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Authors: Roxann Hill

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BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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7

I
made a beeline for the information desk, which was staffed by a young man—so young, I’d be surprised if he’d even finished his training. Dark suit, hair fastidiously styled with gel to distract from his acne, and clearly in over his head. Just great!

“Sir,” I said, “I’m Ms. Krämer. Ms. Michelle Krämer.”

The engaging smile on his face faded and was replaced by an expression of utter cluelessness. From the name tag on his lapel, I knew he was Swiss with a German name. At least he’d be able to minimally understand me.

“Mr. Meyer,” I said very slowly and clearly, “
I . . .
a
m . . .
Ms. Krämer.”

He blinked several times and said, “I got as much the first time you said it.”

“Wonderful. Really wonderful,” I responded. “So, I’m just in from Chamonix. My bag was stolen there. With my documents and my passport. The Hotel Grand Royal got ahold of it for me and sent it you.”

He appeared to be thinking hard and then said, “Oh! The Hotel Grand Royal!”

I nodded. “Even you remember now. So, it’s clear what you should do. Reach under your counter, pull out my Prada bag, and hand it over. Then we’ll all be perfectly happy.”

It was done. I was saved. My bag had arrived, and with it my old life would return. The nightmare was finally over.

But Mr. Meyer paused. A look of embarrassment appeared upon his face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “You’re not even capable of giving me my bag? What do you get paid for? Catching dust in a suit?” I lifted the Prada imposter and held it right in front of his nose. “Do you see? This is a handbag. Mine looks exactly like it. So hurry up, I don’t have all day. Chop-chop!”

His arms sank and he remained speechless.

“Don’t just stand there. Say something!” I barked.

“The Grand Royal Hotel did get in touch earlier. But—”

“But what?”

“They were unable to find the bag.” He tapped on his keyboard and looked at his monitor. “They wish you lots of luck on your trip home, and they are certain that the woman who mixed up your bags will contact you immediately. They’d also be pleased to have the honor of hosting you again and to have you recommend the hotel to your friends and acquaintances.”

“And you’re reading this off your screen?” I said, completely flustered.

“This is the e-mail that we received from them. I’d be happy to print it out for you.”

“No, thank you,” I said. “But tell me one thing: How am I supposed to get to a critical meeting in Berlin today without having a passport, credit card, or a single cent in cash in my possession? Who will compensate me for that?”

My voice got increasingly louder. I’d bent forward and grabbed Mr. Meyer by his lapels. Now his face was just a few centimeters from mine. “Who will see to it that order replaces the absolute chaos my life has become? You, perhaps, with your acne?”

Mr. Meyer pulled away and took a step back. Speechless, he lifted his trembling hand and pointed toward the ticket counter. “Your airline will certainly have information. Go over to them and give them your details.”

“And then I can fly back home?”

Mr. Meyer lifted his hands in a helpless gesture.

I could have really let him have it, but I simply didn’t have the energy to argue with a pubescent trainee. Instead, I grabbed hold of my suitcases and stormed over to the airline counter.

The woman behind it was around fifty and wearing a ridiculous blue-and-white suit like the ones stewardesses wore. To boot, her uniform must have gotten tighter over the course of the years. Now she looked like an overstuffed liverwurst whose skin might burst open at any moment.

Presumably, this poor wretch had been banished to the floor because she’d always gotten stuck while pushing the meal cart.

She was on the phone. “Beate, I’ll tell you one thing,” she said. “The spices are important. The eggs are important. And do you know the most important thing when trying to bake really good Christmas cookies?” She paused dramatically, sat down on a swivel chair, and said in a conspiratorial tone, “The secret to good Christmas baking is butter. Butter and more butter.”

I banged my Prada bag on the counter, but the bimbo didn’t even bother to look up. She lifted her finger in my direction and kept speaking into the receiver. “No, no. Right, not margarine! No way. That will completely corrupt the taste!”

Since I didn’t know what else to do, I used both hands to beat the counter like a drum. Slowly and quietly, then quickly and violently. My hands started to hurt.

Fatso tried to ignore me at first. She shut her ear with her hand and continued to yap. She moved her mouth—but because of my loud drumming, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Based on the aggravated look she shot me, I guessed it was nothing nice. With exaggerated slowness, she hung up the phone, sighed, and stood up.

“Are you through with your important conversation?” I demanded.

She narrowed her eyes at me and nodded.

“And you’re also sure, absolutely sure, that you can give me your undivided attention?”

Again, she nodded.

“That’s fantastic. A service-oriented employee, who, amidst all of her personal obligations, still finds the time to take care of her customers. Really sensational!”

She opened her mouth, closed it again, and finally said, “How can I be of help?”

“Be of help,” I repeated. “That’s the motto of the hour. My name is Krämer. Someone stole the confirmation of my e-ticket for Flight A-375 from Geneva to Berlin.”

The counter-woman took a pencil and scratched her head with it absentmindedly.

“Uh-huh,” she said. “The one thirty flight.” The corners of her mouth twitched, as though she were trying to form at least a hint of a smile. “Nothing’s happening with that. It was canceled due to bad weather. I can put you on the next flight. There are still two empty seats.”

“And when does that take off?”

She blinked. “At seven fifty p.m.”

“So I can still check in?” I asked, feeling hopeful.

Again, that indeterminate facial expression. “But of course. Your name is Krämer, right?”

“Right. Michell
e . . .
I mean Michaela Krämer.”

“We’ll have that in a second.” She sat back down in the swivel chair, which groaned under her weight. Her fat hands pounded on the keyboard. The printer whirred. She took out the paper and stood up again.

“And here is your ticket.” She pushed it toward me.

I nearly had it in my fingers when she pulled it back, as quick as lightning.

“What’s happened now?” I said.

“I need your passport.”

“You need my
what
?”

“Your passport. I can only hand this ticket to Ms. Michaela Krämer. I need to check your personal data.”

“But, as I just explained to your pubescent colleague, the one with the acne, my purse got stolen. My purse with the ticket and my passport. And if I don’t catch my flight, I’ll lose the man I love, my future, and everything that I worked years to build. Do you think you can take all of that from me just because you bake your Christmas cookies with butter?”

A gray-haired colleague came over from the neighboring counter. He wore an unflatteringly cut blue-and-white suit. There must have been a nest somewhere.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Problem?” I shouted. “There is no problem here! This walking Christmas elf”—I pointed to the woman behind the counter— “refuses to give me my ticket. She’s purposely trying to destroy my life!”

The man looked questioningly at his colleague, who seemed not to have gotten my insult. She was scratching herself with the pencil again, this time on her forehead. “She has no passport,” she said.

The man turned to me. “You have no passport?”

“No passport? Of course I have a passport! Just not here. Or, rathe
r . . .
wait!” I reached into the purse, pulled out the wrongly folded map of Paris, and banged it on the counter.

“Here’s my passport. And if that’s not enough, here’s another,” I said, tossing the pack of Marlboros next to it. “I have all types of passports in this bag. Just give me my ticket!”

A diabolical smile appeared on the counter-woman’s face. She again held out my ticket within my reach, and then tore it apart in one swift motion.

She raised her hand and called out, “Security! This woman would like to go.” As if out of nowhere, two brawny guys appeared on either side of me, grabbed me under my armpits, turned me around, and led me—or, to be more precise,
carried
me—out of the airport. The man from the neighboring counter followed us with my two suitcases.

Outside, it was almost dark. The cars were driving with lights on, and it had grown even colder. The gray-haired man set my bags on the sidewalk next to an enormous mound of snow and made a quick hand motion. The musclemen let me go.

“Well, Ms. Krämer,” he said. “We are very sorry about your situation. But we are in no way responsible. Should you enter our airport again, I will have you arrested for disturbance of airport activity. Do you understand?”

This time, all I could do was nod in silence.

He turned around, paused a moment, and then faced me again. “And we wish you pleasant holidays, of course.”

He’s probably still grinning with schadenfreude at this very moment.

I stood on the sidewalk with airplanes taking off and landing all around me, so close and yet so far. Not a single person who knew and cared about me in sight. Banished, humiliated, and completely alone in the world.

A bus stopped across the street. Its destination sign read “Center.”

I couldn’t stay here. Perhaps someone would help me in the city. A German consulate was there. I could ask the bus driver to let me get on without paying. Or I could simply risk it and evade the fare. I made an instinctive decision, grabbed my suitcases, and began climbing over the mound of snow that loomed between me and the street’s curb. I’d almost gotten past the summit when one of the bags got stuck. I didn’t want to let go. It was the last thing I still owned. So I pulled harder—but it wouldn’t budge. Furious, I yanked on it with all my strength. It came unstuck all at once, and I tumbled backward into the middle of the road.

As two headlights approached, I immediately realized that the car wouldn’t be able to brake in time. It was about to run me over. I closed my eyes and awaited my violent end.

To my great surprise, I heard an infernal screech. I opened my eyes to see an enormous red-pink hunk of rust standing half a meter in front of my face.

The driver’s side door opened, and David stepped out. He said something I couldn’t understand. And this time, I really fainted.

8

I
awoke as if out of a deep sleep—fresh and oddly rested. I lay on my back, on the sidewalk. Directly above me was a small freckle-faced girl with huge blue eyes and brown locks. Then someone from behind sat me up halfway and held me by my shoulders.

The girl’s cheeky blue eyes examined me intensely. “Are you dead?” Emma asked. And in that moment, everything came back to me.

“I wish I were,” I said, starting to sob.

“Well, you certainly gave it a good shot!” That was David’s voice behind me. “What were you thinking, climbing that snow mound? You almost got yourself killed! Completely irresponsible.”

Instead of replying, I sobbed even harder. Then I stammered, “I w-want to go into the ci-ci-city. I want to go to—to the consulate. I—I need money and a pa-assport. I want to go h-home!”

A large hand nudged Emma a little bit to the side, and then David’s face appeared in my field of vision. He seemed upset. “If you go to the consulate now, you won’t be able to accomplish anything. They’re closed at this hour.”

“B-but I have to f-fly to Berlin im-immediately. At all costs.”

“Fly? We’re getting hit with a real blizzard. This place will be completely snowed in. All the planes in Geneva will be grounded for the next few days.”

David stood up and reached down for my hands. With his help, I got up awkwardly, rocking back and forth.

“Did you hear what I said?” he asked. “Anyone who doesn’t leave this evening will probably need to wait until Christmas.”

“Christmas?” I screamed. “You beast! You monster! By then my life will be completely ruined!”

David tried to placate me, but his kindness did just the opposite. Desperately, I beat on his chest. It was as hard as a rock, and my fists accomplished nothing. But it felt good to get out some of my frustration.

After awhile, he held down my hands and pulled me closer. As I came up for air, exhausted, he said, “Emma and I need to get to Berlin, too.”

“And?” I said, breathless.

“If you want, we’ll take you with us.” He let go of my wrists but continued holding me still with his dark-blue eyes.

“Really?” I said. “That’s right. You’re driving to Berlin. Bu
t . . .
” Fresh tears rolled down my cheeks as I pointed at the red-pink monster. “In this car?”

A proud smile came over David’s face. “I see that you’ve fallen in love with the Citroën.”

A small hand grabbed my right one. I looked down and was confronted by those wide, innocent eyes. “Isn’t that right?” Emma said. “We have the most beautiful car in the whole world! And you, Michelle, are even allowed to sit up front with Papa!”

I had no idea how to respond to this childish logic. Also, I felt a new bout of dizziness coming on, as though I might lose consciousness again.

Powerless, I fell forward. But this time David was there to catch me. His arms were around my back and my hips. And it felt good, the way he stood there, hugging and supporting me. Maybe he even held me for a moment longer than he needed to.

I got bashful and took a step back.

“Question,” he said.

I cleared my throat. “Yeah?”

“Please don’t think I’m being importunate, but when was the last time you ate something?”

“Food? This morning,” I said. “A little fruit salad without sugar, a decaf coffee with sweetener and skim milk.”

“That’s it?”

“After that, my purse got stolen. The taxi driver abandoned meat the rest stop. I escaped from the pig truck, walked twelve kilometers on the side of the highway, and ruined my most expensive boots in the snowstorm.”

David raised his hand and, to my own surprise, I fell silent. “I think,” he said, “that we should get you something to eat.”

I wanted to deliver a quick-witted response, but I simply uttered, “That makes sense.”

David led me to the car while Emma watched my suitcases. It was easy—all we had to do was to walk around the mound of snow. Why hadn’t I seen that option before? Climbing the mound and falling down the other side hadn’t been necessary at all.

The Citroën, which looked as dingy and run-down as it had an hour ago, was relatively warm inside, and the leather of the old seats smelled pretty good. While David struggled to stow my luggage in the trunk for the second time today, Emma crawled up from the backseat. She rested her hand on my shoulder, pressed her tiny face next to mine, and whispered, “I was hoping you’d come back. You’re funny. We always have fun with you.”

I patted her arm just as David opened the driver’s side door. He slid behind the wheel and gave me a conspiratorial look.

“Yes?” I asked.

“What do you think—is it going to start?” Without awaiting my response, he reached for the ignition. This time I was ready. A short, hard bang followed by a tremor that rocked the car chugged us into motion.

“Yahoo! We’re moving!” Emma cheered.

I leaned back in my seat and exhaled deeply.

“Papa, Papa!” Emma said. “You forgot something!” She pointed to the old radio. “Michelle loves music. Maybe you’ll find a Christmas song.”

David pushed the half-broken button, the antique speaker crackled, and I braced myself for George Michael’s voice.

Far from it!

It was Bing Crosby’s turn, and the blithering idiot was actually dreaming of a white Christmas.

BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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