Authors: Carina Bartsch
Also by Carina Bartsch:
Turquoise Green Winter
Text copyright © 2011 by Carina Bartsch
English translation copyright © 2014 Erik J. Macki. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Cherry Red Summer
by Carina Bartsch was first published in 2011, in Germany, as
. Translated from the German by Erik J. Macki.
First published in English in 2014 by AmazonCrossing.
Thanks to all those who believed in me at times when I didn’t myself.
very time it was the same story: either time itself had it in for me, or one of my fellow human beings would jam a monkey wrench into my latest pitiful plan to be on time. But today, for once, I ended up getting lucky. I was rushing off campus to the bus stop just as the bus pulled in, so I ran and managed to squeeze through the automatic doors at the last second.
Berlin Transit and I were rarely so well coordinated. The buses and I shared a tendency to be late, only never at the same time. So, as I walked past an elderly woman clutching her purse tightly with both hands and plopped down into the seat behind her, I made a mental note to mark this occasion with an X on my calendar.
The bus pulled away, and after a few yards, my smile was back. The reason for my good mood was Alexandra, my best friend since kindergarten. We hadn’t seen each other for what felt like half an eternity—three long months, to be exact.
If someone had told me when I was little that Alex and I might one day part ways, even spatially, I would never have believed it.
But that was exactly what had happened after graduation. Alex had decided to major in art at the University of Munich while I started college almost four hundred miles away from her, in Berlin.
That had been a couple of years ago, and the separation had been anything but easy. The enormous distance made it impossible to get together spontaneously, so we really only saw each other face-to-face during semester breaks and vacations in our hometown of Neustadt, less than an hour’s drive from Heidelberg. Otherwise, all we had was the phone and e-mail. I still missed Alex every day. Hearing her voice once in a while just wasn’t the same as having in her in front of me, in the flesh. I was used to her always hovering around me, opening her mouth first thing in the morning and not closing it again until dinnertime.
I grinned, remembering how her incessant talking used to drive me to the edge of madness. But as stupid as it sounds, that’s exactly what I missed the most now.
That’s why her news two weeks ago was the nicest present she could have given me: Alex was moving to Berlin, close to me.
She had been dissatisfied with her art program in Munich because it hadn’t matched what she had pictured. Then, when she’d returned to the dorm from class one night and found her now-ex-boyfriend and the girl next door in bed together, she didn’t find it that difficult to drop out once and for all.
Given the same situation, most people would have just crawled into a hole, but Alex wouldn’t be Alex if she let other people get her down. Just two weeks later, she was back on her feet, devising a plan B, and already describing that unpleasant incident as “a gift from heaven,” leaving me to admire her all the more for her talent at bending reality to suit her. And that’s exactly why I loved her. Her new passion was fashion design. Alex was known for her whims, but this time, even I couldn’t stand in her way. The realization of what she wanted to do had washed over her in a moment when she was sitting with her eyes closed, “listening to the voice deep within,” as she called it. Honestly, majoring in fashion design really did seem to be tailor-made for her.
She had sent applications only to colleges in and around Berlin, and had received two acceptances. One school was downtown; the other school was none other than mine. It didn’t take her long to decide where to go.
Almost everything was perfect, really—but with emphasis on the word
. Because there was one huge problem: Alex wasn’t going to be renting her own place. Even tiny apartments can be super-expensive in Berlin, especially for students. Instead, she was going to move in with her brother, Elyas, who was almost two years older than her. His roommate had moved out recently, and Alex had immediately called dibs on the room.
I hadn’t seen Elyas for years and years, and let’s just say I wasn’t exactly sad about it. It was only in passing that I had even learned he was also living in Berlin. But since he was studying at a different university, I hadn’t wasted another minute thinking about him. The city was more than big enough for the two of us—at least, that’s what I’d thought. Until I found out his apartment was only a ten-minute bike ride from mine. A strange feeling came over me at the idea of seeing him again after all this time. I’d have preferred to avoid it; frankly, I was making desperate efforts to repress the sinking feeling I had. The main thing was that it would be great to have Alex around again.
The bus came to a stop with a rough jolt, and the hiss of the automatic doors was my signal to get off. I had hardly set foot on the sidewalk when I caught sight of Alex and her parents, Ingo and Alena, hauling cardboard boxes out of a big white van a few yards down the street. The three of them constituted the portion of the Schwarz family that I loved dearly. I had spent half of my childhood in their house, and over the years, Ingo and Alena had practically become second parents to me.
“Ooh!” Alex squealed when she saw me, dropping—with a loud clank—the moving box she had been holding. By the time she took her next breath, she was already running toward me, in a burst of unfettered excitement. Did I mention her tendency to hyperactivity?
I briefly considered ducking at the last second so she would end up hugging only air. It was a funny idea, but it would have been too mean. Only just a little, though.
So I laughed and spread my arms in time to feel my petite best friend land in my hug—and almost topple me over. “Emely-Bemely!” she yelled, nearly squeezing me to death. You couldn’t tell from her innocent looks, but Alex was definitely the spawn of some kind of hugging monster. A hug-o-saurus, maybe.
I can squeeze people to death, too,
I thought, returning the pressure in kind. I could hardly believe I wasn’t going to have to say good-bye to her again in a few days. She was going to stay here and get on my nerves day in and day out, the way she always used to. I sighed in satisfaction, and then she suddenly let me go.
“You’re fifteen minutes late!” she said.
I sighed again, this time in irritation.
She looked just like her mother, with curly light-brown hair that she usually wore down, but her eyes gleamed with the same clear, snowmelt blue as her father’s.
Without skipping a beat, she took me by the arm and dragged me over to her parents. Alena beamed at me and jogged the last two steps to wrap her arms around me.
“Are you doing well?” she asked, putting her hands on my cheeks. I nodded with a smile.
Alena was born in Poland. Her eyes were green, and her face was amazingly delicate and soft. Even though age had started leaving traces in the form of small wrinkles, she still hadn’t completely lost her youth.
The longer I looked at her, the clearer it became to me that I hadn’t seen her in far too long.
Ingo stood off to the side as usual, watching my grand entrance with a smile before he eventually moved in to give me a reserved hug.
His face was as striking as ever, though his black hair had started showing a bit of gray at the temples since I had last seen him. Ingo was a person who didn’t talk much, but when he did, you listened. He was a doctor at Neustadt Medical Center, where Alena had also worked for a couple of years, as a nurse.
“You keep getting prettier and prettier,” he said, smiling at me.
For the life of me, I had no idea what he meant. I wasn’t exactly a piece of eye candy, with my brown eyes, dark hair down to my shoulder blades, and m
y . . .
well, let’s call it a
passable figure. I knew things could have been worse, though. I liked my face, for instance—why exactly, I don’t know, but I liked it. Still, it was one of those faces that get lost in a crowd.
After we had stood on the sidewalk for a while, I noticed Alex scrutinizing me. “What?” I asked.
“God, Emely, you totally look the worse for wear.” She shook her head. “It’s high time I started taking care of you again.”
I blinked at her, and then looked down at my clothes: white sneakers, dark-blue jeans, a black T-shirt, and a dark-gray fleece jacket.
What in the hell was her problem?
“Maybe you two should take Her Imperial Highness back home with you again,” I said to Alex’s parents, who laughed but shook their heads.
Why was I so happy to have this monster around again? Alex jabbed me in the side. “Her Imperial Highness is here to stay,” she said, thrusting her chin upward. “And now, come. I’ve got to show you this amazing apartment!” Before she even finished speaking, she grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me behind her.
“Maybe we should bring a couple of boxes since we’re heading up anyway?” I suggested as we walked past the van, but Alex just waved dismissively. “We can do that later,” she said, dragging me in the front door of the prewar building.
She pulled me up five freaking flights of stairs. Five! I should have known she’d end up in the attic of some older building and there wouldn’t be an elevator. I did have a dark sense of humor, but
wasn’t funny at all.
Alex spent the climb telling me, without any periods or commas, how she was planning to lay out her room. I wondered where she found the breath to climb five flights and talk at the same time. Did she have an auxiliary lung?
I was gasping for air by the time we made it to the top of what felt like three thousand steps, and I was relieved I hadn’t stumbled on the way up—although there had been several near misses. I had a bent for all manner of embarrassing tumbles, and unlike the rest of humanity, I didn’t find them funny in the least. My clumsiness was one trait I couldn’t shake. I liked to say I was too stupid to walk.
Alex, my sadistic friend, didn’t let me catch my breath at the landing, instead pulling me into the apartment immediately. I froze at my first step—in wonder.
The first thing I noticed was a gigantic room that looked like an artist’s loft. The floor was covered in dark laminate, but the walls alternated sections painted bright white and sections of exposed red brick. The sloped attic ceilings were punctuated by lots of windows. Thick, square concrete pillars towered from the floor and disappeared into the ceiling, visually dividing the space.
An open kitchen to my left had sleek gray cabinets with no visible knobs or drawer handles, an island with an oven, and all the bells and whistles. Behind the kitchen was a dining table with six mismatched chairs.
To my right was a little sitting area featuring a black couch facing a wall-mounted flat-screen TV. The open bookshelves housed countless stacks of CDs, DVDs, and video games.
As my eyes roamed farther afield, I discovered a matte-black grand piano, which didn’t really fit in with the rest of the décor but somehow still brought everything together.
Overall, the apartment looked both chaotic and stylish at the same time. Alex hadn’t oversold it at all;
really was the right word for the place.
w . . .
,” I said after taking it all in for a moment.
“Oh, Emely. You can’t imagine how happy I am,” Alex said with twinkling eyes. “I think ditching Munich was the right decision. I never felt at home there, anyway; I missed all of you way too much.” She hugged me again. “Plus, I never liked Bavarian
,” she whispered.
I shared her dislike of that style of sausage. “Totally understandable,” I said with a smile as we emerged from our hug.
I should have hugged her longer because I still hadn’t caught my breath when she grabbed my wrist again. “You need to check out my room,” she said as I stumbled along behind her.
We walked through the main area and ended up in a narrow hallway with one door on the right and two on the left. Alex immediately pulled me through the first door—and I suddenly remembered what the catch was:
Elyas Schwarz, the last—and, by me, unwanted—member of this family.
Elyas was kneeling on the floor trying to screw Alex’s new bed frame together.
It was as though I had emerged from a dense fog bank. The cloudy haze that had shrouded my memories immediately dissolved. Elyas looked up at us, and for a few seconds he stared, seeming just as startled to see me as I was to see him. It was not nice to see him again. The encounter knocked the wind out of me.
His face had hardly changed over the years—his features were still smooth and striking at the same time—but it looked more rugged now. I hated to admit it, but Elyas was as attractive as ever.
And his eyes hadn’t lost that unique hint of turquoise green, hiding a secret sparkle unlike anything I had ever seen in another person.
s . . .
a wonderful whim of nature, you might say. The legacy of his parents’ different eye colors.
Elyas’s cinnamon-colored hair was slightly tousled, perhaps a sign that the bed frame was stubbornly resisting assembly. My eyes wandered over his body, lingering on his sinewy forearms and the T-shirt tight over his flat abdomen. Elyas was looking much more like a man than a boy, and nowhere near as lanky as before.
My eyes slowly returned to his face, and I snapped out of my trance when his lips curled into a dashing grin. To my annoyance, he kept grinning as he stood and walked over to us. He was at least a head taller than me, so I was forced to look up at him even as everything within me fought against it.
“Hey, Alex,” he said in a pleasant baritone, without taking his eyes off me for a second. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your little friend?”
I didn’t know what to be more upset about: his evident failure to recognize me, or his sleazy come-on. Ultimately I decided to be upset at both.
“That’s Emely, you idiot,” Alex answered with a frown.
y . . .
?” he repeated, furrowing his brow as though he could only dimly remember ever having heard my name.
Geez, what a stuck-up jerk!
I swallowed my anger with tensed jaw muscles and reminded myself to stay calm.
,” I said with sarcastic friendliness, “the one with the tiny breasts.”