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Authors: Roxann Hill

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BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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11

H
is damp hair was combed back. His skin had a fresh glow to it. He wore jogging pants, and his T-shirt revealed that he was more muscular than I’d thought. As I said, he was quite good-looking, in his own way.

“How was the shower?” I tried to loosen things up between us.

“Wet,” he said. “Nice bathroom. Good water temperature. Everything works.”

“I’m not at all tired,” I lied.

“Me neither. But I have an idea.” He went back into the bathroom and came out with two toothbrush cups. “I saw a bottle before.” He pointed to the night table. And right there, as if on cue, stood a bottle of complimentary wine.

I got up to inspect the label. Just as I thought: cheap stuff, probably purchased from the bargain store. But anything was better than going to bed with this stranger.
No, not “going to bed with,” it’s “getting between the sheets with.” No, I mean, “sleeping with” the stranger—ugh, that’s even worse!
What had I gotten myself into?

We sat on the chairs across from each other. David unscrewed the top. He poured the wine into the glasses, and we toasted.

I’d prepared myself for a vinegary taste. But to my surprise—although it was a simple wine—it was mild and pleasant on the tongue.

“Emma’s already sleeping,” I said.

“She was tired.”

“Very tired. It must have been a very long day for her.”

“Normally she goes to bed much earlier.”

“That’s probably better.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

I took another sip. Once I’d emptied my glass, David refilled it without my asking.

Slowly, a pleasant warmth spread over me, and it suppressed my anxiety.

“When do you need to be in Berlin?” David asked.

“The earlier the better. I need to clear something up there.”

He nodded as though he understood. “I have an important meeting ahead of me, too. On the twenty-third of December at eleven o’clock.”

“Aha,” I said without asking further questions. I assumed he needed to report to the unemployment office. It was more difficult to find a job in the winter, especially if one wasn’t skilled, as I’d surmised was the case with David.

“We’ll drive through Nancy. I have something urgent to take care of over there,” David said. “Despite the detour, we’ll still make good time.”

“Yes. The ca
r . . .
” I made a vague gesture with my already empty wineglass. “It drives quite well.”

“A real classic.”

“Right. A classic.”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

“Oh, a Z4,” I said. It just slipped out of my mouth, and I wanted to slap myself for it. I was making the unbridgeable gap between us very clear to him. He had so little money compared to me. Why, he and Emma could have lived for two years on the cost of my car.

But it didn’t seem to bother him. “A BMW?” he said.

I nodded.

“Nice car.” He refilled both of our glasses.

“When one has money, one can afford beautiful things,” I philosophized.

“That’s true.”

“It makes everything easier. One doesn’t need to worry about anything. Problems seem to solve themselves.” I snapped my fingers to reinforce the point.

“Really?”

“Of course! Rich men, for instance, have no problems at all. They get everything they want.”

For a moment, David looked into his glass as if it contained a deeper wisdom.

“But—” he began.

I stopped him by wagging my index finger in front of his nose. I suddenly felt quite confident and energized. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you simply can’t understand. You’re, wel
l . . .
” I wanted to say
poor
, but stopped myself and continued with
“ . . .
not particularly wealthy.”

David acknowledged my comment with an indulgent smile. “Nevertheless, I can at least try to put myself in the shoes of a rich guy.”

I leaned back and urged him to go on by emphatically waving my hand. All traces of false modesty had disappeared.

“So, I’m imagining,” David said, “that when somebody’s ric
h . . .
so incredibly ric
h . . .
” He hesitated.

“Keep going! It’s a good start.”

“So, if a very rich man meets a woma
n . . .
let’s say a young woman who’s good-looking and very congenia
l . . .

I smiled and nodded.

“How can someone that rich be sure that she loves him for who he is—and not for his money?”

I stared at him, totally perplexed. “And you call
that
a problem?”

“I think so. A rich man can never know for sure.”

“Ha!” I said. “It’s obvious that you have no experience. The rich guy simply needs to do the following: He needs to act poor—convincingly, though, and paying attention to every detail. Completely poor. Like a church mouse. And the
n . . .
” I tried to snap my fingers again, but this time I failed. After the third attempt, I gave up. “And then in no time at all,” I continued, “he’ll be able to tell if the woman truly loves him.”

“But that’s no basis for a partnership. That would be a deception.”


Deception
—what a horrible word! A little illusion, a trick. Just think how happy the woman will be once it comes out that her great love is also rich. I don’t think she’ll complain! In the inverse scenari
o . . .
” I banged my knuckles on the table. “Wow! In the opposite scenario, the guy has a problem.
That
would be a real deception!”

David studied my face for a moment.

Our bottle was empty. We had no further excuse to postpone the inevitable. But now it no longer seemed so terrible to me.

I stood up abruptly. “I’ll sleep on the right side.”

“That’s fine,” David said. He still seemed deep in thought. Naturally, I’d impressed him with my logic and experience.

“Go to bed,” I said.

My words brought him back to reality. “You want to sleep on the right?”

Without saying a word, I went to the large marital bed, slipped under the covers, and closed my eyes tightly. After awhile, I heard the mattress squeak next to me.

“Good night,” I said.

“Good night, Michelle Krämer. Sleep well.”

I giggled softly. “Since we’re already
sleeping
together, we could at least drop some of the formalities.”

“Okay. You can call me David.”

I giggled again. “I know.”

“So, I’ll try again: sleep well, Michelle.”

Shortly, I heard him breathing deeply and steadily next to me.

At least he doesn’t snore
, I thought. And maybe I was even a little disappointed. Maybe it would have been cute if we bot
h . . .
no.
I immediately banished the frightening thought from my mind. He was a good-looking man, polite, and, as far as I could tell, a caring father, too. But we were not at all suited for one another. And sex with a complete stranger? With Emma in the room? No, that just wouldn’t work.

I pictured Valentin, but his face was fuzzy. Unfamiliar. And his expression arrogant.

The stress of the day had taken its toll on me. Before I knew it, I fell asleep.

12

F
or breakfast we had rolls with butter and honey. There was also plenty of coffee for David and me and hot cocoa for Emma. Soon after, we were back in the car and continuing our journey.

We couldn’t get much of a sense of our surroundings. Our car was like a cocoon—a warm, cozy pocket amid the severe cold and another seemingly impenetrable snowstorm.

David had managed to get the second windshield wiper to work. Evidently, he was very skilled at repairing old cars. Perhaps he should have been looking for a job as an auto mechanic.

The Citroën battled bravely against the wall of white. David also drove very cautiously. Obligatory holiday music played on the radio. Just now Chris Rea was singing “Driving Home for Christmas,”
and I caught myself quietly humming along.

“Michelle,” Emma called. For a long while she’d been playing with the McDonald’s figurines in the backseat. Now she sounded bored.

“What’s up?”

“You promised me a story. You said you’d tell it to me during the drive today.”

“Did I?”

“You did. I remember it for sure. I hadn’t fallen asleep yet.”

I had to laugh. I unbuckled the worn-out safety belt and knelt on my seat, facing Emma without further ado. “You want a story?”

Emma snuggled up in my ski jacket, which served as a blanket today, too. She beamed at me expectantly.

“Very well,” I said, pretending to be put out. “A long time ago, there was a beautiful princess.” I stopped.

“Aha!” said Emma.

“This princess didn’t have a lot of money, but she looked really good. Tall, slim, great hair, excellent figure. And she was young. One day, when she had to work for the mean witch in order to buy herself something to eat, a very handsome king appeared.”

“A king?” Emma asked.

“And what a king! His name was King Valentin. He was educated, clever, sensitive, and insanely rich.”

“What did he want with the witch?”

“Who?”

“The king. Why didn’t he stay in his castle?”

“He wanted to buy himself another castle. And the witch sold castles.”

Emma opened her eyes wide. “Witches sell castles?”

I laughed again. “You’d be surprised. Some do. The king saw the poor princess—she was copying scrolls for the witch—and he immediately fell in love with her grace and beauty—but mostly with her pure soul, which was just like his.”

“He fell in love with the witch?”

“No. Not with her! He fell in love with the beautiful, poor princess.”

“And then he married her.”

I furrowed my brow. “He wanted to. But wait, let me tell the story properly. The princess had also fallen in love with the king. He was her dream man. The king bought a castle for himself and a small castle high above the clouds for the princess. The witch was so happy about it that she gave the princess even better tasks. And the princess began to earn a lot more money. Also, the king gave the princess clothing, furniture, and a cool carriage as presents. With her new carriage, the princess could flit around as much as she liked.”

Emma clapped her hands. “The princess must have liked that.”

“Boy, did she!” I agreed. “And whenever the king had time, he sent the princess a carrier pigeon, and the princess would run back to her castle in the clouds to await her king.”

“And then he married her.”

“No. Aren’t you listening? I already explained that he wanted to, but there was a problem.”

“A giant? A sorcerer?”

I sighed. “If only it had been that easy. No, the problem was a queen.”

“The king was already married?”

“Yes, but not
properly
. He didn’t like the queen at all. He only loved his princess. But for governmental reasons, he had to act as though he loved the queen.”

Emma sat up. “What are governmental reasons?”

“Oh, well, that’s complicated. You’re too young to understand,” I said lamely.

“I’m quite clever for my age. Try to explain.”

“The king didn’t want his subjects to know that he didn’t love the queen. He also didn’t want to make the queen sad. For that reason, he intended to gently tell the queen that he would soon marry the princess.”

“Huh!” David’s voice startled me out of my narrative.


Huh
, what?” I said and turned toward him.

He stayed focused on the road. “Don’t believe such nonsense, Emma.”

“What do you mean
nonsense
?” Anger surged inside me.

“This liar, King Valentin, never even intended to marry the princess.”

“Why, Papa?” Emma said.

I was reduced to silence.

David gave us a quick glance over his shoulder. “The king is a bad guy. He lied to the princess.”

“Why did he lie to her?” asked Emma.

“Because h
e . . .
” David paused to clear his throat. Then he grimaced, apparently at a loss for words. “Because all he really wanted was to kiss her.”

“And why didn’t he kiss the queen?” Emma said.

David laughed. It didn’t sound nice at all. “I’m sure he kissed her, too. And probably others. He was a really big kisser.”

I’d come out of my shocked paralysis. “How can you tell such garbage to your child?” I was incensed.

“Who started this idiotic fairy tale to begin with?” David said just as harshly. “No poor princess with half a brain believes that a king will leave his queen to marry her, when all he wants is to—”

“Kiss!” Emma chimed in. “That stupid king always just wants to kiss every woman he sees.”

“No!” I yelled in despair. “Valentin isn’t like that! He is decent and extremely conscientious!”

David snorted. “And he buys the poor princess a castle in the clouds and a small carriage so that he can secretly visit her? Nobody’s buying your fairy tale, Michelle.”

A thick knot formed in my throat. Everything was swimming before my eyes. I sat back down and hid my face in my hands. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

Emma squeezed between the two front seats and grabbed my hand. “Don’t be sad! It was a beautiful story.”

I sobbed loudly.

“And when the princess finds out that the king is really a dum-dum,” Emma said, “she can look for a real prince. One who really loves her and is also a good kisser.”

That didn’t really console me.

13

T
he road was beginning to flatten out. The tall mountains stood behind us; the snowfall had subsided. The sun was shining, its rays infinitely refracted by the snow crystals covering the magical winter landscape.

Not a car or a person, far and wide. We seemed to be the only living beings in this enchanted world.

Emma and I were dozing off. My eyes shut. Maybe I even fell asleep for a few minutes. I can’t say for sure. And then the background noise changed. The engine got louder and louder until it was thundering.

“Something’s not right,” David replied to my questioning look.

He slowed down, pulled over on the right, and turned off the engine. He looked worried.

“I’m sure it’s nothing bad,” I said, trying to cheer him up.

“We’ll see.” He stepped out of the car and opened the hood.

“Papa can fix it,” Emma said from the back.

“I’m sure of it,” I said.

“Papa has his own workshop in his garage.”

“That must be useful.” My tone wasn’t very convincing. The noise hadn’t sounded good. Not good at all.

David removed his jacket and hung it over a guardrail, so he could bend far into the engine.

This will take a while
, I thought.

“Do you want to get out and stretch our legs?” I asked Emma, who was raring to go.

I helped her button up her jacket and put on her pom-pom hat and gloves, and together we got out of the car. Once outside, I slipped into my ski jacket. It was already warm.

“OK,” I said. “While David mucks around, we’ll take a walk.”

We made our way through the deep snow a short distance from the car, and Emma began making snowballs—which she proceeded to throw at me with impressive skill. I retaliated as best I could, but my aim wasn’t as precise as hers. In any event, we quickly forgot David, the car, and the noisy engine.

“Michelle, Emma!” David called to us after awhile. We looked around and spotted him standing at the rear end of the Citroën, looking helplessly at the ground.

Once we made our way over to him, I noticed his considerable distress.

“Were you able to fix it?” I asked him anyway.

He shook his head and pointed to the muffler. It was no longer hanging in place, but was in between the rear tires on the ground.

“Is it completely broken?” I asked.

“No, but the mount is broken and rusted.”

“Is that bad?”

“Without it we won’t even make it two kilometers before the engine dies.”

I knelt down to get a closer look. “Couldn’t we tighten the part that holds it up? At least in a makeshift way. So that it holds until we get to a garage?”

“I’d need a thick wire for that. Strong enough to fix the muffler to the bottom surface. With that provisional fix we could drive for a few kilometers. But where would I get a wire in the middle of nowhere?”

“Can’t you just use a piece of cloth?”

“Impossible. The muffler will get too hot. The cloth would turn to coal after a few meters. And then we’d be in the exact same place we are now.”

I thought about it and suddenly got an idea. “One moment!” I said, standing back up. “Turn around.”

David looked at me, annoyed.

“I’m serious. Turn around! Emma, make sure that Papa doesn’t cheat.”

Emma ran to David and grabbed both of his hands. “You’d better do what Michelle tells you. When she looks like this, you have to obey or she’ll get awfully angry.”

“I don’t understand why,” he said, “but OK.” He turned his back to me, resigned to his fate.

I took off my jacket and threw it in the car. Then I reached under my sweater and unclasped the back of my push-up bra. I pulled the strap over my left shoulder and maneuvered my arm out of it. I did the same for the other side and held the bra in my hand.

I tapped David’s shoulder. “Here,” I said.

He stared blankly at the black garment from Victoria’s Secret. Then he grinned. “You’ll find this hard to believe, but I’m quite familiar with these things.”

“I sure hope so,” I replied. “But what you perhaps don’t know is that this particular specimen has hidden wires.”

“Wire?” he repeated.

“Precisely. Under the cups.”

He immediately grabbed the bra out of my hand and inspected it. Then he went to the driver’s side door, opened it and searched for something in the glove compartment. Emma and I stood where we could watch what he was doing. He brought out a multipurpose tool, opened a knife blade, and got to work. A few cuts later, he was holding two sturdy wires. He got out of the car, handed me the tool, and returned to the rear of the car where he lay down underneath it.

“Pliers, please,” he called out from below.

After fumbling around with the tools and breaking another fingernail, I found the tiny but strong pliers, and handed them to him.

It took a good ten minutes and some hefty swearing on David’s part before he resurfaced. He got up, and Emma and I beat the snow off his sweater.

“Did it work?” I asked.

“The thing will hold for a while.” He seemed spent, but satisfied. “Those are some really strong wires.”

“They need to be, if they’re going to serve their purpose,” I said, and added too hastily, “Not that they’re necessary for me.”

David looked at my face, and then allowed his eyes to wander to my upper body. I crossed my arms.

He grinned. “You’re right. You really don’t need that thing.”

My cheeks flamed.

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