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Authors: Roxann Hill

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BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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32

I
t had stormed during the night, and I’d woken up a couple of times, as the wind rattled the shutters. Now, all the clouds had disappeared, and a bright-blue winter sky smiled at me. The kitchen was warm from baking. The aroma of fresh madeleines mixed with strong coffee hung in the air.

Outside, David was changing the tire. He knew exactly what he was doing. As had Madame Segebade when she was mixing the madeleine batter a little earlier. As did Emma, who was building a giant snowman next to David. I seemed to be the only one who didn’t know what to do. Either with myself or my life.

A dog snout nudged at me. Baby was already hobbling around pretty well.

“No,” I said. “That’s it.”

His dark-brown eyes held an urgent plea.

“You ate a whole chicken, and during breakfast Emma and Madame secretly fed you cake. Don’t look at me as though you’re starving!”

Baby whimpered mournfully in response. He drooled out of the sides of his mouth. I gave him another piece of cake. “But this is really the last one. From now on you’re on a diet!”

Madame appeared next to me and squinted into the bright sun streaming through the window. “Your boyfriend knows about cars. He’ll be finished very soon.”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Then you’ll get home quickly.”

“That’s what it looks like. If we drive straight through, we’ll get there today.”

Madame Segebade appraised me. “You don’t seem particularly happy about that prospect.”

I pushed my hair away from my forehead. “A few days ago,” I started, “I saw everything differently. I thought I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. But now? I no longer know if going back to Berlin is the right thing for me to do. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather cruise around in that pink-red hunk of rust and never arrive anywhere.”

The old woman’s face was filled with understanding coupled with wistfulness. “I completely understand what you mean. Sometimes you come to a fork in the road and it’s not clear which direction to take.”

“And how do you find out?”

“You have to do what your heart tells you. Reason is of little use. Believe me.”

“Unfortunately, my heart is clueless at the moment. The dumb thing isn’t telling me anything. Besides thump-thump.”

Madame Segebade started clearing the dishes.

“Maybe you need to listen a little more closely.”

A noise drew my attention to the window. David was standing outside it with Emma on top of his shoulders. She was tapping, or rather drumming, on the pane with her little fists. “Michelle,” she called. “We’re finished! We can go now!”

The old woman and I went into the hallway, where I slipped on my ski jacket and grabbed David’s duffel bag. Madame accompanied me to the door. She kissed Emma good-bye on both cheeks, patted Baby on the head, and, to my great surprise, hugged David and held him close for a few seconds.

“You will be getting mail from me,” David told her. Madame Segebade nodded gratefully before turning to me.

“Au revoir, Madame,” I said. “Merci bien. Thank you so much for everything.”

I hesitantly offered her my hand. Instead of taking it, she wrapped her arms around me. I was so surprised that a tear or two started rolling down my cheek.

“Don’t be sad,” she whispered into my ear. “You’ve known for a while what’s right for you.”

Moments later, our pink Citroën started without a grumble. The new old tire seemed to be working well as we slowly drove away from the castle. For a long while, in the side-view mirror, I could still see Madame Segebade standing and waving at us from her door.

33

O
ur last day together.

Even though we covered the longest stretches of our trip in the hours that followed, I can’t report much about them. There’s no border crossing between Germany and France, of course, so we passed from one country to the other without incident. When we crossed the Rhein, the houses seemed a bit more antiseptic and elaborately maintained on the other side.

We got onto the highway and stayed in the right lane. David made sure not to exceed 90 km/h on the speedometer.

Sometimes we’d get honked at.

Little by little, the blue sky was overtaken by clouds, and eventually a faint rain began. Occasionally, it came down on the roof above us in buckets.

The winter white was disappearing and—it seemed to me—being replaced with a bleak gray that hovered over the whole world. And over me, too.

At first, David tried to fight against our collective dim mood. He played some Christmas songs. And for over an hour, he led us in games of Twenty Questions and I Spy with My Little Eye. But none of us really had much fun. It was as though we’d left all of our good cheer in the little castle in Alsace.

Around noon, Emma got hungry, so we stopped at McDonald’s one last time. I chewed on a salad and bit into a cheeseburger, but I couldn’t taste a thing. I had no appetite. Baby got my leftovers. We’d stopped talking, and I had the feeling that the intimacy that had grown between us was diminishing by the minute—just like the distance that separated us from Berlin.

That it was our last day together was probably for the best, even though it was painful for me. Our lives were too different. I wanted to achieve something, to become someone others would look up to. David, on the other hand—and I had to sigh at this thought—wasn’t interested in any of that. He was satisfied with his completely mediocre existence.

Valentin represented the stark opposite. I tried to imagine him and shuddered—I could no longer remember the details of his face. I knew that he had brown eyes and wore Davidoff Cool Water. But the rest? The excitement of the last few days had definitely affected me more than I liked to admit.

I decided to test myself. I closed my eyes and imagined someone that I knew well. Totally randomly, David appeared. And it frightened me. Every detail of his face, every shade in his eyes. His dimples when he laughed, the feel of his hand in mine, our only kiss. It was all so intense in my mind that I felt dizzy.

What had happened?

Valentin and I—we were made for each other. My future and my purpose lay with him.
Michelle von Gertenbach
. By his side, I’d be rich and happ
y . . .

Well, probably rich, unless what his wife told me was true. And happy? I thought about it. Was I ever really happy with Valentin? But of course! I lived in a penthouse with chic furniture, and I wore designer clothing. We went to the theater and the opera and other events—if not in Berlin (because of his wife), at least in other exciting cities. I had everything my heart desired.

Come on, Michelle! Try harder!
I pressed my eyes shut for a second time with the intention of conjuring up Valentin’s face. And again, nothing. Just a yawn of emptiness. Then I saw a silver picture frame. It was clear in my mind. Aha! Whenever I went away for longer periods, I’d take Valentin’s portrait with me. That’s why I wasn’t accustomed to imagining my lover’s face—I’d always used the picture to remind me. I felt relieved. But that feeling only lasted for a moment. A dark doubt was settling into my chest. Had I been carrying Valentin’s portrait because he hadn’t made any sort of lasting impression on me? Because he meant nothing to me and never had?

I opened my eyes and looked at the rain outside. The contours of the landscape were blurry.

In those last few minutes, a suspicion had come over me. A totally outrageous one. The suspicion that maybe my feelings were so confused because a twist of fate had led me to fall in love with a man who wasn’t suited to me. An attractive man who kissed like no one else. A man I’d gotten to know far better than I’d ever known Valentin during the three whole years we’d spent together.

David.

34

S
hortly before we got to Berlin, our tank was as dry as last year’s Christmas cookies. We pulled off at the next gas station and spent the rest of our money. Sixteen euros changed hands.

We didn’t stop for long. Once back in the car, David turned the ignition key.

Nothing.

He tried again several times. Not even the slightest sound. No explosion, no small cloud, no screech, no rattle. Nothing at all.

Apparently, the Citroën didn’t want to go home. That made two of us. David dove under the hood, only to report shortly thereafter that perhaps, possibly, probably somewhere—he couldn’t say for sure and in which place (or if at all)—water had gotten through, and that no
w . . .
blah, blah, bla
h . . .
the Citroën was on strike.

He disappeared into the gas station and seemed defeated when he came back, yet also determined not to let it get him down.

“A tow truck is on its way.”

“You can afford that?” I asked. I’d almost said
we
instead of
you,
but I’d caught myself just in time.

“I have an ADAC roadside assistance membership. The tow is free of charge.”

And no sooner had he’d spoken those words, than a tow truck arrived at the station. A young guy jumped out of the driver cab.

“Man, what a jalopy!” He pointed to our Citroën, and I immediately disliked him.

“What do you mean?” I said. “It’s a classic. We’ve driven hundreds of kilometers in it. Through snow and ice and flood-like rains. And now just because it doesn’t start one time—and I stress, one single time—you call it a
jalopy
?”

The young guy’s mouth hung open. Obviously, his intellect needed some time to decode my message.

“I just wanted to say—”

“I don’t care what you wanted to say!”

He gulped and turned helplessly to David. “I just wanted to say, ‘What a spanking car.’ ”

Even this description pissed me off. I was about to explain to the guy what
spanking
actually meant and that the details of his sex life did not interest me, but David clearly felt sorry for him and led him to the rear of the car, where they started talking.

In the meantime, Emma had come out and was clinging to my legs, as usual. She rested her head against my hips.

“You were right!” she said. “He said stupid things about our car.”

“Exactly!” I said. “He has no idea.”

The Citroën was hauled onto the tow truck in no time, and we climbed into the cab. Emma sat on my lap, with Baby—whom David had lifted in—taking up the rest of the backseat beside us.

From his perch up front, David asked me, “Where do you need to go?”

I gave my address, and the driver said, “We’ll pass by there on our way to take the Citroën to the service station.”

“Which service station are you going to?” I asked.

“To mine,” David said. Naturally. He was going to try to fix the car in his own garage.

Where was rush hour traffic when you needed it? Nothing got in our way. Even the traffic lights were working against us. They were constantly green. We drove on without any hindrance. Time was slipping through my fingers.

Emma cuddled up against me. “You’re not coming with us?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Not today. I need to get home and check on my apartment. I haven’t been there in days.”

“And are you taking Baby with you?”

I hadn’t thought about that, but without hesitating, I said, “Yeah, Baby is coming with me.”

The brakes screeched as the truck stopped in front of my building. Emma clung to me. She picked up her head, and I saw that she was crying.

“Now, now,” I said. “You’re a big girl. Big girls don’t cry.”

“But you cry, too,” she said. “And you’re a lot bigger than me.”

I didn’t answer, just opened the door and slid out, placing Emma on the now-empty seat. Emma held my hand tightly. “You won’t go away for forever, will you?” she asked.

I didn’t know what to say. I cleared my throat because my voice was failing me. “The two of us will stay friends. No matter what happens. Right?”

“Yeah.” She turned away from me and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her little body shuddered as she cried even harder than before.

David helped me get Baby out. First, the dog whimpered happily because he thought that we were taking him for a walk. But once he noticed how sad I was, his ears drooped, and he refused to take his eyes off me even for a second.

David came up to me. He seemed bashful. No, unsure. Or was he crestfallen?

“This is it, then,” he said.

I nodded. “This is it.”

“We made good time. I’ll make my appointment tomorrow, and you—you’ll get to do what you had planned.”

He looked strange. Vulnerable.

Since I didn’t want to cry in front of him, I tried to act like the brave one. I held out my hand and said, “Thank you for everything, and I hope to see you again.” It was the stupidest thing I could have done, but I couldn’t think of anything better.

David studied my hand as though seeing it for the first time. Then he took it an
d . . .
something magical happened. Perhaps it was only a moment of weakness, or it happened because I’d been breathing in toxic fumes for hours. In any case, I leaned forward to kiss him good-bye on the cheek. But, as luck would have it, our lips met. And again, a powerful feeling surged inside me—it was a drive to hold him tight and never let go.

The nasty guy from the tow truck honked.

I pressed my hands on David’s ribcage and pushed myself away from him. We stared at each other, speechless. Then he turned around and left me. He climbed into the truck and it took off. Soon the Citroën, Emma, and David had disappeared from my life forever.

35

I
took my copy of
Gone with the Wind
down from my bookshelf. It was a little dusty. I blew off the top edge and placed the book neatly in one of the big cardboard boxes I was filling.

I heard a key working my front door’s lock from the outside. Over the past three years, I’d heard this sound at least a thousand times. I looked toward the door.

Valentin wore an Armani suit with a camel hair coat draped casually over it, and a lily-white scarf. His Italian shoes shined impeccably.

He stood still for a moment at the entrance to my living room. Actually, it looked like he was posing so he could be properly admired. A tall, lean figure. Finely chiseled features, intelligent face. Carefully coifed hair tinged with gray. Really
très distingué
. Valentin von Gertenbach—a genuine dream man.

“Ah, Michelle! How I’ve missed you!” He emphasized his words with a fluid hand motion and stretched out his arm toward me. Then he paused. “What happened to you?”

I looked down at myself. I was wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt. I only had socks on my feet. No jewelry, no makeup.

When I didn’t answer right away, Valentin’s expression became irritated. He scanned the room and settled his gaze on the cardboard box. “Oh, you’re working. How unbefitting. You should have the cleaning staff do this. That’s why I pay them, after all.”

I shrugged.

He stroked his hair and put some effort into conjuring up a dazzling smile. “Michelle, dearest—I have something to tell you.” He paused, clearly expecting an excited reaction from me. Since I didn’t move, he started again. “I’m about to fulfill our biggest wish. I’ve decided to separate from my wife, definitively, so that in the future I’ll be able to spend every free moment I have with you. What do you say to that, my darling?”

“Oh,” I answered.

Valentin pressed his lips together, then he opened his mouth and sighed. “I knew you’d be happy. But to see you totally reduced to silenc
e . . .
you’ve always known that I’m a man who keeps his word. Isn’t it a wonderful Christmas surprise?” He slipped out of his camel hair coat and carefully hung it on the coat rack, on the hook he always used. Taking big steps—in truth, he practically glided—he walked over to the sofa area to sit in the chair he always sat in while visiting me. He stopped abruptly. In his place was a blanket, and atop it a dog. Now the dog got up, growled warningly, and bared his fangs.

“Calm down, Baby,” I said, and the dog crouched back down in his seat without taking his eyes off of Valentin.

“What’s that?” Valentin said incredulously with a disgusted expression on his face. You’d think he’d just seen a cockroach.

“It’s a dog,” I said.

“I see that, Michelle! How did you come about this freaky creature? It’s not even a purebred!”

I hadn’t moved since Valentin had come in. I could see him well enough from my position. “You were in the middle of telling me your news,” I said. “Please continue.”

Valentin looked around the room, unsure, and finally took a seat at the outermost edge of the couch, as far away from Baby as possible. He swung one leg on top of the other dramatically, smiled victoriously, and said, “Now, my darling. As I was saying—I’m leaving my wife.”

I nodded slowly. “Fine. If I’m understanding things correctly, you’re leaving her just when she needs you the most.”

Valentin cringed as though I’d slapped him. “For years I’ve given her everything she needed. I was always there for her. And now? Now it’s my turn.” He hesitated and added, “I mean, it’s our turn.”

“Valentin, Valentin,” I said.

“Why are you shaking your head?” he asked, looking completely confounded.

“I’m just wondering something. Would you leave me in the lurch, too, if I needed your help?”

“You can’t compare this with that. And what does it even mean
to leave in the lurch
? What are you trying to insinuate? Between my wife and you, there’s a world of difference!”

“Difference?” I said. “Could you elaborate on that for me?”

Valentin struck his thigh with his open hand. “Sure. We are not married. We are together because we are
soul mates
. Because our destinies are in sync.”

“Ah. Well, that’s not enough for me.”

Valentin furrowed his brow, an unmistakable sign that he was slowly but surely losing his patience. “What?”

“It’s not enough for me to play the role of a
kindred soul
.” I walked over to the window, briefly looked out without recognizing anything, and turned back to him. “Can you guarantee that you’ll be there when I need you?”

“Michelle! What’s this about?” Valentin leaned back in his seat and stared at me. “Why are you harping on this? Why do you suddenly want and need so much? You can’t tie me down like that! Where is this new attitude from? This isn’t like you!” His next words were spoken with an almost conspiratorial tone. “Darling, we have an open relationship. And, before, you were always more than happy with it.”

I thought about it briefly. “
Before
no longer counts. There are new rules now. At least there are for me.”

Valentin didn’t answer at first. A look of realization began to appear on his face, quickly turning to an expression of horror. He jumped halfway up off the couch. “Oh, my God! You did take the pill, right? You know that I don’t want any other children. You aren’t pregnant, are you?”

“I’m not,” I confirmed calmly. Valentin went almost limp with relief as he sat back down on the couch.

“And, in truth, I’m happy about that, too,” I continued. “Because a child needs a father who will take responsibility.”

Now Valentin jumped up off the couch completely. Baby growled, but he didn’t seem to hear it. “What has gotten in to you? Is this revenge for my not being able to come to France?” He awaited my response. “You’re behaving like a bourgeois wife. Even your outward appearance is completely different. You loo
k . . .
” He searched for the right description, studying me, looking like he’d bitten into something rotten. “You look
ordinary
. All the polish is gone. Perhaps you’re just a bit confused. I know you’ve spoken to my wife. Perhaps that threw you off track. But when you think about it calmly, you’ll see things differently. I know, my Michelle. By tomorrow, it will all be just as it was before.”

Baby growled again. This time Valentin heard it. He pointed at the dog. “And this ugly mutt, we’ll have him taken to the animal shelter. Or better yet, we’ll get him put to sleep.”

Fury rose up in me. Valentin sensed my rage and looked down.

“Do not touch Baby!” I said. “Do you hear me? Nobody touches him. And don’t come here again tomorrow. I’m not going to think anything over. My decision is made.”

“What decision?” Now Valentin was stammering.

“You know what I mean.”

Valentin flushed red. “No one has ever ended a relationship with me! If something is going to end, then I’m the one to do it! You can’t be serious about wanting to break this off.”

“But I am,” I answered plainly.

Valentin’s face took on a vicious expression, which made him appear thoroughly unattractive. “You’re aware of who owns this apartment?”

I pointed to the moving boxes. “Of course. What do you think I’m doing with these? I’m packing.”

His eyes showed wounded pride followed by a flash of triumph. “Then, unfortunately, I’ll need to inform you of another condition: you’re also losing your job as a real estate agent.”

I shrugged. “You know what, Valentin? I’m not at all bad at my profession. I’m sure I’ll find something new.”

Valentin shook his finger at me in a threatening way. “When I discovered you, you were nothing. It was I alone who cultivated you. I put an endless amount of time and effort into you before I could even allow myself to be seen in your company. And now you go back to being exactly what you were before! A cheap, ordinary nobody.”

“So you should be glad to be rid of me!” I countered.

In an attempt to answer, he opened his mouth and closed it again. Then he lowered his head, turned around, and grabbed his camel hair coat with one hand and my car keys out of a nearby bowl with the other. “You can forget that Z4 you’ve been driving! And the platinum card will be canceled immediately!” The door slammed loudly behind him.

Baby got up, yawned heartily, and looked at me with curiosity.

“We’re rid of him,” I said, and Baby wagged his tail.

At that very moment, my phone rang. It was the Hotel Grand Royal in Chamonix. My Prada bag had resurfaced and was on its way to me. The concierge was confident it would get to me by tomorrow. In return, I should now send the Swiss woman’s purse back to the hotel. Everything else would be taken care of by the Grand Royal.

I hung up. It was nice to be getting my property back. I’d had enough taken away from me recently.

One single question troubled me now: Where in the world had I left the stranger’s Prada bag?

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