be serious." Severin's tone was as devoid of color as his face.

    Finally Mandy treated herself to a much-needed breath and blink. "Given my late start in the romance department it took me some time to find out but… I am serious. First and foremost I'm attracted to the thoughtful, hard-working, funny man you've become, but it wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you I'm totally into your body, too.”

    "Are you a fetishist then? Have all your partners been fat?" he challenged her, his voice rising.

    "I told you that I've never had a real partner! But all except one of them have been overweight, yes," she added softly. “And no, this isn't a fetish, just a preference.”

    "I still can't believe I'm hearing this."

    "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you before but you know I'm not lying to you."

    "I know you're not. That doesn't mean I believe it.”

    Mandy shrugged. "Each person has their own type. Why would it be so hard to believe?"

    "Because it doesn't make any sense! No one in their right mind is into fat, especially someone so skinny and beautiful—"

    "Stop saying that, I'm not!"

    "Yes, you are!"

    "No, I'm not!" Mandy shouted back, covering her face in her hands. "Please, please stop saying that. I have made a few changes and I feel OK about myself now but I will never be beautiful!"

    "Why should I believe you find me attractive if you can't do the same?"

    Slowly, Mandy lowered her hands, and her gaze. He had her there.

    "You may not be model material," Severin continued in a loud but much calmer voice, "but you're still gorgeous. Tons of guys think that but you just don't see them!"

    "Because there are no tons of guys!" Mandy squeezed her eyes shut at the familiar words. It was as if Dominic and Severin had been comparing notes. Suddenly she felt her face heat up with anger. When had she become the object of this discussion? She opened her eyes again. "Please, can't you just let this go?"

    "No because you won't either!"

    Mandy shot to her feet. "Oh yes, I will, because I don't want to have this conversation!"

    For a few seconds they stood there, glaring at one another, both breathing heavily. It was Severin who managed to comment on their impasse first. He looked much more composed than Mandy felt and his voice had returned to his normal level:

    "I can tell you're about to storm out on me, but earlier in the car you asked me not to shut you out. Now I'm asking the same. Go for a walk, take all the time you need but please don't run out. Neither of us wants to talk but we both know we have to."

    Severin’s calm, almost pleading expression allowed Mandy's ire to ebb, and she felt her heart rate gradually decelerate.

    "All right," she nodded at last. “I'll be back in an hour at the latest."

    "No." Severin’s gentle voice accompanied an equally gentle head shake. "Take as much time as you need, OK? I only ask that you come back tonight."

    "I will," Mandy croaked, suddenly affected beyond the bearable by the look in his beautiful eyes, and bolted from the room.



    ***



    A little over an hour later she let herself back inside Severin’s house. As much as she had wished to run home and hide in her bed, all the more urgently did she need to speak to Severin now. Her head was pounding with every thought she had turned over and over like laundry in a washing machine, and she was bursting with the need to hang them all up on a line for him to see. No more hiding, no more secrets.

    "Hey."

    Severin halted mid-step, and turned to greet her with visible relief. Mandy had no idea people actually paced in real life, but based on the pattern on the carpet, he must have been doing that for all the time that she had been gone. Both of them slowly approached each other. Mandy was the first to break the silence:

    "We've got to so much to say to one another, may I suggest an agenda?"

    "By all means."
     
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  2. Jun 25, 2019 #162

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 26: The improved you (part 2)


    "And I have one stipulation, and yes, I am aware of the irony: we need to let each other speak without any interruptions, OK?"

    Severin nodded with an uninterpretable expression and followed suit when Mandy took a seat on the couch. She fortified herself with a deep inhale and began, "I have arrived at three items we need to cover:

    1) How I see myself

    2) How you see me

    3) Solutions."

    Severin nodded again. “May I go first on item no. 1?"

    "Please."

    A deep breath from Severin ushered in the topic they had both so long pushed away. "You were the first one to address the… well... elephant in the room when you told me to my face that I'd gained a lot of weight. We've never talked about it since but no matter how often we sweep it under the rug, it won't go away."

    "I know."

    Instantly contrite about her interruption, Mandy clapped both hands over her mouth and nodded at Severin to go on. His hands twitched but remained in place, for which Mandy felt grateful. Reconciling the carnal way would have been easier, but they both needed to get this off their respective chests.

    "I truly want to believe that you find me attractive. I mean, of course I know there are girls out there who are into fat guys, but it seems like most of them are into feederism and other stuff I don't want to get into.”

    “I'm not into that! Sorry I interrupted you,” Mandy added on a squeak, “but I didn't want you to think I was--”

    “I know.” Severin's hands went up. “I'm still trying to wrap my head around that you of all people like fat guys, but I know you're not the feeder type. Still, even if I could just take your word for it that you're into my body, the fact is that I'm not into it. I meant what I said about not feeling like myself, and as long as I weigh this much, I never will. I mean, I can accept I'll never reach the figure I had as a 23-year-old, but I need to prove to myself I can drop at least 20 lbs. 50 would be better but 20 would be a start. I believe I've already lost a little weight by following your diet, but I've got to drop more.” Another deep breath. “That's it. Your turn."

    Despite Mandy's desire to comment on every new detail to which she had just been made privy, it was she who had suggested the agenda, and she would stick to it.

    "I've never been pretty," she began, “as a child it didn't matter, but as a teenager I was bullied and ridiculed at school for so long that at some point I started to believe everything they said. It took me a long time and one amazing friend to finally shake them loose and to believe I deserved to be happy.”

    She ran one hand through her hair as she pieced together her next words.

    “Still, knowing I deserve to be happy doesn't mean I suddenly see myself as beautiful. I've made the most of what I've got to work with but I'm not gorgeous – which is OK, really. I know I'm awesome. It's just whenever you tell me I'm beautiful, I feel afraid you will one day wake up from whatever spell you're under and realize you can do a lot better than me." She took a deep breath. "OK, I'm done."

    Only then did she venture a look at the man next to her. Severin was looking as pugnacious as if he were sharpening every weapon in his arsenal. Was his belligerence directed at the bullies in her past? Almost certain of it, she willed her heart to stop swelling before she was certain that everything would be alright between them. Judging by Severin's facial struggle, he was undergoing a similar sensation until his forehead smoothed at last.

    "Item no. 2?" he probed softly.

    "Yes. May I go first now?"

    "Go ahead."

    Since Mandy was all too familiar with the dilemma of not believing something until she felt it in her heart, she strove to infuse what she was about to say with all the urgency she felt.

    "I love you and the way you look. I admire how you've overcome the accident with all its ramifications, and what a life you have built for yourself. You're absolutely right, I have no idea what you went and are still going through. I do know, though, what it's like to hate yourself. For a long time I wished if I could look or be like everyone else, I'd finally be happy. Well, it's not true. I want to help you be happy with yourself, but I have the feeling you're not letting yourself be happy because you think you don't deserve it in the first place."

    Mandy heard Severin inhale sharply and felt a scornful comment in the making, but no sound emerged from between his suddenly gritted teeth.

    "Blaming yourself is like a rocking chair: it'll give you something to do but won't get you anywhere. Not letting yourself be loved because you think you don't deserve happiness will neither earn you atonement nor punishment. You've suffered enough. Please stop running and wait for me to catch up."

    A deeply pensive expression had taken possession of Severin's features, and Mandy permitted herself to inhale deeply but softly. "And there is a more selfish reason involved: as long as you aren't happy with yourself, this relationship is not going anywhere. I want this relationship, and I want you. A happy you. Although I love you the way you look now and will miss every pound you'll lose, if there is anything I can do that'll help you lose it, I'll do it. You don't have to take me up on that but please don't shut me out. I could not live like that."

    "You've already crossed over to no. 3: solutions." Severin's voice sounded croaky as if he hadn't used it in days instead of minutes. Mandy felt him tremble as he finally clasped her hands in an iron grip.

    "I can't live like that either. Not anymore. Now that I've got you, I cannot imagine ever going back to a life alone. But I have lived alone for so long that I'm just not used to... all this. Hell," his voice rose, "I have never been used to this; I have never shared anything this personal with Nicky! And as incredible as it feels to be able to do this with you, I'm not used to… to needing another person.”

    It looked as if a lump of gigantic proportions was choking him. Only after a several seconds did Severin look sufficiently composed to continue. "But the fact remains that I do need you and that I just can't let you go. I want you with me always."

    Headstrong, independent person that Mandy was, she knew how much this admittance must have cost a proud man like Severin. Already she felt her silly streak take over in order to help him out of the position of utter vulnerability he had maneuvered himself into. "Uhm, that doesn't include the bathroom, does it?”



    Severin felt his mouth quiver. Only his Mandy would diffuse a precarious situation like that with humor. And she was absolutely right: he had been letting his parents, his so-called friends and most of all himself hold him down and beat him up because he believed it was nothing less than he deserved. However, blaming himself had not gotten him anywhere, except to a place of unhappiness and solitude, at least until Mandy had stepped into his life again. For years he had wished he could go back in time to regain everything he had lost: his figure, his father's approval, his self-confidence, Nicole's life. But now... he had to face he'd never had his father's approval and that even if he could bring back the dead, he and Nicole had been headed nowhere. As for his figure and his self-confidence, the mere thought of undoing the past seven years sufficed to turn his stomach, as it would mean a confident, attractive but lonely life, one without Mandy in it, and that was simply unacceptable.

    'You have suffered enough.' Who was he to argue with the smartest person he knew? And even though he hardly dared to admit it: he did long to be happy. His deepest wish was to be happy, happy with Mandy, and if that meant remaining overweight, so be it.

    'Please stop running and wait for me to catch up.' As ridiculous as the image of his outrunning Mandy may have been, she was right. She usually was, not that he would let her know. He had been running, keeping her at a distance, for fear he would lose everything he had found in and with her, and fall even more deeply than seven years ago. However, it was only by stopping and letting her join him that he stood a chance of keeping what he had found. Yes, he might mess up along the way, but if she truly loved him, she would not run at the first sign of trouble. Looking deeply into her grave eyes, he grasped both her hands and pulled her towards him until she was straddling him.

    "I love you, Mandy."

    As reluctant as the words had been before to part company with his lips, all the easier was it to utter them now. Of course he loved Mandy, he had for some time, and he wanted her to know it. Wordlessly, his beloved was clinging to him, holding him close.

    "And I love you. So very much," Severin finally heard her murmur, and for the first time he truly believed he deserved it.

    "May I still tell you what I've got to say to item no. 2?" he remembered after a while. Just as she had laid every thought and feeling bare, Mandy needed to hear how he saw her. When she had talked about her bullies, his fists had itched with the all-consuming urge to plow them into those strangers' faces. Mandy may have overcome the ridicule and made something – no, everything of herself, but he had to make her see what he saw.

    "Of course," Mandy answered and loosened her hold on him.
     
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  3. Jun 25, 2019 #163

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 26: The improved you (part 3)


    "Back at university I wasn't attracted to you but I never thought you were ugly. I saw you as a nerdy girl-woman with a big mouth and the sharpest mind I'd ever come across. You didn't make anything of yourself, true, but you have now. Most men are very simple in one regard: we want to enjoy looking at our partners, and I'm no different. You might not be fashion-magazine beautiful, but you are very pretty. You. Are. Very. Pretty. Sometimes I can't stop looking at you, and I am so insanely proud you're my girlfriend. And if I have to say it every day to make you believe me, I will."

    For several seconds Mandy's eyes remained fixed on Severin's while no muscle in her face stirred, but then she launched herself back into his arms. "I didn't think it was possible, but now I love you even more."

    Feeling himself grin like a fool, Severin chuckled into her hair while he massaged the back of her head and heard her sigh in deep contentment. After a while of blissful proximity, he suddenly felt his lower body claim its share of reconciliatory bliss, and he let his hands run down his lovely girlfriend's sides and down to her pert rear where they settled happily for a moment before they resumed their caress there.

    "Mmmm…"

    Apparently Mandy's body was in total agreement, and Severin felt her pull away slightly. Her face was radiant, and her lips looked more inviting than ever. Whoever of them issued and who accepted the invitation he could not say, but a moment later their mouths met and began to feed the ever growing hunger.



    I guess I will have to eat my thoughts about sappy romance novels, Mandy realized some time later through her daze as she snuggled up to the bulky form beside her on the carpet beside the couch. This time her mind felt anything but blown. In fact, it had soaked up every second in such detail that she would have been able to deliver the minute rendition she had previously sneered at. The second thing Mandy recognized was that she had learned another relationship lesson: makeup sex was the greatest!

    Snuggling closer to her wonderful, sweaty man, she breathed in his unique, addictive scent, and with a chuckle Severin reached out to run his fingers through her hair again as he was so fond of doing. Mandy closed her eyes and gave herself up to the caress. They had finally worked through their problems, and they truly had all the time in the world now. After some immeasurable amount of time, Mandy suddenly felt Severin break their precious connection, but before she could utter a sound of protest at this loss, she heard his soft voice.

    "Mandy? I've got to tell you something."

    For a moment she froze. Nothing positive in the history of relationships had ever followed these words. But then she let her mind re-register Severin's words and tone. His voice sounded soft and intimate, and not as though he was about to tell her something she would regret hearing. Slowly she shifted away so she could see his face. Severin looked both solemn and hesitant as if he had something weighty but frightening to impart. Mandy infused her gaze with as much encouragement as she could muster and offered a tiny smile. At last she heard and saw him inhale deeply:

    "When we first met for dinner and I told you about... the accident, you assumed my friends and family had taken care of me. The truth is… I only let you believe that. The truth is: no one took care of me besides Jordan."

    Her boyfriend's unexpected admission caused Mandy to swallow hard. It was less what he had just said than the fact that he had addressed the painful issue so openly. Her knowledge about his familial estrangement, coupled with the absence of any friends aside from Jordan and Herb, crowned by the encounter with Miles, had already helped her piece the puzzle together, but hearing the words from her boyfriend's lips now sliced through her like a jagged knife. Only the certainty that he was anxious to go on caused her to clamp her lips shut lest she interrupt him with an indignant tirade.

    "Nicky's parents showed up at the hospital once," he continued, his tone flat, “they were heartbroken and had nothing but resentment for me. I mean, that was only to be expected and I can't blame them for it. Well, except for the fact that they believed I could have talked her out of speeding. If they had truly known their daughter, they would have realized she let nothing get between her and what she wanted."

    Mandy felt the jagged blade slice further as she watched her boyfriend relive the darkest period in his life.

    "As for my parents," Severin went on bitterly, "of course they visited, but only a few times and very briefly. They paid for my medical expenses, my new apartment and the tax-accounting correspondence class, but they were never there for me the way a family should. Jordan was the only one who stood up for me, encouraging me to do the physical-therapy workouts and to rethink my academic career in the first place. It turns out you were right back then: besides him I had no real friends I could count on."

    "As much as I like to be right, I wish I hadn't been," Mandy blurted, barely containing the tears of anger she felt burning in her eyes. She knew Severin would misinterpret them as a sign of pity and withdraw from her, so she willed herself to hold them in. "Even though you said you wouldn't have wanted me to visit you, I still wish I had known what had happened. I would have given your so-called family such a big piece of my mind they would have choked on it! How dare they treat you like that?"

    Mandy felt her face and neck burn. All her life she had known nothing but love and support from her parents, and she could not imagine why any mother or father would turn on their kid like that.

    "Hey." Severin's hand reached for Mandy's, and his broad fingers stroked her thin ones gently. "As much as I appreciate you putting on the war paint, I'm done with them. At least that experience has taught me who I can count on in a crisis. Herb has become one of those people. And now...." his voice and gaze gentles as his fingers continue to stroke mine, "you have, too."

    "You bet I have. I'll always be there for you."

    Mandy's voice and resolve were firm. Severin had to understand that turning to her for help did not constitute weakness, but that it was one of the signs of a true partnership. Even someone with her limited experience knew that.

    "I know. And speaking of which…" Mandy could tell he was struggling with what he was about to say. She sensed there was a request in the making. "Will you help me lose weight?"

    Naked fear shaped his features, and again she felt herself swallow hard. Such a humbling request from such a proud man betrayed the extent to which he trusted her. "Hmm…" Mandy began, opting for lightness in order to spare him any more awkwardness, "you do realize that your request is like asking me to tear pages out of my favorite book, don’t you?"

    A slow, appreciative smile began to spread on Severin’s face.

    "That being said," she continued, "of course I will. Although I'm sure you won't need any actual help from me."

    "We'll see. Like I said, I'd like to hope for 50 but aim at 20. Hey," he added when he caught Mandy's expression which she knew to mirror her thoughts, "I doubt I'll even drop 20, let alone 50. In any case there will still be plenty left over."

    "I'll be holding you to that," Mandy told him with a stern expression, "and no more than 50, do you hear me? From the 51st one on, should you dare to take this ridiculous endeavor any further, you're on your own."

    Mandy cursed her unfortunate choice of words instantly. Judging by Severin’s briefly freezing features, he remembered them all too well, too.

    "I’m sorry," she added softly. "That was very indelicately put."

    "It’s OK. I just want to lose those 20 pounds, and that's going to take many weeks anyway. And if by then you still haven’t changed your mind about your weird physical preferences…" His sentence trailed off, and she caught a flicker of insecurity in his face.

    "Severin? Will you shower with me?"

    The shower was just the place in which to show him how firmly her 'weird physical preferences' were in place. And then the bed. And somewhere else tomorrow, as often as it would take to make Severin believe her.

    "I… I'd like that."

    "Hey, favorite book, remember?" she told him when she felt him tense up. "There is no accounting for nor arguing about taste; I am without a doubt your biggest fan."

    Severin shook his head with vigor. "You're definitely not. You're without a doubt my skinniest fan."
     
  4. Jun 28, 2019 #164

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 27: Fists (part 1)


    After their verbal and carnal reconciliation the day before as well as the ensuing shower during which Mandy had proved to Severin just how little she had changed her mind about her ‘weird physical preferences’, he was having major trouble concentrating on his work. They had cuddled and kissed this morning until Mandy absolutely had to leave, but since she was due back tonight, he might as well get his work done, too. He had been working for an hour and a half when the ring of the doorbell caused him to look up briefly. A moment later Severin heard a knock on his office door.

    "Come in!" he called.

    Christina poked her head in. "Uh, Mr. Meyers?"

    I really should offer her to call me ‘Severin’, he thought, as he had done repeatedly over the past weeks. She was efficient, undemanding and kind, and working on a first-name basis with her would change nothing of that, he felt sure. However, the uncertainty and concern shaping her face told him that now was not the time to be considering an alteration of their respective forms of address.

    "A Mr. Waldhorst is here to see you."

    Had Christina announced the German chancellor, Severin could not have been much more surprised. It had to be Dominic. Albert would not show up unannounced at his doorstep. Unable to muster an immediate reply, he only leaned back in his chair and raised his eyebrows at Christina.

    "Uh, to be honest…" she added, biting her lip, "he looks a little… wild."

    "Wild?"

    "Yes. And… he wants to talk to you outside. I can get rid of him if you like," she added helpfully.

    "No, that’s fine, Christina, I’ll talk to him." A conversation with him was long overdue anyway.

    "Do take your jacket with you. The snow has picked up again and it’s freezing," Christina told him with a worried look outside where the snowflakes were indeed being chased almost vertically across the street by the icy wind.

    "I’m sure it’ll only take a minute."

    ‘A little wild’ was putting it mildly. With his bloodshot eyes, scraggly beard and rumpled jeans and sweater, Dominic did not look like hell but more like a hell reject. Mandy had mentioned he had showed up at work late and/or disheveled several times, and that he had called in sick on Thursday and Friday. From the looks of him, his affliction was obvious: he was looking so hung over that even his pants had to hurt. He was leaning heavily against the metal hand rail, eyeing Christina over Severin's shoulder with visible anxiety. Whatever news he had come to deliver, he had most likely been speculating he would get to impart them with no witnesses present.

    "I could ask you what you are doing here, Waldhorst, but the answer is obvious," Severin addressed him, pulling the door shut behind him. It was freezing but he did not intend to prolong this encounter beyond a couple of minutes anyway.

    "Well, it should be, Meyers," Dominic snarled, straightening up with visible effort, "so let me get right to it: I know I stand no chance with Mandy."

    That jerk had come here to state the obvious? Severin contemplated the man with a sudden interest, watching him breathe heavily, his hands curled into fists at his sides.

    "Which doesn't mean you're any good for her," he finally choked out, his face reddening.

    "Oh, is that so?" Severin could not help himself, he just had to add, "when I kissed her goodbye this morning, she seemed pretty happy to me."
    Petty, he knew, but seeing the prick wince? Totally worth it. Astonishingly, Dominic managed to reign in his temper. On the whole, he seemed more desperate than angry, and Severin almost mustered sufficient grace to feel sorry for him. Almost.

    "She might think she's happy," Dominic bit out, "but in the long run she won't be. She might be OK with your type of sedentary lifestyle for now, but I've known her for seven years and I know that come summer, she'll want to go swimming, climbing – all sorts of things you can’t or won’t join her in. You won't be enough to give her what she needs, and the sooner you let her go, the less you'll hurt her. If you truly care for her, let her go. She deserves the best, and you're not it."

    "Well," Severin drawled in an attempt to conceal his soaring temper, "although I could call your mission honorable, it's nothing short of pathetic." Dominic was inching closer to the snapping point. Severin could see him grit his teeth and his color heightening even more. "You actually thought it would be a good idea to come to my house and try to talk me out of Mandy? Because you can’t have her, no one can?"

    "Not no one, just not you!" he erupted, taking a step closer.

    "Yeah right," he shook his head, infusing the motion with as much disgust as possible. "You know, this conversation is over. Please leave my property and don't come back unless you're keen on a restraining order."

    "You and I both know you have no grounds for that!" Dominic growled, taking another step.

    "Not yet at least," Severin shrugged, continuing to feign utter calmness, a fact which seemed to irritate Dominic to no end.

    "Just leave her alone, you fat bastard!"

    He looked perilously close to eruption now, but Severin could not – well, would not – resist and raised his hands in conciliatory dignity. "Easy there. If you don't behave yourself, you won't get invited to the wedding."

    "Shut up!" Dominic exploded, and Severin glimpsed his right fist darting towards him just in time to deflect it. With almost detached astonishment, he registered that he had remained solidly on his feet. Seven years ago Dominic’s attack would not have knocked him over but certainly caused a temporary loss of balance since Severin used to carry muscle for endurance, not strength. Deferring this unexpected discovery for future rumination, he deflected another blow, taunting the broken man in front of him with a complacent smirk.

    "I guess I have sufficient grounds now."

    "Not much longer you don’t!" Dominic bellowed, hurling himself at Severin.

    He turned slightly to evade his attack when he suddenly saw Dominic slip and stumble on the top step, slick with freshly fallen snow. Dominic’s hands caught two fistfuls of his shirt, and the next thing Severin registered was that they were no longer standing. And then... acute pain and an intensifying coldness on his right side where he had landed.

    Mr. Meyers!" Severin heard Christina’s anxious yelling from seemingly far away. "Oh my goodness, are you all right?"

    Her anxious face appeared in front of Severin's. Groaning with the effort, he pushed himself up into a sitting position. Miraculously, his glasses were not only still intact but had remained perched on his nose. However, they felt like the only intact thing of himself right now. Where was that blessed pain-induced numbness people always talked about? And Lord, it was freezing! The bottom of his jeans was soaked and his thin shirt did nothing to protect him from the swirling snow.

    "I'll be OK." Only now did he remember his assailant lying two feet away. His face was devoid of color and as for his left hand…

    "You’d better check on Waldhorst here." He indicated the aggressor in question with a jerk of his suddenly pounding head.

    "Oh my gosh, Mr. Waldhorst!" Christina’s hands flew to her mouth. "I need to get you both to the hospital!"

    Under ordinary circumstances, Severin would have expected Dominic to protest that he would not possibly get into the same car with him, but he only nodded with a grimace, rising to his feet with Christina’s aid while Severin did the same unassisted. His level-headed assistant raced inside and quickly returned with his sweater, jacket and a blanket.

    "Quickly, get in the car! There is another blanket in there. You both have to get warm!"

    While Dominic was huddling up in the two blankets in the back seat of Christina’s compact – not Severin's preferred means of transportation but it would have to do – he remembered something and turned to her.

    "Would you call Mandy as soon as we get to the hospital, please?"

    "Of course! I would have asked you for her number anyway."

    Had he ever told his assistant how brilliant she was? "I’ll give it to you when we arrive. Oh, and tell her she’d better bring his father, too."

    No comment from the back seat. A fifteen-minute drive and only a twenty-minute wait later, Dominic and Severin were being led away for their examination, thankfully into separate directions.


    ***

    "I’m driving, Mandy. You're in no state to get behind the wheel," Albert insisted with his sternest expression, which was saying something. Unaware that he was preaching to the choir, as Mandy was never keen on driving, he accepted her keys from her. Christina had only filled her in on the gist of what had happened, meaning too many questions for a head of standard size were currently squishing each other:

    Were they both OK?

    What had Dominic said to Severin?

    Was Severin going to press charges?

    How was she going to work with Dominic from now on?

    What would Albert decide?

    "Mandy?" Albert’s gruff voice cut through her thickening tangle of questions. "Try not to worry until you have a reason to. For now we know that both are hurt but not badly, so try to stay calm until we've seen them, all right?"

    "All right, I’ll try," Mandy sighed. He was right after all.


    ***
     
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  5. Jun 28, 2019 #165

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 27: Fists (part 2)


    After another ten-minute wait, a physician entered, and Severin knew instantly that he could count himself lucky: peeling himself out of his ruined clothes in front of the plump, kind-looking man in his fifties was definitely manageable, and he let him examine the impressive number of scrapes on his body with something akin to equanimity.

    "You have taken quite a fall there, Mr. Meyers," Dr. Jorgensen informed him needlessly. "But on the bright side nothing is broken."

    Severin heaved a long sigh of relief at this news.

    The doctor smiled. "You were lucky, but in addition, if I may be permitted to say so, your weight has helped cushion the fall. You might very well have broken some ribs otherwise. There are some benefits to a little extra weight," he winked at him, gesturing between the two of them.

    Incredulously Severin stared at the doctor. A physician of all people would voice such an outrageous opinion?

    "A few benefits," he added with another conspiratorial wink. "Anyway, the bruises will probably fade in two weeks at the most. However, you should rest your right arm for a week."

    "All right," Severin nodded, glad not to be met with more severe instructions. "Am I allowed to type?"

    "Are you that anxious not to miss a day of work?" Dr. Jorgensen smiled.

    "I’m self-employed."

    "Ah, I see. Typing should be fine, but take it easy at least today and tomorrow." The doctor smiled again. "All right then, I’ll get your prescription for a pain killer ready, and a nurse will be right in to apply some salve and to bandage the scrapes."

    A nurse? Severin gulped. The chances of said nurse physically resembling himself or Dr. Jorgensen were minute. While a litigious society like the United States would never allow a male patient and a female nurse alone in the same room, in liberal Germany said constellation was the norm. Letting a female nurse place her hands on his body would present a step he had not been prepared to take today. Dr. Jorgensen, however, continued, unaware of his patient's sudden panic.

    "Usually they say that laughter is conducive to recovery but from tomorrow on every chuckle is going to hurt, so you might want to go easy on comedies for a while."

    "I will bear that in mind," Severin smiled back at him, albeit strained given the prospect of exposure to a most likely female nurse.

    "Let your wife or girlfriend take good care of you. Today is the day when you're entitled to some whining, so make sure you let her know that."

    "Good to know." This time his smile was real. "Thank you, Dr. Jorgensen, and have a good day."

    "The same to you, Mr. Meyers."

    ‘Let your wife or girlfriend take good care of you’. A total stranger automatically assumed that he had a partner… and honestly, why shouldn’t he? Severin suddenly realized. Yes, he was fat, so what? So were millions of people, but that did not mean that they didn't deserve loving partners. Add to that the fact that it was his very weight that had saved him from major injury. Also, it was his size which had kept him on his feet in the first place before Dominic had launched himself at him. It was his changed physique which had enabled him to keep Mandy warm in the icy church. It was his size which contributed to her attraction to him.

    Damn, Severin realized open-mouthed. For the past seven years he had condemned the man he had become, only to discover now that there was in fact a multitude of benefits in being overweight. And besides, why should he cower in front of a nurse, a stranger, when he knew that the sight of his body was not only met by acceptance but appreciation, desire, and lust by his girlfriend?

    He could feel his heartbeat decelerate at this overwhelming discovery, and when the indeed female nurse entered, a petite redhead in her early thirties, she didn't show any sign of revulsion or censure at the sight of his exposed torso. She was quiet and efficient, and when the door closed behind her, the only thing he thought about as he made his painstaking way back into his torn, wet clothing was that a hot shower, a change of clothes, and his lovely girlfriend were not far away.

    "Severin!"

    "Mr. Meyers!"

    Mandy and Christina jumped to their feet simultaneously when Severin emerged from the examination room into the nearest waiting area, and both approached him with twin frowns of worry. Severin had to swallow hard at the realization that he had these people in his life who valued and cared about him.

    "I’m fine, just no hugging for now, please," he grimaced at them, raising his hands. "It's just a whole bunch of bruises but nothing's broken."

    "Oh, thank goodness!" Christina exclaimed.

    "I’m glad," Mandy agreed, still frowning. "No hugging, huh? For how long?"

    "Until I’ve got my pain killer prescription and the first one kicks in."

    “Good.”

    Mandy’s frown dissolved into a relieved smile, and Severin gently placed his hands on her shoulders in order to kiss her before he turned to Christina and briefly squeezed her hands. In that moment he was acutely aware they had never touched before except for handshakes or the occasional finger brush when they had handed each other documents. Indeed her eyebrows jumped up at his touch. She was not used to any tactile expression of gratitude from him.

    "Christina, thank you so much for keeping a level head and for reacting so quickly. You're a gem."

    She rallied quickly and delivered a half touched, half indignant smile. "There is nothing to thank me for, Mr. Meyers. What kind of an assistant would I be if I couldn’t handle such a situation?"

    "True…" he grinned at her. "Uh, and Christina?" he added, "please call me Severin. I've been meaning to ask you for some time."

    If his touch had taken her aback, his offer now positively overwhelmed her. "I… uh… yes, I'd love to... Severin." His name rolled awkwardly off her tongue but she would get used to it quickly.

    "Where's Albert?" Severin then remembered, turning his head left and right.

    "Still with-- no, there he is!"

    Albert appeared at the end of the corridor to which Severin was standing with his back, obviously in such a mood dark enough to cast its own shadow.

    "Hey, Albert. How's Dominic?" Mandy probed warily as he joined their little group.

    "Two broken ribs, a broken wrist and countless bruises," Albert growled, his eyebrows knitting in anger before he looked up at Severin and his forehead creased in worry. "And how are you, Mr. Meyers?"

    "Nothing broken, just bruises." Severin looked and sounded reassuring, and a glimpse at Mandy's face revealed how grateful she felt to him for not bearing down on Albert, who was looking weighed down enough by the circumstances.

    "Thank God." Albert groaned in relief, his brow smoothing. Then he looked up at Severin again. "Listen, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about all this. You can rest assured there will be consequences for Dominic, no matter how old he is. I'll pay for the damage to your clothes plus anything else you might discover later. All I ask is that you not press charges right away. Please take a few days to recover and think about the whole matter, and then call me. OK?"

    Pressing charges? Severin had never considered the issue. Again his eyes flickered over to his girlfriend, whose eyes seemed to be pleading with him to agree to Albert's request.

    "I will," he stated simply. "For now I just want to go home."

    "I can certainly understand that," Albert nodded and mustered a tiny smile. "I thank you. Uh, as soon as they release Dominic, we’ll take a cab to your house and pick up his car."

    "All right," Severin nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted. "Christina, please take the rest of the day and tomorrow off. Aside from the fact that you deserve it, there will be nothing to do for you anyway."

    "Like I said, it was nothing, but I won't fight over two vacation days. Thank you," she smiled. "You'll be in the best hands now anyway," she added with a wink at Mandy, which she returned with a smile of her own. Oh yes, he would be in the best of hands.
     
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  6. Jun 28, 2019 #166

    Tad

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    The great white north, eh?
    *Happy and contented sigh*
     
  7. Jul 1, 2019 #167

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 28: Words over fists (part 1)


    Severin had never ridden with Mandy in her car before and he did not care for the experience either. A man of his size had no business in a compact. What sweetened the uncomfortable ride, however, were Mandy’s initial words once they had both buckled up.

    "Severin? You don’t have to talk about it right now. Let’s get you home first, in the shower, and after that I’ll help you reapply the ointment, all right?"

    "Thank you," were the only words he managed to locate, and he reached for her right hand in order to squeeze it tenderly. In addition to the smartest and funniest he also possessed the most understanding girlfriend in the world. Without another word, Mandy started the engine and turned the radio to a low volume while Severin let his swirling thoughts roam. One in particular had made its presence known to him repeatedly within the past few minutes:

    Or you won’t get invited to the wedding’

    He had said that to goad Dominic, and for that reason only. Thinking about marriage after a mere two or three-month relationship was ludicrous, and indeed he had not been entertaining the notion so far. However, his subconscious must have done some entertaining of its own or the words would not have slipped out. What he did know was that he loved Mandy, and that he definitely wished for something permanent. However, amid the rose-tinted fantasies he could not ignore one unsightly stain:

    All the activities you can’t or won’t join her in’

    For all the negligible insults Dominic had spewed forth, this was one aspect actually worth ruminating on. More than worth actually; in fact, it constituted an absolute necessity that Severin faced this ugly fact. Whatever Dominic might be feeling right now, he would no doubt be waiting for the seed of doubt he had come to plant to take root, and indeed it was almost as if Severin could already feel the tiny hairs sprout. The way he had come to know Mandy, the pursuit of summer activities Dominic had mentioned fit her, and there was indeed a multitude of such activities in which he was unable to join her due to his injury and/or his size. For instance, he knew for a fact he would never do a high-rope course. Rollerblading with its similarity to ice-skating might be an option, but whether self-proclaimed motion-impaired Mandy would take to it remained to be seen.

    But what about the ‘won’t join her part? Swimming would be an ideal activity for someone with a leg injury, and an extremely calorie-burning one on top of that, but was he ready for this step? After all, he never would have believed three months ago he would shower with or make love to a skinny woman, yet here they were. But swimming? Severin would have to seriously work on himself in that regard or Dominic would end up being right. Mandy would grow restless and dissatisfied, or even worse: she would find someone else.

    "So," Mandy’s voice broke through his intense reflections at last. "How long are you supposed to rest?"

    "The doctor said to take it easy for a week."

    "Which translates to a day to you, correct?" Mandy treated him to a wry side glance.

    "Two," he grinned, hugging the discovery how well she knew him around his shoulders like the warm blanket he longed for after his shower.

    "I guess I'd better keep an eye on you for those two days then."

    "I certainly wouldn’t mind that." In fact, she should not only keep an eye but all her body parts on him.


    ***

    Although Mandy had never believed she would ever touch Severin’s bare skin without feeling a surge of lust, it was shock and anger which reared their heads when he sat down before her on the couch. The trail of broken skin, now even redder after his shower, ran over most of Severin’s back and his right side and disappeared into his briefs. Quite a few spots on his limbs were affected as well. Fighting down the urge to pelt him with the questions that had been reverberating in her mind ever since Christina’s call, she wordlessly applied the salve and fresh bandages Severin had been given by the nurse. She had promised her boyfriend she would hold back but she could not bear it much longer. At last she had finished, and Severin dressed in a fresh T-shirt and sweats before he rejoined her on the couch. Mandy pulled up one leg so she could turn and face him for this conversation.

    "May I now ask what happened between you?”

    Severin heaved a long sigh at that. "I suppose we might as well talk about it now. Well, in a nutshell, Dominic told me to leave you alone because I don’t deserve you."

    Mandy could have sworn she actually heard the blood pulse through her veins and vessels throb inside her skull. "The nerve of that… that… that butthead! No, make that the entire butt!"

    "I can’t say I disagree," Severin chuckled, wincing a little and touched his afflicted ribs. Mandy felt a new surge of anger on his behalf.

    "But what made him punch you? I would have thought with such a message you would have more reason to start the fight."

    "Well, I…" Severin's perfect composure faltered and Mandy caught a tiny smile on his lips. "I may have goaded him a little."

    He looked as though he doubted he could locate sufficient shame to muster any guilt. When she saw his lips twitch, she let out a resigned sigh. She may have been capable of a lot of things, but being stern was not one of them, at least not when there was the tiniest source of humor in her vicinity.

    "Mandy," Severin responded gently, apparently making an effort to reign in his mirth, "I probably shouldn't have done that but I'm not sorry about it either. Still, he… he wasn't all wrong.”

    Mandy felt here eyebrows all but disappear into her hair. "Really."

    "Well, for one thing he admitted that he stood no chance with you."

    "Wow, that is big.”

    "Yeah, and speaking of ‘big’…" She saw Severin swallow, and guessed what would follow. "He mentioned there were a lot of activities you like to do, especially in the summer. I...", Severin continued with visible effort, "I want you to be happy. There will always be things that I can no longer do, such as climbing, but… when I have lost some weight and feel more comfortable with myself, would you…" again he seemed to struggle with an obstruction in his throat. "Would you like to go to the pool and the sauna with me?"
     
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  8. Jul 1, 2019 #168

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Chapter 28: Words over fists (part 2)


    "Really?" Again Mandy felt her eyebrows pack their bags for a trip north, but this time they were headed for a destination called hope. Her voice had dropped almost to a whisper.

    "Yes."

    "Of course, I would love to!"

    Severin stopped her just in time from launching herself into his arms. "Uh, bruises, remember?"

    "Whoops. Sorry," she grinned in embarrassment before she opted for squeezing his hands with all her strength. "Severin, this is so great. I’m looking forward to it already!"

    "Uh, easy there; I said ‘when I have lost some weight’."

    "Which you will!" she exclaimed, full of confidence. "I maintain it'll be a great shame, but since we've agreed to disagree, I'll help you, even if it means learning to cook a few healthy meals."

    "And lose my patient kitchen staff for the menial tasks? No way. I'll cook."

    "You know I take that as a compliment," she grinned at him. "Hey, but seriously, I am sure you’ll drop the weight."

    "If you say so."

    "I do."

    "OK." Severin still looked unconvinced, but her conviction would most likely cover both of them.

    "And there's one more thing," he added. "I've been thinking about it for some time: how would you feel about us joining a choir?"

    "A choir?" Mandy was not certain how many more surprises her already overtaxed mind would be able to handle.

    "Yes. You have a decent voice, too, and you told me you can read music. I would really like for us to have something we can enjoy together, so why not music?"

    "Wow." Mandy shook her head as if by doing so she could create more storage space for this new wealth of data. "Uh, those must have been quite some words you and Dominic have shared prior to your... physical exchange. I can barely keep up with all your new ideas here, you know. Uh, so, a choir? Well... sure, why not?

    Severin’s lips administered a tender kiss, and Mandy let herself be pulled close to him again. For a while they simply enjoyed the feel of each other and, as always, the perfect fit of their so different bodies.

    "Mandy?" she heard Severin murmur against her ear after a while.

    "Hm?"

    "Do you think you could take tomorrow off?"

    Slowly she pulled back in order to push up her glasses onto the top of her head while he mimicked the motion.

    "You know, I was thinking the same," she told him. "We're taking our winter break within the next few days anyway."

    "That's what I hoped."

    "I will call Albert now," she decided with a nod, and gently shifted in order to climb off his lap. She chose the office as the place for this difficult conversation and dialed Albert’s cell number.

    "Hey, Mandy," Albert’s gruff voice greeted her.

    "Hey Albert. How is Dominic?"

    "Fine, all things considered," he growled. "At least he had the decency to injure himself just before our winter break, so we won’t be short-handed for too long."

    "How very considerate of him."

    "Oh Mandy, you know I love him but what was he thinking? No, that’s right, he wasn’t." She heard him sigh deeply, and her heart went out to him.

    "Albert, I was wondering if I could take a day or two off."

    "Of course," he replied instantly, "in fact, I was thinking the same thing. I don’t know how it happens, but with incidents like this one something always leaks through, and the guys are going to be pestering you with questions. You shouldn’t have to deal with that."

    "Thank you, Albert."

    "I only ask that you come back in on Friday to finish up everything before our winter break." His voice dropped and his next words were tainted with dejection. "It'll give both me and Dominic some time to think about the next steps. Incidentally, has Mr…"

    "Call him Severin."

    "All right. Has Severin said anything yet? I mean, I told him to get some rest and to think about‒"

    "Albert," Mandy stopped his worried rambling. "I don’t think he'll press charges."

    There was no need to apprise Albert of the fact that Severin bore part of the blame and that, in addition, Dominic’s words had made such a big impression on him.

    "That is good to hear, but tell me as soon as you believe he might change his mind."

    "I will."

    "OK, Mandy. See you Friday then."

    "You will. Bye, Albert."

    "Bye."



    Severin was eyeing her with hope when the office disgorged her after these few minutes.

    "You'll find yourself under my strict supervisory eye until Friday," she informed him with a smirk despite her heavy heart and saw his face light up.

    "My very own private nurse, I'm so blessed."

    Mandy laughed, bent over his supine form in order to kiss him and perched on the couch beside him. Immediately Severin’s hands reached out for hers. "You know, speaking of supervision, I just had the most brilliant idea."

    "The most?"

    "The most," he emphasized with a chuckle.

    "Then let’s hear it."

    "Move in with me."

    "Uh, what?!" Were it not for Severin’s hold on her fingers, Mandy would have fallen off the couch. "But we have only been together for‒"

    "I know, but I’m going on my gut feeling here, and when it comes to guts, you might as well admit it: between the two of us I'm way more qualified."

    Mandy couldn't help but giggle. Severin had changed so much that he could joke about his weight.

    "Listen,” Severin went on, “how about this: live with me for one month and then you can always reconsider. Which you won’t."

    "I think it's safe to assume your self-esteem issues are at an end."
     
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  9. Jul 4, 2019 #169

    Unbasher

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    LAST CHAPTER: New beginnings (part 1)


    Under Mandy's 'strict supervisory eye' Severin refrained from all strenuous activity and even his work for three days. Well, in truth her eye could hardly take credit for it; it was more the fact that his bruises were collectively vying for attention, a fact Severin did not hesitate to let her know repeatedly.

    "You know," Mandy told him on their second night, "if that is your approach on convincing me to move in with me, you might want to lay off the whining."

    "But my doctor actually told me to make sure you knew I was entitled to it. That's a quote, I swear," Severin grinned.

    "Your doctor was male, wasn't he?" Mandy raised her eyes to the ceiling when Severin nodded. "Well, despite your complicity I won't put up with this much longer, so suck it up!"

    "Speaking of sucking..."

    "Much better train of thought."



    ***



    When Mandy entered the company premises on Friday, it turned out that three of the guys had begun their winter break early and that only Flo and Oliver were busy finishing up their tasks. She worked until noon, barely succeeding in keeping the unbidden thought of Dominic’s future at bay.

    "Mandy? Can I talk to you?"

    Flo had appeared in the doorway, just like Dominic always did. Mandy's heart sank. As much as she liked Flo, she had no desire for this particular conversation. Then again, she concluded with an inward sigh, she had not had lunch yet, so whatever he had to say would at least not upset her stomach.

    "Sure, Flo,” she replied warily and leaned back in her chair.

    "From your face I can tell you know what this is about."

    “Yep.”

    Flo came closer and walked around Mandy's desk while she swiveled in her chair in order to maintain eye contact.

    "We've all seen Dom fall apart over the past few weeks and I overheard Albert and him yell at each other once."

    "Uh-huh."

    Mandy was still bracing herself for his question. What was she supposed to tell him? She had always liked Flo, but they had always been part of a larger group and he had never singled her out before.

    "Look, I think Dom's being ridiculous," Flo began. "I only saw your boyfriend that one time when he came to pick you up before Christmas, but honestly, I've never seen you as happy as you have been lately. Dom and you, though…" Flo shook his blond, ponytailed curls. "I don’t think it would have worked out even if he had made a move."

    It took a moment for his words to sink in.

    "Thanks, Flo," Mandy replied at last. Although the part about Dominic was like a new stab in a still bleeding wound, it felt reassuring that even an outsider could see how strongly she felt for Severin.

    "Listen," Flo began anew, "I don’t mean to pry, and please feel free to tell me to mind my own business but… rumors are already starting to spread. The thing is, I’m not interested in any twisted, handed-down version of what happened on Monday. I want to hear the truth."

    "In that case I’m afraid I will have to avail myself of your offer."

    Flo grinned at that, displaying a row of perfect teeth. "My offer of feeling free to tell me to mind my own business? Well, can’t say I didn’t expect that. Actually, all I really need to know is, do you know what'll happen to Dom?"

    Slowly Mandy shook her head.

    "Mandy, I'm not going to make the rumors spread faster or more colorfully here." Flo’s voice dropped and he pulled the other office chair close like Albert had done during a very similar conversation. "I’m just worried about him."

    "I know, I just don’t feel comfortable talking about it. You should probably speak to Albert." Mandy's gaze dropped to her hands.

    "I will," Flo nodded. "But if you ever want to talk, I’m here for you, OK?"

    His callused hand appeared in her line of vision and squeezed her own briefly. She managed a weak smile at that.

    "OK, thanks, Flo."

    "No problem."

    He looked reassuring as he rose to his feet and pushed the office with his dusty rear print chair back into place.

    "Flo?" Mandy addressed him once more before he left the room.

    "Yes?"

    "I, for my part, believe Dominic will leave the company. But that’s just my opinion."

    Flo nodded, his smile now tinged with regret. "That’s what I think, too. Thanks, Mandy."



    ***



    The next three weeks sped by like a James Bond car. During that time Mandy had only stopped at her apartment a few times to check on her appliances and to pick up her mail, and with every day it felt more natural to return to Severin’s house. She had actually let the word ‘home’ slip once but refrained from commenting on the fact as she still felt a little wary of Severin’s proposal.

    The issue of moving in with him was still poking and prodding her when she sat down in her office on her first day back, and she felt grateful to find sufficient occupation there to keep her distracted at least temporarily.

    "Mandy?"

    An all-too familiar voice pierced her little cocoon, and she startled so violently that she jerked her pen over the entire invoice she had been checking.

    "Dominic!"

    Dominic was indeed here, and it was not the bandage on his wrist peeking out from underneath his black wool coat but more the coat itself which captured her attention. That, plus the slacks and the non-work shoes. In all these years during which her once best friend had appeared in her office doorway, he had never done so in anything but his work wear, and Mandy found herself swallowing hard at his unexpected alter ego. He was even wearing his hear in a neater style, and his dark brown eyes were resting on Mandy in a much graver manner than she had ever seen them do. Gone were the anger and the hatred of their past encounters, and Mandy leaned back in her chair with more composure than she had believed herself to be able to muster.

    "May I come in, please?"

    Being the son's owner, Dominic had never asked to be granted admittance before.

    "Uh, yes, sure," Mandy heard herself answer, her voice hoarse in her own ears. Dominic only advanced a few steps and came to a halt in front of her desk. She rose when she felt he would not move any further.

    "I… I wanted you to hear it first. Mandy could tell from the restless way he was shifting his fists in his coat pockets how affected he was by the events of the past few months, and she held her breath for his next words.

    "I have decided to do the legal traineeship after all, to get some more experience and to open up my own law firm. Corporate law."

    His news registered with not even borderline surprise. During their studies, Mandy had been able to tell with how much passion – well, as much passion as Dominic could display for anything – he had tackled his classes, and after the incident with Severin it was obvious he would no longer work in a company under his advisory wing.

    "I maintain that Meyers guy will never deserve you even if he drops a hundred pounds and waits on you hand and foot." Dominic paused, and Mandy did not even bother to comment on his remark. Too many words and violence had already been exchanged over this. "But… I'll admit hitting him was not the wisest way to let him know that."

    "It wasn’t," Mandy contented herself to respond, sparing him any further embarrassment.

    "I… I wish things could have been different between us but… that's life, I guess."

    His gaze dropped to his feet. Mandy had never seen Dominic look so alone and defeated, and yet she knew the four feet of desk between them could never be bridged. Helplessly she stood and watched him draw a few ragged breaths until he finally raised his head. His, just a moment ago, so open face had transformed into a blank mask.

    "Anyway, I wish you all the best. You deserve it."

    "I wish you the same."

    Mandy did not feel comfortable adding that he deserved it, too, and Dominic seemed to guess her thoughts.

    "Take care."

    "You too."

    She knew those were parting words. Working with his father would ensure they would see each other again at some point, but Mandy knew they would never again have an intimate conversation.



    ***
     
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  10. Jul 4, 2019 #170

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    LAST CHAPTER: New beginnings (part 2)


    "I don't know how you do it. I could never live without dairy."

    Severin could not hold back his disgust as Mandy and he were cleaning the kitchen, and he dropped the soy cream carton into the trash with visible contempt.

    "Stomach cramps is how I do it, and I can’t blame you for not wishing to share my fate," his girlfriend smiled with a shrug. "Still, look at how long you've stuck it out. And what's more, look at the results! Although," she added with a frown, "you know my opinion on the topic."

    "I do, even if I'll never get it,” Severin shook his head at her with a grin and pulled her close against him. With the aid of a sugar-free, almost dairy-free food-combining diet and Mandy’s unwavering support, he had managed to lose those 20 lbs., something on which he had given up years ago. There were moments when he still could not believe he had dropped a pant size. Those had been eight grueling weeks of deprivation, but they had paid off, and right now he did not even feel the latent craving for sugar anymore.

    Still, he had to be realistic. He would not be able to keep this up indefinitely, and he already knew he could never give up sugar. As soon as he would reacquaint his tongue with the perilous substance, he would run the very likely risk of gaining every pound back, which was why he had to permanently integrate all those culinary and lifestyle changes into his future routine: use the car less, substitute meat with fish and so on. He would strive to lose another 30 in addition to these 20 pounds, but he knew he would be able to take his time and aspire to his goals pressure-free. The important thing was that he could be at peace with his weight, live healthily, and still indulge in the occasional dietary transgression.

    "So," Severin released his hold on his girlfriend but let his hands linger on her hips as he leaned back against the kitchen counter. "I guess the completion of my goal comes at a pretty good time, huh?"

    "Because it happens coincides with the celebratory dinner for the new headstone designer of Waldhorst’s?" Mandy grinned.

    "I couldn’t have put it better myself."

    "Most likely true."

    "You're outrageous."

    He pulled her close again, so infinitely proud of his witty, talented partner, who had indeed been awarded said position the other day. The headstone business had picked up – without any external assistance – and more and more customers were interested in an individual design. In addition, Severin had the idea of promoting custom-made stones as gifts for a living loved one as well. What better present to give to someone for their 50th, 60th or other birthdays when at that age the birthday child usually had everything already? Jordan and Leann had already expressed an interest in a piece for Leann’s granddad, so why shouldn’t others follow?

    "What time are we due at Flo’s again?" he asked.

    "7."

    Mandy’s voice sounded a little dejected, and Severin loosened his hold on her again in order to search her face. It wasn't a happy one.

    "It just seems unfair to celebrate my new position with Dom gone. I mean, I know there was no way we could have continued to work together but still…"

    "Hey, I know how hard it is to lose a close friend. Still, remember you've gained another one."


    Mandy had to agree with her boyfriend. Flo had been taking her under his wing ever since the end of their winter break whenever one of her co-workers threatened to nose into the Dominic business. His departure from the company had left a hole in the closely woven fabric of their small corporate family, but Flo had been working the needle ever since, and so far there seemed to be no irreparable tear. They had had dinner together with him, his wife and 2-year-old son twice, and even though no one would ever be able to replace Dominic, Mandy felt very grateful for Flo's increasing presence in her life, as well as for the fact that Severin and he had taken a liking to one another.

    "True," she nodded, drawing comfort from the love in her partner’s eyes.

    "Plus, you have every right to celebrate and to be proud of yourself tonight. I, for one, am unspeakably proud of you."

    "Thank you. You know how much your opinion means to me," she smiled up at him, her heart swelling with pride of her own for her man.

    "Speaking of which," Severin replied with a sly look in his beautiful eyes, "if I have counted correctly, which you know I have, being a nitpicking pencil-pusher and all that--"

    Mandy could not suppress a snicker at that.

    "Anyway," he resumed, "if I've counted correctly, you have been living with me for two months now."

    He paused for effect, and Mandy realized that he was right. It had been two months. She might have moved no furniture over to his house, but the majority of her clothes. her most important binders and books had found a home amid his. With visits to Jordan, Miriam, Herb, and more recently Flo, as well as with choir hunting, Mandy had not even noticed the weeks fly by.

    "Uh-huh," Severin’s deep voice interrupted her incredulous reflections. "I told you you wouldn’t change your mind."

    "You did," Mandy nodded, feeling a smile bloom on her cheeks.

    "So, what do you say?" he murmured, his warm hands tenderly brushing up and down her forearms. "Would you like to explore the full range of cohabitational benefits?"

    "That's the most romantic thing anyone has ever asked me," she murmured back, drawing closer to him.

    "Only you would make the employment of polysyllabism a prerequisite for romanticism." His nose nuzzled hers.

    "Which comes a lot cheaper than flowers and such nonsense," she whispered, grazing his soft lips with her own.

    "I love a woman with a head on her shoulders." His warm breath tickled her skin.

    "As do I." She paused. "I hate necks, too."
     
  11. Jul 4, 2019 #171

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    That's it, folks, the last chapter before I leave on vacation tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed my story. I'll accept adulations, accolades, cuddles - bring it on ;) Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to keep writing. Encouragement is important to any writer. Happy fourth of July :)
     
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  12. Jul 4, 2019 #172

    RVGleason

    RVGleason

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    Wonderful, thanks so much. Have a Happy Fourth!
     
  13. Jul 4, 2019 #173

    Tad

    Tad

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    The great white north, eh?
    Thank you so much for this story! It has been a joy to read :)
     
  14. Jul 4, 2019 #174

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Thank you, Tad, that means a lot :)
     
  15. Jul 4, 2019 #175

    Tad

    Tad

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    The great white north, eh?
    Also my sincerest apologies for the inexcusable lack of polysyllabic approbation in my previous post. I've spent years endeavoring to symplify my compositions, and it can be a difficult habit to modify. But for this situation I should have laid it aside for a paltry paragraph to better match forms and show my appreciation for Mandy's customarily complex constructions.
     
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  16. Jul 4, 2019 #176

    Unbasher

    Unbasher

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    Now we're talking. Well, expostulating really :)
     
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  17. Jul 5, 2019 #177

    jusbcuz

    jusbcuz

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    Unbasher, I've enjoyed The Improved You from beginning to end. Thank you for sharing your creativity, eloquence, and passion.
     
  18. Jul 5, 2019 #178

    Unbasher

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    Jusbcuz, thank you very much! I'm glad everything I intended to convey came through :)
     
  19. Aug 10, 2019 #179

    Chubhandles

    Chubhandles

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    Somehow I forgot to reply to this when it finished! (I say somehow, I’m a forgetful enough person that it isn’t a surprise)

    I loved the whole story, and I’m so happy I got to read it! Thank you for creating this wonderful story and these excellent characters!
     

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