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 * UNREQUITTED LOVES * (MIA)

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Humor : I found it and as always the joke is on me!!

PostSubject: * UNREQUITTED LOVES * (MIA)   Wed May 13, 2009 5:09 pm

PROLOGUE….. 2008

Urs felt guilty, not enough to abandon his plan, just enough to make his stomach flutter as he got dressed. It was against his nature to be a bully or to use the confusion of others to his advantage but in this case it was justified…. he kept telling himself that, anyway.

He took extra care to leave the bottom third of his hair curly, knowing from the few glances that he had glimpsed and occasional comments, that she liked it that way…not that she would ever say much. No, that would be too personal, too intimate and God knew she would never allow herself to let down her guard enough for that.

What troubled him most this morning was the censure he was sure he would get from Mami. He had never been able to fool her, not as a young boy or a teen, surely not now when he was numerically a grown man but still, in her heart, Mami’s little boy.

She was already suspicious, not quite coming out and asking him how he felt about Aramia, but he knew from the glances, the veiled comments that she could see what was in his heart. His brother had been sworn to secrecy…he understood, didn’t approve of Urs silence, but he did understand. Ah well, it wouldn’t be the first time he had been on the receiving end of one of Mami’s ‘Looks’…he had survived before and now, when it was so important, would again.

Once more he went over his train of thought, his logical examination of the problem. As he straightened his tie and brushed a stray piece of lint off of his otherwise impeccable suit, he mentally ticked off the benefits of the arrangement they were about to enter into. It would be good for both parties, he had finally made her see that, perhaps not logically but in her agitated state and confusion it hadn’t been all that difficult to persuade her. She liked him, he knew that. They worked well together, lived comfortably under the same roof, sharing sometimes, giving freedom at others, creating an environment that worked, that encompassed almost everything that a family should be… everything except their bodies. For himself, it would be a relief to know that she was at last his, perhaps not physically, but that at least now she wouldn’t be so likely to leave him…perhaps sometime in the future the physical part of his love for her could be allowed out of hiding.

And that was going to be the most difficult part for him, he knew this, dreaded it, yet knew that she couldn’t be pushed, mustn’t be or she would run again, in fact almost had before he tendered this option to her. He looked at his reflection in the mirror, meeting his own eyes with a determination that he hoped would not fail him.

He loved her, desperately, completely, with every fiber of his being. He loved the strength she had, the way she smiled and occasionally laughed, the way she immersed herself completely in a project, determined to succeed…he loved to hear her content enough to let her untrained but pleasant voice ring out in song, the way she hummed along without even realizing she was doing it when she worked at boring chores, the intensity when she was bent over a drawing board, working on one of her sketches, her little pink tongue caught between her teeth, the way she looked up in surprise when he entered a room unannounced, her eyes betraying her pleasure for a brief moment before the cool, impersonal gaze flashed back, changing the color from green to grey.

She had come into his life, unexpected, to be truthful unwanted at first, but soon became indispensable. Calmly, logically, he had come to depend on her, the quiet intellect, the assured manner, the strength, so like Tante Sophia’s, the way she was always one step ahead of him, how she made his life less stressful, turned the responsibilities he had into fun, something to not only fill his days but to be eagerly anticipated.

‘How does she do that without nagging?’ he thought. ‘And how did she know that of all the traits that a woman could have, nagging is the one that turns me off the quickest? That and greed and of course there isn’t an iota of greed in her makeup, she’s proved that time after time.’

It had crept up on him unannounced, this consuming love he had for her, snuck in like a thief in the night, one day bursting upon him with a staggering blow that made him almost drive off the road into oncoming traffic.

When he had the rental under control and pulled off into the emergency lane of the highway near Los Angeles, he sat shaking for several moments, his brow resting on the steering wheel. He had been thinking of the performance coming in a few days and, as so often happened lately, his thoughts veered off in a tangent to Mia, to her reaction when he told her about the condos and house he had just inspected.

She would tease him that he was dabbling in real estate, he knew this, knew how she would chastise him, claiming that she refused to go to sunny California to set up yet another home for him…and he knew that she would do it if he asked. He imagined her with her hand resting on his arm, that tiny hand that he so wanted to feel on his body, in his hair…..the next vision had been his undoing. His heart ached with the feeling of all-encompassing love he had for this woman, not just the lust he had often felt when he glimpsed her form or saw her dear face, this was more. He loved her…she was his ideal mate, the woman he had searched for, right in front of him and he had been too blind to see.

She was complex, stubborn, moody at times but considerate, loving, always thoughtful, never aiming to inflict hurt feelings on anyone but never opening up completely to the affection that was so often offered. Mia understood him, his own moods, his need sometimes for solitude, the reasons he had for being, the love he had for music, the way it consumed him, fulfilled a deep need that couldn’t be appeased in any other way except by performing.

And she was fun, enjoyed so many of the same things he did…the outdoors, music, quiet times, wry wit, working with his hands on carpentry, motors, the plantings in the quickly filling conservatory or the gardens in their various homes, corny jokes, shopping, especially at handicraft fairs, the comfort of order and soothing colors in his homes, their homes, he amended, for with her all-important input he had come to think of the varied residences that way. Somehow, doing these things with her made them unique, rather than mundane, just like the fun they had enjoyed decorating the rooms, picnicking on the carpet in the centre of the emptiness and daydreaming, creating options for décor, sometimes outrageous, sometimes agreeing on exactly the perfect look.

Urs thought about how eager he was each time he was away without her, even for a few hours, to return to this special place they had created, this private haven that few were ever invited to, to see her, to gather her up in his arms and feel the baby kicking, to drink in her elusive scent, to tell her about the audiences, the response to the latest production, the feelings he had, the things he had seen and done while he was away fulfilling contracts in the various Opera houses before they met and how he was eager to share these things with her. Even the homes he planned to purchase in the places around the world that his work took him, had been chosen with a family in mind, extra rooms, play areas for the boy, safety, shopping….and always he was eager to talk with her about how they would be set up, what to do about furnishings, décor, how to create the ambience they preferred.

She would listen quietly, really listen, not just the fawning type of attention he so often had received from others who really didn’t care what he had to say. They would sit in the cozy kitchen, sharing a meal or just coffee and sweets, talking until they both ran down, about his work, the house, the baby, her work, the small and large incidents that had filled her life while he was away.

A few weeks before he had admitted to himself how he really felt about Mia, she had allowed him to feel the baby kicking…he remembered that first time so well, the searching look she gave him when he asked, then how she had taken his hand in hers and placed it on her bump, watching his eyes when he felt the movement, reaching up to brush the tears from his face when he was overcome with the magic of it.

Her eyes had flooded when he told her then how he felt about the child.

“I’ve watched the baby developing, swelling your stomach more and more, was thrilled when you allowed me to see the ultra sound, worried about you working too hard…Let me share this with you, Mia…I feel a connection to your son, as if he were my son too.”

He glanced at his watch…as usual he was ready early. He walked over to the window of his suite and thought about the short span of time that he had known her. So much had happened…so much trauma and pain, awakening and changing…

Once more he checked his pockets…the ring was in his breast pocket, still in the black velvet box, his wallet inside against his chest…several packets of condoms tucked into one of the slots, just in case she relented in the ‘no consummation on the wedding night’ stand she had taken. At the very least he would be allowed to kiss her after the ceremony…he wondered about that…what would her lips feel like, taste like? It wouldn’t be the first time they had shared a kiss, just the first one when he would feel comfortable letting his emotions show, the first time that would mean more than mere happiness. This time would she return the kiss? Would he be able to keep himself enough in control that his passion for her wouldn’t be too obvious? Would he at last be able to find the relief he craved so often, with the woman he truly desired, not the pale substitutes he had felt guilty about wanting to use for convenience over the past year? And if she didn’t allow him to love her, how would he cope?….there would be no more casual sex with acquaintances or with the always available fans or crew …the vows he would take this day had too deep a meaning for him to break his oath and lay with another woman

He sighed and left the room, going down the stairs to pace in front of the fireplace, waiting for his bride to join him for the trip into town, for the civil ceremony that would make them husband and wife. Ever the optimist, he prayed that one day she would come to love him, even a little.

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PostSubject: Chapter 1 * October 2007 First Snowfall *   Wed May 13, 2009 5:12 pm

CHAPTER ONE…October 2007…FIRST SNOWFALL

The light rain had stopped much too late in the day to allow any warmth to creep over the mountains. Now there was an eerie light that helped her to keep on the road, a reflection, she thought, from the low lying clouds that promised snow. One wet and aching foot after the other she plodded on, nearly at the end of her energy, even her mind shutting down with fatigue and cold, but wise enough still to know that she must find shelter before stopping.

It had been a long day, not much in the way of traffic on the steep inclines of the pass, at least not going in this direction.

‘I should have taken that turn off to the north…I’ll bet that was the one that connected with the main highway…this is a secondary road…that’s why there’s not much traffic…too late now to go back…Gawd, I wish I had used more sense and dressed warmer…I’m so cold…and tired…should have brought less heavy things with me…I’d nearly trade my lap-top for gloves and a pair of winter boots right now.’

Once more she adjusted the straps of the heavy back-pack on her shoulders and placed her hands under the bottom, taking some of the weight off, carefully watching the edge of the road so she didn’t stray out into the middle, a precaution in case a vehicle came around the curves.

It seemed the mountain portion was over for now, the land here more rolling, sloping away in fields and forest, not a sign of a light as far as her weary eyes could see in the darkness.

‘That last sign…how far was that…maybe 4 K back…I think it said 23 K to the next town…Man, even my brain is shutting down…I don’t think I have another 20 or so K left in me, not tonight…maybe I could cobble together some kind of shelter in those trees up ahead, branches and dried grasses, that sort of thing…they do it in the movies all the time when the hero gets lost in the woods…yeah, RIGHT!! You’re no hero, girl and this isn’t a movie…this is as real as life gets.’

A large black and silver mailbox on a post loomed out of the darkness and at first frightened her until she identified what it was. She laughed at herself, began to pass it, then thought better of the move and stopped, looking down the lane beyond the mail box…it curved out of sight, once again no lights to be seen, nothing visible to indicate a building or people.

‘Why do I have the feeling that I should take a chance on this lane? Well why not? So far this great escape has gone well, my instincts have been right on…the helpful drivers who gave me a ride, the truck stop where they let me work in exchange for a meal, the fact that no one seems to be following me or searching in this direction…. Maybe my luck will hold and I’ll find just what I need down this laneway.’

Resolutely she stepped away from the main road and started down the gravel lane, shaking from the chill, groggy with weariness. The lane wound around through a copse of trees and after what seemed to her a long time, curved again, this time around a building that was half hidden by tall pines. It was dark, empty feeling, spreading over the land ominously, no smoke coming from the chimneys, more an estate than a farmhouse, with a high sweeping roof, dormer windows breaking the outline against the sky. She followed the drive around the far end and saw outbuildings, also dark, the nearest one with an open door that gave it an abandoned look.

With her last bit of strength she approached the building…a garage she thought, judging from the emptiness and the ruts in the gravel of vehicles that had often driven up to it and inside.

She set her back pack on the ground near the entrance and ventured inside, stumbling over something on the floor…a tarp…a folded tarp, smelling of fuel and dust, possibly motor oil.

‘It will have to do….the place is obviously abandoned…it’s a large tarp…I can double it and wrap myself up under it, away from the draft from the door…and pray to survive the night.’

While she could still function she dragged her back-pack inside and moved around in the space, trying to chose a spot that would be draft free. There was a stack of old newspapers in one corner…she spread these out to make a barrier between herself and the ground, placed her back pack to use as a sort of windbreak and pillow, wrapped the folded tarp around her body, closed the garage door and stumbled through the dark back to her makeshift bed.

She was too tired even to waste energy feeling sorry for herself, merely pulled the tarp up over her tousled hair, tucked her hands into her armpits for warmth and was asleep, curled in the fetal position, her makeshift bed making little crinkling noises as she shivered uncontrollably.

**


It had been a long and grueling engagement, so much so that he was exhausted. If it hadn’t been that the furnishings were arriving the next day he would not have attempted the ride home to his new place, this ‘work in progress’ that he had taken on as something completely different from his professional life.

Logically speaking he should have waited, spent the night in comfort in his condo in Geneva and come tomorrow in one of the trucks which would be delivering his furniture. It was very unlike him to be so spontaneous, to suddenly decide that he HAD to make the trip tonight. The Harley was just an excuse…it could have been loaded on one of the trucks or trailered….

‘I was so eager to get out of there…you would think that I hated my work, the way I raced out of the Theater…like I couldn’t wait to put all that behind me.’


He loved singing, it fulfilled his passion for music, lifted him up onto another plane of existence, the music, the response of the audience, the way he could get completely immersed in the role, losing himself and all the traumas inherent with being a single male in this chaotic world….but there were times when he just needed the peace and quiet of a place of his own, somewhere he could go to unwind, to recharge his batteries with the peace of nature, the quiet of being alone with his thoughts.

For the past 8 years he had lived mainly in large cities, first studying in Amsterdam, then singing in the Chorale, traveling now and then to the large venues in Europe to perform as his reputation grew and the quality of his roles increased. The early days of struggle to meet rent payments, borrowing travel money from friends and family, hoping to get invited to a friend’s for dinner when his cupboard was exceptionally bare…those days were behind him now. He had purchased a small apartment in London to use when his contracts called him there, a larger condo in Geneva, since he often performed there, would likely need something on both coasts of the U.S. now that his popularity had grown…but none of them really felt like home. In spite of his ease in sophisticated environments, he really wasn’t a city type person. Sure, he enjoyed the amenities only to be found in large metropolitan centres, but his heart was elsewhere…in the mountains, forests, clean air and solitude of Switzerland, that was where he needed to be to re-charge his soul, to be at peace with the traveling that his talent and work made necessary. Performing was his life… Switzerland gave him the inner peace he needed to perform publicly with such immense skill.

It had been a long, rather tiring ride from Geneva, nightfall well behind him as he traveled the last 20 K past the town and up the elevation towards the mountain passes. The house wasn’t really in the mountains, just at the beginning, the land here rolling foothills that crept upwards gently, framed in the distance by the rugged peaks, spotted with stands of trees amid the long grasses of the pasturelands, the sky vast and clear above, not a light or a building in sight, nothing but stars usually, though tonight there were low clouds scudding down the slopes, promising an icy dusting of winter’s first snowfall.

‘Perfect timing’ he thought as he slowed the Harley for the turn into the long laneway, the house looming dark and silent off to the right, no lights on since the power would also be taken care of tomorrow. A few snowflakes, the ones he had been expecting for the last hour or more, began to flutter to the ground, quickly becoming thicker as more and more joined the cascade. Winter was arriving and with a vengeance, the air already nippy.

It was a typical country estate or large farm house, a bit shabby from years of neglect, tall and rambling with a huge roof that swept towards the ground, creating overhangs to keep out the weather in all seasons, the line broken with wide dormers on the upper levels and huge stone chimneys piercing the sky. It seemed to have been built in pieces, perhaps as whims of the owners or perhaps as their family expanded and more rooms were needed, jutting out at angles that wrapped around stone and wood decks, deep windows of multi-paned glass, a line of mature trees behind the house that shielded it from the predominate down drafts from the slopes to the rear.

Outbuildings had been situated beyond the drive that curved around the end of the house…garage, workshop, small barn, the remains of a greenhouse and a large garden shed near what could once again be a garden and small orchard.

He was surprised to find all of the doors to the empty garage closed, sure that when he left 3 weeks before he had left one open…there was nothing to steal except the battered old tarp he used to cover the Harley. That would go on tonight, probably the last cover-up except for routine winter maintenance…though he loved the freedom inherent with cycling, he would never be foolish enough to ride in the winter months. And that was another thing he had to take care of, and soon…getting a vehicle to use over the winter…maybe a strong truck that he could put a blade on to keep the driveway clear, though he wasn’t that crazy about trucks…. maybe he could find a local service that could provide him with plowing and settle on a vehicle more his style. For the moment it wasn’t a pressing need as Pasquale, his younger brother, was coming tomorrow to help with the move and repairs, arriving in the afternoon with his pride and joy, a big American made Ford that should be able to handle some of the needed construction materials as well as any residual snow left over after the storm.

He stepped off the bike and slid the door open, mounted again and inched into the shelter, put the bike on the stand and stepped off in the darkness that enveloped him the minute he had turned the key off and the headlamp faded. He stretched tired muscles briefly and was reaching for the panniers when the voice came out of the blackness.

“I’m sorry to intrude.”

He jumped, not expecting to hear someone talking in the darkness, not particularly worried since the voice was calm and definitely feminine. He turned and peered into the dim light coming through the window and the still open door.

A shape materialized out of the shadows in the corner, indistinct, not very big or tall, growing smaller, but clearer as his old tarp was unwound from the form and more or less folded before she placed it on the floor.

“Who are you…why are you in my garage?”

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PostSubject: Chapter 2 Part 1   Wed May 13, 2009 5:14 pm

CHAPTER TWO

Her German was heavily accented and hesitant, definitely not her mother tongue.

“I’m not sure what you said but I would assume it was who am I and why am I here….my name is Mia and I thought this place was abandoned….I walked such a long way and was cold and tired….I am very sorry…I’ll go now.”

She took a step towards the open door, hesitating when she saw how heavily it was snowing now, then swung a bulky back pack onto one shoulder and stepped outside.

“Wait,” he called out, in English, stepping toward her, guessing from her accent that she was more comfortable in that language and reaching a hand out to her, backing off abruptly when she recoiled and covered her head defensively with her arms.

“Please…I won’t hurt you…I’m sorry for being rude…you surprised me….you can’t go out in this storm…come to the house …I’ll light a fire and you can get warm.”

All his protective instincts had gone on full alert. She was so little, not really dressed for the weather, sounded defeated but brave, as if she really meant not to be a burden and would willingly go on her way.

He could see her better now in the reflected glow from the falling snow…. curly, dark, wild hair in a very pale face with huge eyes that peered at him as if trying to read his thoughts. She wasn’t very tall, would maybe come up to his shoulder, at the most, dressed in a pale blue, poufy jacket that made her body look heavy, jeans and running shoes, no gloves or hat, just a dark colored back pack that dwarfed her as it hung from one shoulder, the contents lumpy and heavy judging by the lopsided way she stood.

“My name is Urs…I just bought this place and don’t even have any furniture until tomorrow, but there’s a nice fireplace inside and I can build a fire so we both can get warm…..Please….I couldn’t bear the thought of you going out in this storm.”

He went past her, pulling the door closed behind him, not making the mistake of trying to touch her again, intrigued and appalled that she had thought he meant her harm, but understanding. He wasn’t a huge man, but well muscled and definitely much bigger than her slight form, an unknown, a possible threat. Without any more conversation, he headed for the house, leaning into the wind that had come up, straining to hear if she followed.

Behind him, she hesitated for a second then followed.

‘What in hell am I doing? Look at him you damned fool…he’s a biker, dressed in leather with all those buckles and zippers….back home any sensible woman would run for the hills just at the sight of him…but he has a kind voice, and didn’t try to touch me again… there’s something gentle about him…and I’m so cold and tired…except for being caught by Bryan or Dad, I can’t be any worse off than I am right now….’

At the steps he scuffed the rapid accumulation of snow with his boots, clearing a path for her poorly shod feet and dared a glance back. She was behind him, even in this short distance swinging the backpack to the other shoulder, resting one side while the other took the weight.

“The boards are rotten, be careful,” he said motioning to the pail he had upended over a gaping hole on his last visit, just a reminder that this was one of the first things needing repair.

He opened the door and preceded her in, groping for the torch he had left on the shelf to the right and flicking it on.

It was hard to get much of an impression of the place in the dark and not important at the moment. The main thing was to get a fire going and he shone the light on the floor to lead her into the Lounge.

“Would you hold this on the hearth while I get some lights on and get the fire going? It’s a good thing you’re here…it would be harder alone.”

She set her pack down and did as he asked and he quickly lit some candles on the mantle, then set the tinder and paper alight, feeding larger kindling into the flames until he had a good flame going and added some fair sized logs.

Now she could see that there was a thick hand-made rug in front of the hearth and pulled her pack over to sit on it, clicking the light off and holding it out to him when he turned and smiled.

“The cooker in the Kitchen is on a separate gas line, always on, so we can at least have some coffee…or hot chocolate? Which do you prefer?”

Her smile was timid but she did smile, lighting up her sad eyes.

‘Oh gawd…my mouth is watering at the thought of hot chocolate…’

“Hot chocolate…can I help?”

“Absolutely!...the kitchen is this way.”

He lit their path to the kitchen and once more lit some candles in hurricane lanterns, setting one on the counter, the other on the table near the cooker.

“There should be some mugs in the cupboard and some chocolate powder with them…I haven’t any milk yet but I guess we can’t complain.”

Now that he could see her a little better he stole glances at her without seeming to stare. She looked young, a very young teen and his curiosity was piqued. What was she doing out on her own in the first winter storm, dressed inappropriately for it?…for God’s sake her feet were wet and must be aching with the cold, he could see wet foot prints from where she had crossed the kitchen.

“You didn’t come from town, did you? The roads are still dry in that direction. Was it snowing in the pass when you came through? I came from the other direction so I didn’t get as wet as you seem to be. Mia, if you have dry socks in your pack you should change into them…it wouldn’t do for you to catch pneumonia.”

‘well don’t you just sound like a bossy old uncle…be careful…remember how you hated to be bossed around when you were a teen.’

“I…I packed in a hurry…don’t worry I’ll be fine,” she said defensively, the smile gone again and her determined air back.

Urs had just filled the kettle from the hand pumped cistern, put it on the burner and came over to where Mia was spooning powdered chocolate into the two mugs, speaking calmly but firmly, a slight, friendly smile on his face.

“Mia, I’m cold and tired…I’ve just had a long ride after 5 months of rather intense work and I’m not in the mood to do anything other than get warm, have something to drink and sleep the clock around until my furniture arrives tomorrow. The furthest thing from my mind is taking advantage of little girls who suddenly appear, cold and tired on my doorstep, even if I was in the habit of doing so, which, by the way, I am not.

“Take the torch, go upstairs, second door on the right…my luggage should be there…find some dry socks and put them on and put yours by the fire so they’ll be dry by morning. I’ll finish making our drinks…..Please, be a good girl and don’t fight with me, I don’t have the energy for it and I’m a terrible nurse if you get sick.”

She hesitated for a moment, shaking, from the cold he hoped, seeming to think about what he had said, then took the torch and left the kitchen, found the stairs and groped her way up to the second floor.

He puttered when she left, going in the lounge to check the fire, coming back to the kitchen just as the kettle began to boil.

Strangely he didn’t feel uneasy about having this quiet child in his home….well, not much anyway.

‘Were those bruises I glimpsed on her cheek and neck?...does she have parents who abuse her? Why is she out here in the wilds of the mountains, unsupervised, ill-equipped for the elements? Why is she here at all, she obviously isn’t European…Thank God I speak English…So many questions, but no answers….there’s little option however…the weather is too nasty to send her on her way, I have no transportation other than the bike and of course that’s impossible now with the storm… What have you let yourself in for now, you soft hearted fool? All those times of rescuing wounded creatures may be coming back to bite you in the arse.’

He chuckled to himself as he thought of how Mami would chastise him for taking someone under his wing…Again!!!

He could hear her moving around upstairs and sighed as he prepared their warming drinks.

It was colder up here and her footsteps echoed in the empty house, the shadows outside the glow of the torch deeper, eerie and she hurried, just a little unnerved.

The second door on the right opened into a spacious, again nearly empty room, only a set of 3 pieces of black luggage against the far wall near the gaping black maw of an empty fireplace. She lay the first bag on the floor and zipped it open, found only what she knew at a glance to be expensive Egyptian cotton shirts, neatly folded, tried the next bag and began searching carefully through a mass of jeans and tee shirts for socks.

‘Lovely shirts…he must be well off to afford them and this house, even if it does need some work…So, he isn’t in the habit of taking advantage of little girls’ she thought with a smile…. ‘how about big girls? No, that’s unfair…I don’t get the feeling of anything sinister from him….for some reason I think he’s a really nice person who I don’t have anything to fear from. His eyes are so open, so kind… and I have very little choice at the moment… I need to get warm….I’m not sure but I’ll bet that being so cold isn’t good for me…’

He brought the drinks in to the Lounge just as she came back down the stairs, carrying her wet shoes and socks, her small feet encased in a thick pair of his grey work socks that reached nearly to her knees, the heel pouching out well above her ankle.

He grinned as she put her shoes and socks on the hearth then sank down a few feet away from him on the carpet and murmured her thanks for the hot drink.

“Good fit,” he said with a nod at her feet and she smiled, blowing across the top of the drink then sipping it carefully.

The fire was snapping and crackling, emitting heat into the room, not quite enough yet to remove jackets but certainly an improvement.

“I’m sorry that the place is so empty…I really wasn’t prepared yet for guests. This place came on the market and I put in a bid on it last June then had to leave for work…I made a quick trip home to sign the papers a couple of weeks ago, but after all the paperwork was done there was only a day before it was time to go back to fulfill my contract in Geneva…tomorrow the furniture arrives and the service people to turn on the power etc. It’s really a nice old house but it does need a bit of work…I’m looking forward to fixing it up.”

“What kind of work do you do?” she asked without looking at him, just making conversation in the silence of the room.

“I sing…opera mostly…I’m a tenor and I just finished the last 3 weeks of an engagement at the Grand Theater in Geneva…we did Gotterdammerung.”

She glanced at him in surprise.

“You have the voice I think, for Seigfried…a lyric or Heldentenor, yes?....There’s something faintly familiar about your face….Are you Urs Buhler? You don’t usually have a beard do you?”

“Very good…so you know Opera…most people your age prefer something lighter, I’m afraid. And the beard is sheer laziness…Shaving twice a day is a nuisance so I often don’t shave when I’m not working and I skipped the second bout with the razor before the last performance.”

She smiled and looked away.

“I have very eclectic tastes in music….my mother loved opera so I was exposed to it very early….we actually had a couple of your CD’s ….I’m sorry, with the start of a beard I didn’t recognize you.”

“Where were you going when you stopped to seek shelter? … Family, friends?”

He thought it would be safe to ask a question now since she had started…it was his turn, after all.

She sighed and put her mug down, resting her chin on her knees that she had pulled up with her arms wrapped around her legs.

“Away…I was just getting away…I don’t know where, really didn’t have much of a plan.”

They were silent for a few moments, watching the fire. Urs was mulling over the situation and becoming more uncomfortable. He was a grown man in his thirties, alone with a young girl in his home…the legal implications could be devastating, yet he couldn’t very well put her out in the cold…and without a vehicle to transport her somewhere IF the storm let up, there were not a lot of options left to him….and where would he take her anyway, this little runaway whose parents, and possibly the police, were undoubtedly looking for at the moment.

‘Well here we go…he’s frowning…man, those eyes are so expressive…I can almost hear what he’s thinking…and it’s terribly unfair to let him worry about harboring a teenage runaway…if it were true he could get in so much trouble….he’s been so kind, I owe him at the very least, a bit of peace of mind.’

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PostSubject: Chapter 2 Part 2   Wed May 13, 2009 5:15 pm

As if she understood what was running through his mind Mia sighed, then rose and went to her backpack, rummaging in one of the pockets until she found what she sought and came back.

“I make you nervous, don’t I? You’re thinking that you could get into trouble having an underage girl in your home, unsupervised…. if you like, I can leave as soon as I warm up a bit….I don’t want to get you into trouble or make you uncomfortable.”

Urs laughed a bit nervously and glanced up, trying to put her at ease.

“You can’t go out in that…If you don’t feel uneasy, then I shouldn’t either…you can trust me Mia…. I don’t have a thing for little girls.”

She laughed.

“Or unwilling big ones I hope…I may be acting foolishly but I do feel I can trust you. Perhaps this will make you worry less.”

She held out a small booklet with a dark cover, a passport he saw, the front emblazoned with a coat of arms, the word CANADA above and PASSPORT below in French and English, the script in gold lettering. He flipped it open to the page with the unflattering photo and vital statistics: Kramer, Jocelyn Aramia…DOB 22 May 1980.

“It’s a curse…I’ve always looked younger than I really am. I suppose when I’m really old that it will seem a blessing but now…it’s a little annoying to be taken for a teenager when I’m only a few years shy of 30.”

He handed the passport back and she tossed it in the neighborhood of her backpack.

“Twenty-seven…wow!! Practically an old lady!!! I thought that any minute the police would be knocking down the door and arresting me for harboring an underage girl in my house. Sorry…and no, I wasn’t about to throw you out in the snow.”

She smiled at him, the first real, semi-relaxed smile he had seen and it transformed her face…she had gained a bit of color in her cheeks now from the fire and her eyes, deeply shadowed, though still huge and doe like, reflected the glow of the flames…hazel he thought or maybe a dark grey.

“The police will not be looking for me…no one will, not in this direction.”

‘She’s being very careful not to let too much out….there’s a riddle here…but at least I can’t be arrested for harbouring a child….’

“I have three younger sisters…which means that, of necessity, I’m a very good listener if you need to talk.”

She shuddered and averted her eyes again, drew in a deep breath and looked up at him.

“Is it enough if I just swear to you that I’ve done nothing illegal, in fact, I’m trying desperately to avoid being involved in something that I find morally wrong? If I could just wait out the storm, then I’ll leave, go on to one of the resorts and see if I can find work. You would never have to see me again.”

Her curls had fallen over her face…he smiled at her and reached out a long fingered hand, stopping just before he touched her, raising a brow to ask for permission to brush the curls away. This time she didn’t flinch and he completed the move, gently smoothing her hair back.

“Fair enough…there’s still hot water in the kettle if you want to wash up a bit…there’s a loo just off the kitchen. I’m going upstairs and get out of my leathers…they’re great for bike riding but I don’t want to sleep in them and I’m dead tired…save me some water, please.”

He rose and went up stairs, used the torch to find his sleeping bag and quickly changed into lined jeans and a jumper, found his long leather jacket, picked up another jumper, thinking that the glimpse he had of her hinted at not very heavy clothing under the jacket and carried the bag, jumper and jacket back down to the now only slightly chilly Lounge.

Urs could hear her in the kitchen, putting the kettle back. He spread the sleeping bag out on the carpet in front of the hearth and ran the zipper down one side of the thick, silver Arctic bag. She came back in, her face freshly scrubbed, jacket off and clutched tight to her middle….he had been right about her clothing…under the poufy jacket she wore a short sleeved button front shirt, cotton he thought, pleased with himself that he had brought down the extra sweater.

“I brought you a jumper…it will be a mile too big for you but it’s warm and you can use your jacket for a pillow.”

Even in the flickering light of the fire he knew the instant she let her jacket fall to the floor. She was small, petite his tiny sister Irma liked to call it, fine boned but not thin, her arms and legs well toned, her chest generous and straining the buttons on her shirt, her stomach swollen with child and too big for her jeans, pushing them down to partly expose the stretched skin of her tummy.

“Just a bit over 4 months…” she said almost defiantly in answer to his unspoken question.

“All the more reason to see you keep warm…hands up,” he said with a gentle smile, trying not to show the way his mind was racing with all sorts of scenarios. He held the sweater open over her head and she raised her hands so he could pull it down over her head and onto her body, laughing lightly as they pushed the sleeves up to expose her fingers.

“There’s only one sleeping bag so crawl into it while I go clean up…I know it’s not complimentary but you really do look exhausted…I brought my long coat down for me to use as a cover and I’ll add some more logs to the fire before I crash too.”

He tended to an abbreviated bedtime routine in the tiny loo, his mind whirling with questions, wanting to ask but not wanting to spook her. She seemed so frightened sometimes, as if she had been abused….in the dim light from the candles and fire he was pretty certain he had noticed a fading bruise on her cheek, several more recent ones on her neck and arms. There was no excuse for treating a woman that way, he didn’t have to know the details, it just wasn’t the way a real man would treat a woman, especially in her condition. She wore no wedding or engagement rings, nothing to indicate a commitment to a husband or boyfriend. The riddle intrigued him, that and the defensive way she reacted at times, the long walk she had taken, from where he didn’t know, but long enough and undoubtedly strenuous in the surrounding area since she would have had to contend with curvy mountain roads that had tired her out completely.

He went back in the Lounge after blowing out the candles in the kitchen and found that she had opened the sleeping bag fully, bunched up her jacket and his coat for pillows and was laying under the silver warmth, near the fire, leaving a turned down space for him.

“I trust you…and you can’t sleep with only your coat for warmth.”

He added logs to the fire, took off his boots, blew out the candles and gently lay beside her, inched closer, spooning for warmth with his arm across her thickening waist.

“Good night, Mia…you’re safe here….sleep well.”

He felt her breath catch, then her hand crept under his and she relaxed.

“Good night…Urs…Thank you.”

He lay for a long time, listening to her breathe, warmed from the fire and the heat emanating from her body as she slept against him. Long after midnight a thought came to him and he pounced on it, examining all the angles, working, refining, finally satisfied, he leaned his face closer to her curly hair and closed his eyes, drifting into dreamless sleep, smiling a bit as he thought how unlike him, how impulsive his idea was…and how right it felt.

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PostSubject: Chapter 3 Part 1   Wed May 13, 2009 5:17 pm

CHAPTER THREE

He woke well refreshed in the morning to find the fire snapping and crackling merrily, the house comfortably warm. Mia had left their little nest on the carpet, long enough before to have added fuel to the fire. He could hear her in the kitchen, humming softly as she did something, sweeping, he thought from the sounds…the scent of fresh made coffee wafted to him and made him salivate.

He rose and rolled the sleeping bag into a bundle, tying it firmly since it wouldn’t be needed tonight, then stepped quietly to the kitchen doorway to glance inside.

The coffee pot was steaming lightly from it’s perch on the warming area of the cooker and Mia was busily scooping the results of her sweeping efforts onto a piece of paper she had found somewhere. A rusted pail seemed to be her refuse bin since it held some bits and pieces she had found while cleaning the counters and table and she dumped the balled up paper and refuse in to it, looking around for something else to attend to.

She had been at it for a while, he saw, long enough to have downed part of one cup of black coffee and for the counters, table top and cooker to gleam, the layer of dust that had been present last night, gone.

“You’ve been busy,” he said and she jumped with shock, one hand going to her chest in surprise.

She laughed a bit at her fright and her cheeks flamed as she blushed.

“Coffee is ready, but I couldn’t find any sugar so you’ll have to drink it black.”

He smiled.

“I’ll survive until Pasquale gets here with supplies…..Thanks for making it…I can’t get my day started without my fix.”

“Pasquale?”

“My little brother….well, not so little but at least younger. He’s coming to give me a hand with the immediate repairs…..and bringing supplies that our Mami thinks we need so we don’t starve. Oh, Mia, that tastes so good….You’re a lifesaver.”

He sat on a backwards chair at the table, resting his long arms on the back, watching her as she went about closing cupboard doors, checking first that the shelving was dry…obviously she had wiped them down as well.

His impressions from the previous night were borne out in the light of the new day.

She was a small, compact woman, in sock feet about 5 foot 3 he thought, sun streaked chestnut curly hair worn in an unruly tangle that fell nearly to her shoulders, porcelain pale skin that now held a rosy glow on the cheeks, not especially beautiful but a pleasant, well defined face with dark, arcing brows above huge grey/green eyes and long dark lashes, her mouth a rosy bow….a pleasant, girl next door, little sister face with more than a hint of sadness about the still shadowed eyes. Her hands were long fingered and dainty, contrasting with the rough, weather-abraded skin and broken nails.

As he had thought last night, there was a fading bruise on her cheek, at the greenish yellow stage.

Mia had been studying him as well as she moved gracefully about the kitchen.

He was just under 6 foot tall she saw, his chestnut hair long for a man, gently sweeping his shoulders now that it wasn’t confined in a ponytail and curling wildly from the dampness in the Kitchen. His lightly bearded facial features were chiseled, the muscles well defined, likely from his profession, for she knew that the years of vigorous training for an operatic voice exercised all the facial muscles. His neck was long and corded, strong looking, ears tucked neatly to his shapely head, thick brows above tilted oval eyes that she had difficulty categorizing…grey/green or hazel….it was hard to say but they mirrored what he was thinking, mesmerizing, smiling when his mouth did…a totally open, mobile face that would be useless playing poker. Even under the heavy grey jumper she could see that his body was toned, his chest thick, arms bulging in the sleeves of his garment, hands long fingered and graceful, a pianist’s hands….she stopped her inspection at the waist, unwilling to be caught checking out anything else.

“Come, sit with me…we need to talk,” he said gently, indicating the chair across from him.

Mia poured another half cup of coffee for herself and sat on the edge of the chair, her back ram-rod straight, apprehension in her eyes as she regarded his calm face.

Would he demand an explanation now as she had expected last night? He had been kind to her and very circumspect. Throughout the night he had drawn slightly away from her as their bodies warmed, except for his arm occasionally touching hers or laying gently across her waist… there had been no inappropriate touching, nothing to make her nervous.

She owed him an explanation if he asked for it…she wouldn’t lie…dissembling was next to impossible for her and for some unexplained reason she wasn’t willing to attempt to lie to this man.

“While I was dropping off last night, I thought about what you said…about finding a job at one of the resorts. I’m assuming from that, that you need a job in order to survive, not merely because you hate to be idle, though I would venture a guess that idleness bores you and isn’t in your nature. If you apply at a business, the first thing they will need is your work permit or information…that will mean a trail that can be easily followed.”

He was speaking calmly, logically and she relaxed a bit, thinking about what he had said, accepting that his grasp of her situation was thorough and well thought out, even better than hers. In her panic to get away she hadn’t progressed far enough in her planning to think through all the ramifications of seeking employment in a foreign country. Her heart sank, thinking that this one detail, overlooked in her haste, could spell defeat for what she needed to do.

“I may have thought of a solution to your problem and, inadvertently to something that has been a major thorn in my side, with no end in sight…before now,” Urs said with a smile, reaching for the coffee pot and pouring them both another mug full.

“Let me give you some background, some details about my life and perhaps you will get a better grasp on where I’m heading with this…..”

He settled in the chair, toying with his mug as he got his words organized and Mia relaxed a bit, resting against the back of the chair, her posture not as rigid, his softly spoken words diffusing her nerves as she listened to him.

“You already know that I’m an opera singer…it’s been a rapid rise in popularity, some say, not taking into account the years I spent studying, taking roles in the chorus, nearly starving at times when the money just didn’t stretch….For the past three years things have been improving…the CD’s are selling well, the contracts keep coming in without having to be pursued… I often don’t even have to audition for parts anymore. But that’s only a small portion of the work that fills my life….there’s public appearances, interviews, marketing, my agent calls it and is constantly booking me into appointments absolutely everywhere…sometimes I just barely have time to leave one studio, catch a flight and appear at the next one…it’s a merry-go round that drives me insane…I’m always worried that I will miss something, or be late for a fitting for the costumes, the suits that I need now when I meet yet another official…I’ve even gone from getting my teeth cleaned by my hygienist and a filling from the dentist, to a venue with my mouth still frozen and been expected to perform…that was a challenge, believe me. And there have been a few times that I arrived at a hotel expecting to catch a few hours of much needed rest to find that no-one had made a reservation for me…and of course the hotel was booked solid….

“I need someone to be my assistant, to organize my life, book flights and hotels, make sense of my schedule so that I can do my job without losing my mind, and I think in my unique situation a regular assistant won’t fill the bill…..I’m completely at a loss when it comes to the computer, rely on others to manage my time and money, have no idea what I have, what I need…I’m never really sure what commitments have been made in my name…..in short, I feel like I’ve lost control of my life and it isn’t a feeling I enjoy.

“I need someone who can make sense of it all, someone good with a computer, who is free to live in my home, to be accessible 24/7, who can drive, take charge but still let me make the final decisions, someone I can trust, who will give me some peace and sanity in my life….and if that person can cook a bit, doesn’t mind if I don’t want to chatter away like I am this morning, can accept the occasional solitude here on the farm and is free to travel now and then….it would be perfect.”

He had been looking at his hands and the mug that he was using to make small circles on the table top but now stopped moving it and met Mia’s eyes with a gentle smile.

“I don’t know you well, that’s a given, but…I believe in Karma…I think there was some sort of divine reason for you to seek shelter in my garage, for us to meet. Perhaps we were meant to help each other, perhaps only temporarily, or maybe, as I believe, for the long term. In any case, the thought came to me last night as I was dropping off to sleep that this may be just what we both need at this point in our lives.

“I don’t know what your skills are, other than being a good walker since you tackled some of the steep inclines in the pass….can you drive, cook, do you mind being on your own for weeks at a time?
How about computers…do you understand them? Do you smoke?…I hope not, since smoking is death to a singer’s vocal chords….and on a personal level, I dislike being around smokers. Are you good at organizing, keeping books? If you are interested, I need someone to oversee the work on this place when I’m away, an assistant who could take care of the boring part of being a singer, appointments, travel arrangements, hotels…like an assistant or secretary but a little more. My agent’s staff takes care of all that now but they have many clients to see to and as a result don’t do a very good job…I need someone who has one responsibility other than themselves…ME! I can offer you a place to live, meals, medical care and a salary, a position more like friend helping friend, the right to legally stay in Switzerland and work….. but strictly a professional arrangement, your own quarters of course, which I will never enter, nothing expected of a more …intimate nature.”

She had been holding her breath, listening to him and now gulped in a deep lungful of air, blushing when he smiled at her.

“Are you gay? I know I’m not a raving beauty but is that why I have nothing to fear from you?”

Urs choked on the mouthful of coffee he hadn’t had time to swallow properly, dissolving into a fit of laughter when he had control again.

“Sorry…no, I like women…a lot. Performing is a…passionate skill and tends to overlap into real life…But I’m not a child…I do have a certain amount of control….I date, frequently, when I’m away with my work, especially tall, beautiful blondes, nothing serious, not yet…I’m not ready to settle down or maybe I just haven’t met the right person yet…I bought this place for the peace and quiet, to fill the need I have for the calm of Nature, sort of a haven to get away from the rat race now and then. It’s unlikely that I will ever invite any of my…acquaintances here. I have a very nice condo in Geneva, a smaller one in London that I use when I’m involved in a role there and I use hotels when I travel abroad… that’s where I entertain…this place is different…not somewhere I care to share with my friends. I need someone who will give me my space, who can create a haven for me to come to, who can give me peace and quiet without feeling slighted when I don’t want to talk or go out to party with a crowd of superficial friends. On occasion I would require a secretary to travel with me, not often but of course always with your own accommodation.”

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PostSubject: Chapter 3 Part 2   Wed May 13, 2009 5:18 pm

She searched his eyes, looking for something he wasn’t saying then nodded slowly.

“I’m a pretty fair cook, an excellent driver and know my way around a computer rather well…in fact I did remember to pack mine, I’d be lost without it….Over the years of caring for Mom I had to learn to be organized and since the money was hers, not Dad’s I had to learn how to keep her books….even with the medical system in Canada, it’s very expensive to have a long term illness, so we needed to know that the money was there.….I’m accustomed to being alone, even when I’m in a crowd….I’m an aspiring artist and it’s a lonely profession, living in your head a lot of the time. And I’m usually a good judge of character…I feel I can trust you, that when you give your word, it’s golden….and I did smoke now and then, not much, but I quit when I realized that I carried a child.”

She poured them each another coffee, more for the warmth than the beverage since she rarely drank more than one, glancing outside through the still grimy kitchen window….the snowfall had finished, only the occasional flake drifting slowly to the ground, the sky now visible and the sun coming out.

“I’m from Canada, you already know that. My mother passed away from cancer a year ago this coming Christmas and I spent the years since my 16th birthday at home nursing her through the up and down stages of her illness, until she was given peace from the pain. When she was gone there was just my father, my brother and myself. I hadn’t even finished formal high school, though I did study at home in whatever spare time I had so I’m well read…. I’ve always had this talent for art, especially illustration and I hoped that I could make it pay off. It was just beginning to.”

Urs sipped at his coffee, not wanting to stop her now that she was opening up to him but he could see that she was hesitant to tell him everything.

“After Mom passed away, my father and brother ran through what money was left and nearly bankrupted the business. They were desperate for funds and came up with a plan…they orchestrated the rape that resulted in this baby…they filmed it and blackmailed the man responsible. I tried to get away from them but they’re both big men and quick with their fists……and of course I had no real job, no money yet…for a while I just couldn’t get my head around what I needed to do.”

She had carefully kept her eyes downcast while she explained why she was running away and now looked up, meeting his sympathetic gaze with a defiant look.

“I’m young and healthy…I can work, at anything if necessary…I did dishes for a meal while on the road, in another truck stop I cleaned the bathrooms for food and a sponge bath…they were very nice, even gave me a toothbrush…I will not give my baby away or have it medically terminated….I want your word that you will not expect me to keep your bed warm, that what you have offered is what I believe you mean…a professional arrangement. In return I can promise you a peaceful, clean place to come home to, nutritious meals, conversation when you want it, quiet when you don’t. And if you give me time to familiarize myself with your business, I can take care of the minutiae that is involved in your profession. I’m normally very good at organizing, keeping records, accounting….. if you’re willing to take a chance on me, I’ll do my damndest to do a good job for you.”

Urs held his hand out to her and she took it, gripping it firmly.

“It’s much too early in the day for such serious talking….I have some granola bars in my panniers…that will have to do us for breakfast…if they aren’t frozen solid.” He smiled and headed for the entrance to pull on his boots and jacket for the trip to the garage.

He stopped on the rickety porch to appreciate the day.

It had long since stopped snowing, the skies now clear and bright, everything in sight covered with a fluffy layer of glistening crystals that would melt before the day was done. Only a few inches had accumulated on the driveway, not nearly enough to cause problems for the trucks coming soon. As always, he was filled with a sense of peace that infused his very soul when he was in the wilderness of his home country. The vivid blue of the sky, the icy peaks in the distance, the elegant forests filled him with a joy that he never found in the varied cities he visited so often with his work. Even the crunch of the fresh snow under his thick boots gave him pleasure, his breath puffing out in a soft mist as he strode to the garage.

‘This is right…I feel it, feel good about Mia and I helping each other….already there’s a sense of order in my mind and she hasn’t even done much yet except make coffee and clean up a bit…yet it feels like an enormous weight has lifted off my shoulders, like I can get back to the way it used to be, enjoying singing, learning new roles, striving to do my best with this talent that God has given me….and she smiled, a real full faced, crinkled eyes smile that actually made her look beautiful….’

He riffled through the panniers until he found the granola bars and a bonus…half of a Toblerone that he had forgotten about. He shook out the tarp and put it over the bike, thinking about how Mia had been willing to shelter under it last night, how she had decided to trust him and shared the one lone sleeping bag.

The woman was gutsy, that was a given, perhaps a bit confused in some of her previous decisions but now, she seemed to be determined to do what she could to have this child and do her best for it. He wondered about what she hadn’t said…why were they here in Europe? Was the man who raped her from here? Was there something else she hadn’t said about him?

He felt a surge of anger at her father and brother…how could kin treat her like that? His family was so totally different, loving, caring, in this situation would have come together to help her, not to use her for their own personal gains…and to abuse a woman in this way…..it wasn’t something he could conceive of.

Now that he was calmer, his logical, Swiss side took dominance. He smiled as he thought of her asking for his word that this would be a professional arrangement. She was cute, in a sweet, sisterly way but definitely not his type…well except maybe for that impressive chest…he had always been a B**b man, since he could remember awakening to the differences between boys and girls. No, the main benefit from offering her the position was two fold, one that would be good for both of them. She would be pleasant company when he wanted someone to talk to, was obviously intelligent, that he could tell just from their short conversations …she even knew something about opera …and a good worker … she would take care of the daily routine duties that he found rather boring and stressful. And he would aid her in thwarting whatever devious plans her family had for her. In a way it would be refreshing to form a relationship that would be very close but without the strain of sexual undertones…those needs could be easily met by any one of a long list of women, just as they always had been.

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PostSubject: Chapter 4 * Furnishing & Shopping * Part 1   Wed May 13, 2009 5:21 pm

CHAPTER FOUR…FURNISHING AND SHOPPING

Their mini breakfast done, they prepared for the arrival of the trucks.

Urs went to the shed attached to the house and came back with a sheet of ¾ inch plywood which he fixed in place over the weak boards of the veranda, went back for several 4 by 4’s to lay on the steps and another sheet of strong ply to form a ramp.

Mia filled the cistern in the cooker so they would have water to make more coffee, then explored, checking out the many rooms that angled off the main area, almost as if the house had been built in stages, the center first, then the other areas as need arose.

It was a typical European farm house…huge kitchen with an adjacent pantry and store rooms, a large stone fireplace that was open to both the kitchen and the lounge area, wide plank wood floors that had seen a lot of use but could be brought back to their former glory with a bit of work, a large formal dining room with a bay window formed of small panes of glass, original, it seemed since the oblongs were beveled and had flaws that made them unique…only new caulking would be needed there, and a good cleaning, perhaps some new hardware since the centre sections had rusted hinges and hasps to open and close them in good weather.

Beyond the kitchen was a small suite of rooms that could easily be turned into quarters for a housekeeper if the small loo was expanded into a proper Lavatory. She mentally jotted down the information and reminded herself to ask Urs if he would approve.

She could see him through the kitchen windows. He had shed his jacket and was carrying a full sheet of plywood above his head, resting it for balance on his curls, smiling and clearly enjoying the hands-on work.

‘What a kind man he is. He doesn’t seem like the typical Opera singer…not that I personally know any but the image that came to mind is of an older man, slightly portly, with less hair and more belly. No, Urs would be amazing playing and singing a role such as Romeo or Nemorino…all the women in the audience would swoon, he would fit the role so well. Even with his 2 day stubble, or maybe because of it, he’s certainly a very, very handsome man. And if his speaking voice is any indication, I’ll bet his tenor voice is perfect also.’

She tried to remember the sound from the CD’s her mother had of his early performances but it had been over a year since Mom had passed away and her father had trashed all ‘that long haired junk’.

Any other time she would have been intrigued by his handsome face, those hypnotic eyes, the crinkled face when he smiled and showed his dimples, his toned, athletic body. His gentle, kind nature would have captured her imagination and he would have been the sort of man that she could have fantasies about. But not now.

Now her romantic notions were behind her. That was a past that belonged to her childhood. Reality was a rude awakener and it sucked…big time. Men were greedy, self centered, wanted only what they could take, by force if necessary. Perhaps this one would be able to subdue his natural instincts…she would never know. No man would ever get close enough to her to hurt her again.

**

By the time Pasquale arrived the first two trucks had gone, leaving the two inhabitants of the house starting to warm up again in the midst of a sea of furniture that was more or less in place and boxes that had made it to the assigned rooms but still needed unpacking. All of the gas and electric were working now, the two furnaces chugging along quietly, spewing heat out of the vents in the floors, the boilers for hot water were doing their silent heating, something that made Urs and Mia very happy since they both looked forward to showers.

The movers had been fast and efficient, requiring only directions to deposit the furniture and boxes so Mia kept out of the way, watching as Urs helped with the heavier pieces.

She was fascinated by his choices of furnishings: the gleaming, well wrapped grand piano, a dark mahogany, not new but lovingly maintained she saw when the padding came off after it was wrestled into place in a corner of the Lounge, another along with carefully wrapped stringed instruments that went into what he had dubbed the ‘Music Room’, dark chocolate leather sofas and caramel leather over- stuffed chairs, again not new but well cared for, an assortment of antique or glass topped small tables in various woods…all pieces that had been chosen not so much because they fit a plan as because they were appreciated, an eclectic mix that, even before they had been situated in their final perfect spots, worked well together.

He explained during a lull while the movers re-positioned the trucks, that some of his furnishings he had owned for years, storing them at his Mami’s until he had a place of his own, others were antiques from a beloved Tante who had passed away during the past winter and left him her few treasured antiques. Mia could see that he missed the elderly relative, his eyes, as always, mirroring what he felt deep within.

New bedroom pieces came next, wardrobes in teak or white maple, head boards and footboards to match, king sized beds and small sofas, padded chairs in soft colors, rolled up carpets with only a hint of the color or pattern peeking from the ends. And through out it all there were boxes, carton after carton with the contents labeled clearly on the outside in huge black lettering: Books, linens, tools, dishes…some merely labeled ‘Kitchen’ or ‘Master’ or one of the other many rooms in the sprawling farmhouse.

After the first King sized mattress went up the stairs, Mia approached Urs and asked about the small rooms off the Kitchen.

“They need some work but I don’t have anything to clutter them up at the moment so I could work around the bed. If you have a single bed in one of the trucks it would do me just fine.”

Urs took a quick look at the rooms she had mentioned, mentally working out what needed to be done and smiled. She would be as far away as possible from his suite…well, if that was what was needed for her comfort zone, then he could live with it.

“No singles, but I think there’s one double that I bought for the smallest bedroom. We could turn it into an office and put the bed in your suite…Alright?”

His reward and answer was a real smile that lit up her face as she nodded and reached for the broom, scooting into the small rooms to clean up before delivery occurred.

An hour later the last of the trucks arrived, mostly with boxes and the double bed furnishings he had mentioned. When he approached the door to the rooms he could hear her humming and moving about and the sound made him smile.

‘It doesn’t take much to make her happy….’ he thought, making a mental note to make kindness a habit with this abused woman.

He kicked at the door with his foot, calling out to her.

“Delivery, Fraulien, May I come in?”

‘Start as you mean to go on, Buhler…let her know you meant what you said about not entering her rooms…”

He heard what could have been a small, timid laugh, then the door opened wide and she gestured for him to bring the box springs in.

“Where do you want it for now?” he asked, looking around the room.

The walls would need painting but it was in remarkably good repair, dusty but that could be dealt with. The windows had the same small panes as most of the house and bowed out, creating a space that fairly screamed for a bench or a small table and chairs to look out over the fields and forest.

He went back for the mattress, again for the footboard and head board and when he returned it was with another man, wheeling a small wardrobe on a dolly.

She knew instantly that this was Pasquale, the family resemblance was so striking…shorter hair and thinner, taller body but the same slanted amber eyes and quick smile, the same crinkled eyes and dimples.

“You must be Mia…welcome to the insanity of moving day…I’m Pasquale, the good looking son in our family.”

He deposited the wardrobe and held his hand out to her with a grin, glancing at Urs’ for a reaction to what must have been a very old joke between them.

“The one with the biggest ego, anyway,” Urs shot back with an equally engaging grin as he leaned the foot and head boards against the wall.

“We’ll set this up later, Mia…don’t you try to do it yourself.”

They finished the last of the load in the truck, Urs signed the papers for the delivery and at last was able to shut the door and survey…chaos.

“There’s food in some of the boxes I brought in…you know how Mami is…she’s convinced that you and I will be dead of hunger by nightfall so she sent enough supplies to feed an army,” Pasquale said with a laugh as the two brothers shucked boots and padded in sock feet into the Kitchen.

Mia was way ahead of them, nearly finished unloading the perishables, coffee and hot chocolate ready, with cream and sugar available this time and the rickety old table which was still all they had assembled, set with mugs, small plates and an unwrapped box of sandwiches and sweets.

“Woman, you are a treasure,” Pasquale boomed in his deep voice and in his usual tactile fashion, swept Mia up to hug her and kiss her cheek, not noticing how she paled. He set her back on the floor and dove into the box of sandwiches, searching for his favorite.

Urs had told him only that Mia was his new assistant, nothing more, when they met outside…now he thought that perhaps he should have been a little more forthcoming. He watched as the color came back into Mia’s cheeks. She poured coffee for them, her hand only trembling slightly, calming gradually. She met Urs’ concerned gaze and smiled, just a faint twitch of her lips, but enough to reassure him.

“Mia, join us…Mami sent enough to even fill the bottomless pit also known as my brother. You must be starving…that granola bar we had as breakfast seems like years ago.”

He explained to Pasquale that there had been nothing else for their morning nosh, watching while Mia poured herself a hot drink, added cream from the small jug on the table and took a sandwich out of the box. She took a bite and closed her eyes in bliss at the taste.

“Ham and Emmenthal with that spicy mustard Frau Mundil makes…good isn’t it?” He grinned as helped himself to his favorite as well.

She smiled and nodded, her mouth too full to answer.

“We have to go into town to arrange for some supplies so it’s going to remain a mess here for a while. I thought maybe we should shop for the stuff I’m sure we forgot and maybe have dinner at the alehaus….is there anything that we should have but don’t that you have noticed?”

Mia finished the sandwich and ran through the mental list she had been keeping.

“Mop, pail, window cleaner, paper-towels, a short ladder, shelf liner, cleaner with disinfectant, vinegar, baking soda, dish soap, light bulbs, a decent broom…this one has seen better days…I’ve been keeping a mental list. Should I continue?”

Urs laughed and shook his head.

“No…you should come with us…you likely need to do some shopping yourself, since you came away in such a rush.”

She started to protest but he frowned and shook his head, just enough for her to hush.

“When are you going?”

“As soon as we clean up from lunch…that way we’ll be back in time to set up the beds before it’s time to crash.”

Pasquale went out to take some of the tools he had brought from the truck to the shed and while he was gone Urs reached across the counter and took one of Mia’s hands.

“Sorry…I didn’t mean to put you on the spot…Pasquale knows nothing of how you came to be here. I know you need some other clothes and personal items, hairbrush and such…I’m going to give you an advance on your first month…when we’re alone we’ll work out the details.”

He pulled out his wallet and removed a stash of Swiss francs.

“This is all the cash I have on me at the moment… get what you need and if it isn’t enough I’ll go to a cash machine in town. Next week we’ll go to the bank and set something up…I don’t like the thought of you worrying about money when it isn’t necessary.”

He had to take her hand when she pushed the money back at him, shaking her head. He pushed back on the wad of bills, nearly sending them off the counter and in reflex she used her other hand to catch them.

“Please, Mia…don’t fight me on this…it’s not a hand-out, just an advance on your wages…no, don’t say anything…I can afford to pay you well, as anyone in the position would be…and I can’t be worrying about you catching cold with no boots or gloves…and my jumpers don’t really fit you, even though I don’t mind sharing.”

He smiled, trying to use humor to cajole her into being at ease.

His brother came back in and it wasn’t possible for Mia to do more than slip the money into her pocket, the argument she had been about to voice, dying on her lips.

**

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PostSubject: Chapter 4 * Furnishing & Shopping * Part 2   Wed May 13, 2009 5:22 pm

“Mia…is she trachtig?” Pasquale asked quietly as they walked down the aisle of the hardware store.

Urs smiled.

‘At least he didn’t blurt it out in front of her….Maybe my little brother is finally learning some tact.’

“Ja…about 4 months.”

They went a little further then Pasquale stopped. Urs paused and looked back at him.

‘Then again, maybe he isn’t a tactful as I thought…go ahead, say it…’

“Yours?”

“Nein…lets get this done then I’ll tell you what I can…we don’t have to meet up with Mia for another hour.”

They went on and Urs resolutely ignored the muttered comment he heard from his brother.

“She’s just a child herself…what has he got into this time?”

They had dropped her off near the shopping district of town, driving on to the lumber yard and hardware store, planning on meeting her at a chain department store for the long list of household items she had decided they needed.

It only took fifteen minutes to attend to their lengthy order, make the arrangements to have it delivered in the morning and make it back out to the truck, Urs with a step ladder over his shoulder that he had purchased on the way back out of the store, remembering that Mia had said they needed one.

They drove part way into town and stopped at a small café, got coffees and parked themselves on chairs at a small table to talk.

“Okay…no more stalling…Mia looks like she should be still going to school and yet she’s trachtig and you say she’s your assistant…. what’s going on?”

Urs sighed and leaned back in his seat, trying to decide how much to tell his brother. Finally he just started and told him everything he knew about his new assistant.

“So, that’s it…I offered her the job and she took it with the provision that it’s strictly a business arrangement. You know she’s not my type anyway, so that’s alright with me…there’s something about her, though…I feel the need to protect her, to help her in any way I can and I know, even though I only met her less than 24 hours ago, she’s honest, scared, determined to pay her own way however she can. It’s actually kind of refreshing that she isn’t awed by my profession, or my looks, or the fact that I seem to have a bit of money…..there’s nothing phony about her….I know you will anyway, but tell me what you think.”

Pasquale had stared at him the whole time he was talking and now laughed and shook his head in dismay.

“If it wasn’t you telling me this I’d say that you’re a damned liar, that this was some little chippy that you knocked up and felt you had to take care of….though I can’t imagine you getting it on with someone people will assume is young enough to be your daughter. But I know that isn’t your style and god knows the number of times you’ve ragged at me to always use protection ….I can’t imagine you getting caught out like this….So, yes, I believe you, even though I’m having trouble getting my head around Mia being older than she looks. What I don’t understand is exactly why you’ve decided to trust her so quickly…Mein gott, Urs! You’re willing to trust her with your home, your possessions…she could be an axe murderer for all you know…she could be married…or was married and killed her husband and now she’s running from the law…you could be leaving yourself open for all kinds of grief.”

Urs laughed.

“You watch too many American movies, Paco….I don’t get that feeling about Mia at all. I think she is just what she says she is…a woman who has done nothing wrong and needs to make a fresh start…one who has relatives who are deplorable. I don’t feel any danger at all from her…in fact I feel like I’ve known her forever and that’s the only strange feeling I get….you know how long it usually takes me to get to know a person…with Mia I have no reservations…it feels like I’ve known her for years.”

Pasquale sipped at his coffee, mulling over what had been said.

“This is so like you… don’t shake your head, fool, you know it’s true…how many times did you bring home a stray cat or dog, a bird with a broken wing? This time it isn’t a bird with an injured wing or a rabbit with a sore foot…this is a real live human woman, one who has emotional and physical baggage that she’s carrying around…and you won’t be able to fix that so easily, at least not without hurting her in the process…I just hope that this tender nature of yours doesn’t come back to bite you…. or her, in the arse.”

He shook his head in dismay at what he had already decided was a risky venture, then changed the subject…sort of.

“How long are you home for?”

“Five weeks, then I have an engagement in Los Angeles for nearly a month…a few days of rehearsals and 3 weeks of performances …should be fun…Carrera, Domingo, myself 4 nights weekly and Andre Rieu on the other 3 nights per week…the house won’t be dark for the whole 3 weeks…we’re doing a selection of Arias and light classics, a lead in to the Christmas Season concerts. I have several bookings in California in the next two years, some with the touring company, so I may look at some condos while I’m there…it gets tiresome rather quickly living in hotels.”

“In five weeks you should get a pretty good idea how right your call was on what Mia is really like. If she’s scamming you ….”

Urs was shaking his head and smiling.

“I’m right…you’ll see…remember I’m the one who knew when that red head from Oz was two timing you…and the little blonde from Zurich that you almost married…remember her? Either she was lying about being pregnant or she’s part elephant…it’s been nearly two years and she still hasn’t produced a baby or even a bump.”

Urs smiled as he thought how easy the blonde had been to get into his arms. She had tried on more than one occasion and he had rebuffed her, but the next time she made advances he accepted, willingly, knowing that Pasquale would be entering the room any moment and her infidelity was the only thing that would turn his naïve brother off…and he did, finding his girlfriend, half dressed, locked in a passionate embrace with his brother, urging him on, begging for more intimacy…..how angry he had been at first, blaming Urs. Then she rounded on Pasquale, admitting that she had lied, that Urs had been her target all along, he made a great deal more money than Pasquale ever would…and how she had shrieked with rage when Urs barged in to the middle of her tirade and told her to get lost, that neither he nor his brother had any lasting interest in her other than for sex, and from the little sample he had endured, that hadn’t been all that exceptional, not worth going further….as payback for treating his brother so vilely, he had added an insult, tossing a wad of francs at her and suggesting she invest in some mouthwash.

It had been a close call between the brothers for a bit after that but finally Pasquale came around, realizing that it had taken the extreme measures that Urs had gone to, to make him see the truth.

“Alright…point taken…just be careful.”

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PostSubject: Chapter 5 Part 1   Wed May 13, 2009 5:24 pm

CHAPTER FIVE

Mia watched the brothers drive off, one trusting her completely, the other she thought, with a few reservations. She smiled thinking about how close they were, how protective Pasquale seemed even thought he was the younger brother.

‘He would be a formidable enemy…it’s a good thing that I don’t have any ulterior motives…but then who could against such a sweet man. I’ve never met anyone quite like Urs…so trusting, so kind, so drop dead gorgeous…it might be hard to keep this merely professional but I really have no choice…my first and only responsibility is to this precious life inside of me…and this heaven sent opportunity is just what we need to survive. I can’t screw this up by letting my emotions take over… even if he is absolutely perfect.’

She looked around at the stores, chose the department store and headed to the lingerie department.

Short minutes later she left with a small bag containing panties and bras and information gleaned from a helpful clerk about a second hand store 2 blocks away. From years of having to stretch the allotment given to her to run the household she was naturally thrifty…now it would be a very necessary skill to hone.

It was well organized and wielded a bonanza for her of just what she needed…nice large men’s dress shirts to use as smocks for working, even some maternity wear…a black two piece suit that would look tidy and mature if they had company, jeans with the stretchy tummy inserts for knocking around or working, an oversized tee shirt for sleepwear and best of all, a pair of winter boots that almost fit, just needed an extra pair of socks inside. A pair of flat black shoes, again that almost fit, finished off what she felt was needed.

She lugged her purchases back to the department store and finished off her personal purchases with several pair of heavy socks, stretchy cloth gloves that would have to suffice, a hair brush and a tube of toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, her only splurge, a bottle of lotion for her chapped hands.

When the brothers pulled into a parking space in front of the store, she was waiting by the entrance, wearing her new/used boots, her cheap gloves and surrounded by plastic bags with the second hand store logo.

“It looks like you were successful,” Urs said, then noticed the store logo and frowned. “Didn’t you have enough money?” he asked quietly.

Her smile faded.

“More than enough…I don’t need much…for working this will be fine.”

“Mia…” Urs began but Paco joined them and he didn’t finish his thought.

They went in the store and hit the housewares department, Mia taking charge at Urs insistence and loading the men down with cleaning supplies, light-bulbs, shelf paper, plastic wrap, bathroom tissue…all the little things that are needed to run a household and that men just don’t think about until they need them and then complain about the lack.

They were laughing when they returned to the truck and stowed their purchases in the back, locking it down for the short walk to the pub.

“We look like a cleaning crew,” Paco remarked as he tossed several different mops in the bed of the truck, following them with a couple of plastic pails with squeezing attachments and bottles of cleaner.

“Little does anyone know that you don’t know which end of the mop goes in the water,” Urs shot back with a grin.

Mia laughed at the teasing.

“Trust me, by the end of his visit he’ll know,” she said with a chuckle.

‘What a nice laugh she has. Too bad she doesn’t do it more often,’ Urs thought as he took the few bags she had been allowed to carry and placed them inside, pulling the gate down and locking it.

“All this talk about working has left me hungry…feed me…NOW!!” Pasquale growled, clutching his stomach.

“You’re always hungry!” Urs mocked.

“I’m just a growing boy!!”

“If you grow any more all your girlfriends will need that ladder we bought to kiss you,” Urs quipped, looking up at his ‘little’ brother who topped him by at least 4 inches.

“He’s just jealous because he’s a midget,” Paco said and draped his arm over Mia’s shoulder, guiding her toward the pub.

Mia hardly noticed, her mind occupied with the easy banter between the brothers and she laughed at Paco, entering the conversation in defense of Urs.

“In Canada we would call you a ‘Beanpole’…you need to work out a bit, Pasquale, get some muscle on that long, soft body…at least Urs looks like he works out.”

“Constantly…he’s obsessed with it….didn’t you see all that exercise gear he has for the gym? I’ve got better things to do.”

“Partying, women, jam sessions, more women, more partying…and the occasional gig to support your women and partying,” Urs said with a smirk and ducked when Paco swung a fist at his shoulder.

They chose a table in the back of the pub, settling in, discarding jackets and nodding hello to a few friends.

“So it sounds like you’re involved in music as well…” Mia said to Pasquale and he nodded.

“When Urs left to study in Amsterdam I took his place with Conspiracy….we play rock or metal, nothing big time, though we do have a couple of CD’s out…it’s fun and generates enough income to keep up my truck and my lifestyle…Urs will have to bring you to our next gig….that is if you like that kind of music.”

“I love it…about the only music I don’t like is Rap or some country…Nightwish is one of my favorite groups along with some of the oldies like Deep Purple and ACDC.”

“And Opera…” Urs added with a smile. “What is your favorite Opera?”

“Tristan and Isolde,” she said without hesitation. “I like the storyline of course, so romantic and sad, but I think it appeals to me because it was the first of the atonal scores that are so prevalent now. I know it’s a challenging role for a tenor because the tendency is to want to harmonize rather than follow Wagner’s score, but that makes it all the more memorable to me when it’s done well.”

Both men were stunned by her critique of the opera and Mia laughed.

“I did tell you I like Opera…why are you surprised?”

‘Liking and understanding so well, are not the same thing…you are really a bundle of surprises, Little One,’ Urs thought but merely smiled and was saved from commenting by the arrival of the server with menus.

“You didn’t tell Mia about your other occupation…Mia, I don’t want you to think my baby brother is lazy….he’s studying hard to get his Chiropractic Degree…this is break time for the Academy which is why he’s free to help me out….we both learned some carpentry skills from summers with our Papi…he lives in Lucerne with his new wife and we worked with him.”

Mia looked at Paco who had bowed his head, intent on the menu, not accustomed to anyone talking about him.

“Well done…I had a feeling there was something you weren’t saying…so that means when I have a back ache I can count on you to help out?”

He looked up and grinned.

“Absolutely…now what’s your pleasure for dinner?” the deft change of subject made her smile and she co-operated, looking at the menu and shaking her head.

“My Schweizer is not good enough yet to decipher the menu… what do you guys suggest? I prefer to eat healthy but other than that anything goes.”

The challenge was almost too much for the brothers as they perused the menu, discussing the quality of the various dishes while the server waited with growing impatience. After a heated discussion about the merits of Alpermagrone Mia grabbed the opened list and stabbed her index finger at one of the meals.

“That…I’ll have that, whatever it is,” she growled with a glare at the surprised men. “I could starve to death waiting for you two to decide.”

Urs snickered and peeked at what she had ordered as the server scuttled away before another ‘discussion’ could ensue.

“Good choice…but you’ll never eat it all….Entelbruch Waldland Scheibe….a very hearty meal, designed for the men who work in the forest, felling trees, not for little pixies.”

Mia grinned at him.

“You just may be surprised, Herr Buhler…I’ve always had a good appetite and now of course…well, I am eating for two, you know.”

Paco laughed.

“Remember when Irma was expecting their first, Urs? Friedrich used to say if she didn’t stop eating so much he would have to take a second job just to buy groceries…and yet she stayed tiny… except for her tummy of course….Irma is our youngest sister, Mia, mother of three now and about your size…she always has big, healthy babies.”

The server came back with their drink orders, milk for Mia and beer for the men and she used the opportunity to change the subject.

“Is there an art supply store in town? I came away with a couple of sketch pads but no large sheets of drawing paper…. I promised the initial drawings for a book at the end of the month and all I have done now is the rough sketches…I do hate to miss a deadline, especially now when my work is just starting to be accepted….and I have enough money left to buy some to get going once we have the house better organized.”

Urs remembered now that she had spoken of starting a career as an artist or illustrator…he felt a surge of pride that she was ambitious enough to want to continue to pursue her talent in spite of everything else she was faced with.

“I know the owner… he’s an old friend from school…let me call him and make sure he’ll be open.”

He had just finished his call to his old friend when their meal came.

Both of the men had opted for Rosti, a dish of shredded potatoes and onion, skillet baked into a huge pancake and studded with bits of cooked sausage, Paco with a side of fat Bavarian sausages while Urs had asked for steamed carrots and cabbage.

Mia took a moment to visually deconstruct her meal…thick slices of dark homemade bread smothered with Parma Ham, Mushrooms, shallots and carrots in a sauce of thick cream and dry white wine, layered over the top with Emmental cheese and placed under a broiler to melt and slightly brown the cheese, on the side a serving of poached pears nestled against the bread.

She started on the meal, listening to the brothers chatting, Urs answering a question of Paco’s about the current track he was practicing and the intricate chording of the guitar solo.

“I’ll show you what I mean when we get back to the house…after the beds are put together…Mia, how is your dinner?…you’re very quiet.”

“Busy…it’s wonderful…I’m filing the recipe away mentally so I can make it another day…yours looks very much like the potato latkes I used to make on Mom’s good days….except for the sausage bits…she had a thing for brownies too, and butter tarts.”

Urs groaned.

“I had butter tarts once…in Canada…amazing!!!”

“Wait till you have mine!!” she smirked and he chuckled.

“That’s a challenge I will readily accept!”

**

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PostSubject: Chapter 5 Part 2   Wed May 13, 2009 5:25 pm

Though she made a valiant effort, Mia found that the generous portions served for her dinner were too much for her…skipping meals the past few days had reduced her capacity. She declined dessert and teased the men as they wolfed down slabs of Nusstorte with their coffee.

It was a short stroll to the Art Shoppe so they left the truck and walked over, the two men playing catch up with their old friend while Mia browsed through the store.

She knew to the last franc how much money she had left and chose supplies that were needed immediately but looked with longing on others, planning purchases in the future. The drafting table drew her back several times, a thing of beauty to someone who was as enthused with illustrating as she was…clips to hold the paper in place, adjustable angles to the drawing board, holders for paints or pencils, even an attached swing arm light for detailed work.

Mentally she made a promise to herself that if her efforts at the end of the month were accepted, she would treat herself to just such a piece of equipment…that and the tin of multicolored art pencils.

She quietly went to the checkout with her large pad of special paper and the Pink Pearl gum erasers that left no mark when corrections were made.

Urs appeared at her side as she was paying for her purchases, taking her hand to turn her around and meet his friend.

“Otto, this is Mia, my assistant…she’s the one with the talent…you know me…can’t even draw a straight line.”

Otto bent over her offered hand and kissed the back in a very continental way, smiling at her. He was a portly man, his age between that of the brothers but a definite contrast in build and demeanor. His hair was already thinning but no attempt had been made to disguise it with one of those ridiculous comb-overs. His eyes were friendly, not in the least judgmental as he assessed her condition, accepted it and moved on.

“I carry most of the usual supplies but if there is something special you need it would only take a couple of days to get it from Luzern or Geneva, you have but to ask. This is all you need today?”

“Yes, thank you…but I will definitely be back….you have some items that I haven’t seen in any of the large stores I’ve visited….I couldn’t find a manufacturers name on that drafting table….I love the features built into it.”

Otto grinned at her and flushed with pleasure.

“It’s my own design…I made it in the workshop out back…my wife is an artist and I made the original with her in mind…don’t wait, take it today …Urs has already arranged an account for you.”

Mia began to protest but found her hand squeezed almost painfully by Urs….she had been unaware that he still held it.

“Otto offered to open an account for you, Mia and I accepted …it will be more convenient and you can settle up at the end of every month when you do the rest of the bills. That tin of colored pencils as well, I think Otto… I believe Mia came away without hers.”

Otto left them to fetch the pencils and bring a boxed drafting table from the storage room.

Paco went for the truck rather than trying to carry the bulky drafting table and Urs braced himself for the censure he was sure was coming from Mia.

“It’s a welcome present…and you need it…I want you to be happy, Mia.”

He dared a quick look at her eyes and groaned when he saw the glisten of tears.

‘Scheiss…I’ve upset her…I didn’t mean to…I watched her almost drooling over that damned table and those pencils…I thought it would make her happy…’

Her voice was raspy as she smiled timidly at him, one tear escaping and trickling down her rosy cheek.

“I am happy, Urs…that was a very kind thing you did and I DO appreciate the gesture….I haven’t been given a present for years, not at Christmas, nor birthdays….why are you so kind to me?”

Now it was his turn to be embarrassed.

“It’s how friends treat friends…and I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends….”

He reached out to wipe the tear from her cheek and smiled.

“Paco is coming…don’t let him see your tears….he’ll think I’ve mis-treated you.”

She laughed and turned to see the truck coming to a stop behind her.

It took Paco all of 3 seconds to lose his smile and glare at Urs.

“She’s been crying…what did you do?”

Mia took his arm and smiled.

“Happy tears, my friend….just happy tears, nothing to worry about.”

Minutes later they were in the truck, Mia snuggled between the brothers on the wide front bench seat, clutching her bag with the tin of new pencils to her chest as they chatted about the work to be done and headed home.

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PostSubject: Chapter 6 * Opening Up....... A Bit * Part 1   Wed May 13, 2009 5:27 pm

CHAPTER SIX …..OPENING UP.. A BIT

Mia appeared in the doorway with a stack of linens which she placed on the bureau near the windows.

“Would you have a spare Phillips screwdriver I could use for a while?”

Urs motioned with his head to the tool box on the floor off to one side, his hands occupied at the moment holding the headboard of his bed in place while Paco set the sides into the slots.

“Did you happen to see the box with the pillows for this room? And my duvet…I really like that duvet…”

“Awww…that’s so cute, Ursy…you can’t sleep without your blankie,” Pasquale teased, looking up with a grin.

“Easy for you to say when my hands are too busy to swat you.”

Mia laughed at them as she poked through the toolbox, found the right screwdriver and straightened up.

“There’s a large box in the dormer room that just says ‘Duv/Pil’ and a question mark…that might be it…what color is the duvet?”

“Red….I’ll go look when we get this done. How is your room coming along?”

“All done…I’m just taking down those awful blinds…and fixing a couple of other things. I’ll put some coffee on when I get finished…or would you rather have beer? I can bring some up if you’re going to be a while yet.”

“Stay off the ladder for those blinds, Mia…We’ll come down…just a few minutes more and we should be finished.”

They had hustled back to the house to begin putting things together enough to have somewhere to sleep tonight. Once their purchases were in the house they split up, the men going up to put Urs’ bed together and one in a spare room for Paco, Mia going to her rooms to do the same.

When the brothers came down to the kitchen she was on the ladder in the center of the room, putting working bulbs in the overhead fixtures, the shades already down and drying on the drain board at the sink after a thorough scrubbing.

‘Should she be up on a ladder in her condition? If I yell at her she might lose her balance…just steady the ladder, fool…this is one independent lady….she won’t appreciate being pampered.’

Urs kept his mouth firmly closed and went to hold the ladder in place, earning himself a small smile as she looked down and handed him the old bulbs.

“Danke.”

She was wearing one of her new shirts, a beige cotton button front, the sleeves much too long and rolled up, the tail falling nearly to her knees. There was a smudge of dust across her brow but her eyes were sparkling, the shadows not as evident today, her cheeks rosy from the work and from being outside while in town.

‘She looks like a little girl playing dress up in her Papi’s shirt. How very practical she is…buying second hand since we’ll be doing a lot of work…I wonder what else she bought? Did I give her enough money? I have no idea how much a normal woman needs to buy clothes…jewelry, now that’s something else entirely and that’s all my friends ever seem to buy…when me and my credit cards are with them anyway…she should have bought new boots, though…no matter how we had to struggle when I was young, Mami always made sure we had decent, new boots.’

She came down the ladder smoothly and chuckled when he insisted on folding it and carrying it over to lean against the wall, out of the way.

“You did say no ladder for the blinds, not the light…I’m not sick, you know…just pregnant…you don’t have to baby me.”

He grinned at her, liking the blunt, sort of defiant way she had of speaking.

“Take advantage of it while you can…I’m only home for 5 weeks.”

“Then, if you can afford it, I think you should get a cleaning crew in from the village so it gets done quickly…this place has been neglected for so long it will take a good month for us to get it clean again without help, and I know you want to do some of the repairs and decorating…you need to schedule some relaxing time as well.”

She moved over to the cooker and took a tray of biscuits out of the oven, setting them on pads on the counter, then collected the coffee pot from the top and poured coffee for all three of them, smiling indulgently when they sampled the too hot biscuits and made little moans at the heat on their tender lips.

They chatted about the projects the two men planned to tackle before quitting for the day and Mia mentioned that she was going to start on the boxes in the Den.

“I peeked already so I know that several of them are CDs…is alphabetical, sorted into categories alright or do you have a different system?”

Urs smiled and nodded.

“Exactly the way I like them…makes it easy to find what you want…the same with the videos. Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the mess that is jokingly known as my office….if you can make sense out of that you are a master magician.”

“Still scared of your computer, big Brother?” Pasquale laughed and earned himself a scowl from Urs.

“I suppose it makes sense to some people but I’m not one of them….I can’t find anything that’s been saved and when I try to send a message I usually get it back.”

Mia smiled at the banter between the two.

“I’m sure you’re talented in other ways…I’ll sort it out and show you how to find things easily…it can be a really useful tool once you learn a few basics.”

Urs took another biscuit and complimented her on her efforts, smiling when she blushed a bit and ducked her head, clearly not used to praise…. ‘another thing to add to the list of abuse meted out by her relatives…I mean. what does it cost to give credit where it’s due….. her kin have a great deal to answer for..’

“Mia I don’t remember seeing any vent for heat in your rooms…are there any?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t think so…I can leave the door open and get some of the heat from the kitchen…or put on an extra quilt…don’t worry about me, Urs…I can manage.”

“It’s not necessary…when I have the crew in to fix the bathroom, I’ll have them look at adding a vent to the heating system…..I can see where you are going to be a very useful assistant and I don’t want you getting sick.”

He grinned at her for re-assurance and to keep his comment more casual than personal. Paco was looking at him with a quizzical expression when he turned his head to reach for the coffee pot and Urs raised an eyebrow but his brother just shook his head slightly and took another cookie.

They split up to finish their chores, the men upstairs to complete the work on the beds before starting Mia’s and Mia into the den to work on sorting the CD’s and videos.

“Why don’t you just move her upstairs? Those rooms don’t need a heat vent if she’s up in a proper bedroom.”

Urs shook his head, not really surprised that Paco took the first opportunity to voice his question.

“She chose the small rooms…I think, to keep some distance between us. There’s kind of this invisible line that she doesn’t like to cross…a barrier against being intimate with a man and I understand…whatever happened is still too fresh in her mind and she needs to keep her distance.”

Paco nodded then grinned.

“Too bad…I really like her Urs, more each day…and she’s more my type than yours…not in a romantic way, you know, just as another sister.”

“Paco, you don’t have a type…except for ‘breathing’.”

Mia could hear their laughter all the way down the stairs and smiled, wishing briefly that she could have had such a warm relationship with her brother.

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PostSubject: Chapter 6 * Opening Up....... A Bit * Part 2   Wed May 13, 2009 5:28 pm

**

The rest of that first week was a whirl of activity…unpacking, getting the house organized, trips into town to arrange for a cleaning crew, another to purchase or rent a vehicle since Paco couldn’t stay with his forever. By the end of the week everything that was immediately necessary was in it’s assigned place, the crew had come and gone and workmen appeared, as if by magic, doing the repairs that were just a bit beyond Urs’ expertise.

They had set up one end of the ‘office’ for Mia to use as a studio, changing her original plan of using the extra room off her bedroom. Urs argued that the light was better and there was plenty of room in the office area and since she had mentioned using her computer for some of the work it made sense.…the clincher was that he commented that the small room off her bedroom was ideal for a baby’s nursery and he described his vision of how it would look with a crib and toys…it worked and Mia looked at the room with different eyes, not arguing any more when he took her drafting table upstairs.

Mia now had her own Lav, complete with shower and huge tub, an oblong sink and large counter area that would be excellent for bathing or changing babies. It was a great improvement on having to climb the stairs with all her supplies in a handy carrier to use the bath in one of the spare rooms.

Starting early each day, they worked hard, setting everything up for comfort more than esthetics and in doing so achieved a look that was uniquely both cozy and pleasing to the eye. Mia had assumed control of the kitchen, organizing it for her use and soon proved that she was more than just a fair cook. Without the aid of a cookbook, from memory and intuition, she concocted meals that had both men eager to come to the table each day and even with the voracious appetites they had for sweets, never seemed to lack for just one more hidden tray of biscuits or a delicious torte or brownies that made Urs and Paco groan with pleasure.

By tacit agreement they spent the evenings in front of the fireplace in the Den, sometimes watching a movie from his extensive collection, sometimes listening to music and chatting, often giving Mia a lesson in Swiss German…she had a very quick ear and was catching on well. One night they even coerced Urs into taking lessons dancing to Paco’s accompaniment, though there was more laughing done than dancing and he firmly convinced them both that he had the proverbial two left feet.

It was early morning when Urs practiced his vocal exercises, religiously never missing a day, though several times his session was cut short by the arrival of work crews.

Mia loved those early sessions. It was a pleasant way to wake and start the day and set the tone for her as she washed and dressed, happily going to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

It was a relaxing, comfortable time of day, a time for them to chat as they went over the day’s plans and shared a meal that would fuel their activities until they met up again at noon.

After the first flurry of arranging the furnishings and unpacking, Urs introduced Mia to his ‘office’ and she soon had shooed him out, preferring to sort through his records and files herself since he was little help, knew little about the computer and had been using an old calendar and notebook for his appointments. How he ever managed to be successful and keep most of his commitments was beyond her comprehension….that would change now.

Each morning now he had a print out of the upcoming appointments and a gentle reminder of commitments he had made. Quietly Mia assumed more and more of the minutiae that was necessary for his business, the marketing of an upwardly rising opera star….Urs was able to concentrate on honing his instrument and merely make decisions which would have an effect on his career….Mia took care of the nuts and bolts of making his decisions work.

They had a rather lengthy breakfast the morning that Paco was to head back to his own home in Lucerne, chatting about what had been accomplished and what was upcoming in the next week.

“You two should try to catch our gig at Riggi next Friday…we might even let you sit in for a couple of tracks, Urs, especially if you bring your Malmsteen.”

“Nice idea but according to the schedule Mia gave me, I have to go to Geneva on Friday and might not get back in time. Actually I was going to ask if you would like to go too, Mia…we need to set up a general account for the housekeeping and bills, so they’ll need your signature. I have to see the lawyer and do an interview on that morning show…and you could do some shopping, get a few bigger and warmer things.”

“Are you saying I’m getting fat, Herr Buhler?”

She had made the accusation without a smile and he was flustered as he backed up, stammering a bit as he denied that was what he meant.

“No, no…I just meant that the shopping in town is limited and I know you don’t have many things, and….and you’re winding me up aren’t you?”

Both Paco and Mia broke into laughter.

“Oh, how priceless…if you could just see your face,” Mia said holding her bump as she rocked with laughter.

She reached over the table and patted his arm, an act that surprised him since she was not usually a touchy person, not like himself and Paco.

“Urs, I would love to go in to Geneva with you, and yes, I do need some clothes that actually fit….and some wool…I have an overwhelming urge to ‘nest’ and make some baby clothes so I need some supplies….”

‘She’s come such a long way in just 2 weeks…she smiles now and even laughs, doesn’t freeze up if Paco or I touch her…and no more arguing about money…actually I don’t know how I ever managed before she came into my life…everything is so much smoother now, calmer, better organized….and no more worrying about keeping my commitments straight….and I haven’t had so much fun with a woman since…since…I don’t remember when.’

He thought about the ‘dancing’ lessons, the impromptu picnic in one of the large guest rooms, the break they took from working on the house when the workmen were banging and sawing, working on the plumbing…they had donned cross country skis and went out for an hour, going as far as the rise in the land where the thick forest started, lugging a sleigh with feed for the forest grazers, hay and grain for the deer, suet balls for the birds which they hung in the trees, even some stewing bones that they left in another place for the predators.

They backed off a quarter mile and watched as the small, cheeky birds descended en masse, not in the least shy….even though the land was posted against hunting it would take a bit longer for the deer to come to the party.

Winter was really here now, no more teasing with light snow falls that melted by afternoon. One morning when they rose to start the day, the ground was covered with a thick, white blanket that had crept in, unannounced, during the night…and stayed.

The estate was a fairy land now, clean and sparkling, the crust unbroken except for a few tracks from rabbits or mice that had skittered along on their mysterious rounds and now the marks made by their skis. The sky was an incredible shade of blue, a few pouffy clouds scudding quickly along the distant slopes, all the trees crowned with meringue-like mounds that made the branches sag …it was invigorating merely to breathe in the pure air and relish the quiet, broken only by the muffled thuds as clumps of snow cascaded off the trees now and then.

Urs had opened the carry-sack that Mia had placed on the sled and poured hot chocolate for each of them into the tin mugs he found nestled among a container of sandwiches and cookies….Paco made seats for them on a fallen log and they sampled the warming drink, munching their lunch as they quietly communed with Nature.

“I never used to understand the attraction you had for being in the forest or at least away from the bustle of town,” he said quietly, glancing at Urs. “I guess I just hadn’t had my fill of it yet, the people, the hustle and noise…we really are very lucky to live here.”

Urs smiled at him, happy that at last it seemed he and his boisterous brother were on the same page.

“I need it….sometimes when I’m working, it feels like I don’t belong to me anymore, like there are so many demands on so many pieces of me that there’s nothing left just for me. Being here or anywhere that I can re-connect with the natural world allows me to find myself again….does that sound preachy or silly?”

Paco grinned at him and shook his head.

“It used to…before I grew up….now I understand.”

Urs turned his head to watch Mia. She had been silent while the brothers talked, sitting between them on the log, her breath misting in the chilly air. Now she smiled and nodded slightly in agreement with what the brothers were feeling.

“Towards the end, Mom insisted that I hire a nurse one afternoon a week and get out of the house. She knew how stressed I was and how much I yearned to be outside, somewhere that nothing was asked of me. I would go to High Park, a huge park in Toronto and wander through the areas that hadn’t been ‘manicured’ by the gardeners. There was a spot, sheltered from the paved pathways, natural, with downed branches and underbrush….I would sit there with my back against this big old moss covered boulder and release all my sorrow until I had no tears left to share with the trees. After, I would feel a peace come into my body, peace like some people only find in church…. and strength. If I sat very quietly the birds would come back to keep me company, often an adventurous squirrel, once even a rabbit. I feel the same here …perhaps that’s what drew me to your garage, more so than the cold and the need to find shelter.”

They shared a companionable silence as they finished their snack, rinsed the mugs out with scoops of snow, repacked and reluctantly went back to the house.

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PostSubject: Chapter 7 * A Cozy Home * Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:29 pm

CHAPTER SEVEN…A COZY HOME


A few days after their initial trip into town, Urs popped into the office and found Mia taking a break from his tangled files. She had wheeled the office chair over to the drafting table and was intently working on a sketch, something that made little sense to Urs.

“Uh…what is it?” he asked and she looked up with a grin.

“Looks like just a bunch of squiggly lines at the moment, doesn’t it? It’s the initial rendering of a scene from the story I’m working on….the main characters are shipwrecked, so I have to depict the storm, the galleon they were on going down and their struggle to get to land past what the author described as sharp, angry, up-thrusting boulders…..this just helps me to get perspective and find room for everything….by tomorrow it will be clearer, you’ll see.”

“If you say so,” he remarked, but the doubt was evident in his voice.

“Oh ye of little faith!! It’s like when you write a song…at first it’s a series of disconnected words and music rattling around in your head…then you might get a few bars of it that sound pretty good and you refine them, adding more but never losing the initial idea until you have something pleasing to the ear, harmonious. What I do is like that in a way, embellishing until I end up with a finished product that pleases me and, hopefully, the client.”

He watched, fascinated now as she drew a few more lines on the large sheet clipped to the table.

“That’s the ship…I can see it now, even though it’s just roughed in…it’s broken up, sinking…”

Mia smiled at him in appreciation.

“Right….this particular illustration has to be intriguing enough to make people want to read the story…it’s for the cover.”

She put her pencil down and pushed on the table to send the chair back to the desk where both computers waited silently.

“That’s enough of a break…. Now back to the jigsaw puzzle that you call your files…when I get this all sorted out we have to sit down and give you a tutorial on using the computer…. But you have to promise not to try to enter any data until after I show you how….no more muddles like what I’m trying to make sense of, PLEASE!!!!”

He laughed and escaped from the room before she could show him how to do anything useful on the dreaded computer.

**

Paco went back to his own place in Luzern, the workmen finished up, the cleaning crew had come and performed their magic and now Urs and Mia were alone, able to pursue interests that had been delayed.

She rationed her time between cooking for them, working on his files and finishing her projects to meet the end of the month deadline.

Urs tackled some of the many small jobs he wanted to finish before leaving for Los Angeles, refinishing a lovely old walnut cabinet that he had found in an antique shop, putting up more shelving in the master suite, building a bench seat in Mia’s room in the bowed window.

She found him working on the bench late one morning and watched quietly for a moment until he noticed her.

“You look serious…Problem?” he asked as he wiped off his dusty hands on the rag tucked into his back pocket.

“Maybe…I’ve been working on balancing your accounts….you really should have a hard copy to back up the computer files, Urs….and a folder for originals of your contracts, another for receipts for payments made to you and from your accounts… eventually I’ll set something up. Right now, they just don’t come close to balancing….I don’t want to put a dollar figure on it but lets just say that the discrepancy is substantial. Urs, I think you are being systematically ripped off…by who, I’m not sure, but it looks like either your agent or his staff.”

He was stunned, disbelieving at first but he could tell by her eyes that she was convinced and serious.

“It’s been such a whirlwind…after scrimping for so long, to suddenly have the respect of the opera community and the funds that go with increasing fame…I trusted him to take care of things…I should have been more on top of it but he kept everything routed through the computer and you know how hopeless I am with techno stuff….”

“My accounting skills are a bit lacking for something this complex…I think you should have an accounting firm check it out and then make decisions from there…they can give you suggestions of what course to take, how to protect yourself in the future…even if you have grounds for a suit to recover what’s missing. I checked online and there is a world renowned firm in Geneva who would handle it for you…it won’t be cheap but I really think you need to catch this before it gets any worse. You’ve worked too hard, getting where you are, to have someone else reap the benefits. I would suggest having your lawyer check it out for you and make arrangements with the accountants.”

He went with her to the office and watched while she contacted the lawyer’s office, agreed when she raised a brow in question when an appointment time was offered and at first struggled to follow her line of reasoning when she pointed out the discrepancies in the financial statements.

“It seems so clear now that you point it out…I told him that I was useless on the computer, so I guess he felt safe, thought I would never figure out how to wade through all this. Bas***d!! I wonder how many other performers he has in his stable that he does the same thing to?”

‘How typical of him…one of his first thoughts is of others, how this thief may be affecting the lives of some other struggling artist. You really are a lovely man, Urs Buhler…too trusting, by far, but lovely.’

**

Their daily routine varied little: early morning vocal practice followed by a leisurely breakfast while they talked about anything that came to mind…his early years and training, her life in Canada before her mother’s illness, places he had traveled, places she wanted to see, his family of Mami and 4 siblings, 5 including himself, how difficult it was growing up with an absent father. Then they would separate, each going to tackle the chores they had assigned themselves for the day, meeting again just before lunch- time to workout in his well equipped gym, Mia of necessity not as vigorous as Urs.

After lunch they would go for a walk, taking the long curving lane down to the highway, sometimes going further to the lookout into the valley, sometimes when the weather was not as pleasant just to the mailbox. Mia often took a small sketch pad and captured isolated scenes, an act that Urs was familiar with now, in fact had grown so accustomed to that he now pointed out things he thought might interest her. He would watch patiently, fascinated at the way she could make a few lines on the paper and depict perfectly what she had seen and felt.


One night he left her alone { only after she encouraged him to go} while he went in to town and met up with old friends, tossing back a few drinks in their favorite Local, arriving back at the house just as she was heading for bed.

She had spent the evening finishing some of her illustration concepts and missing his presence…something she chided herself for since she had always been comfortable being alone and had never been a touchy kind of person…now she missed watching him talk, accenting what he was saying with expressive hand movements, gently touching her when he passed behind her chair, like Paco, a very tactile person who likely wasn’t even aware that he did so, and often….She smiled as she realized that she liked it, hadn’t missed being touched before because except for Mom she never had been much…it was a welcome change.

Dinner time had become their time for discussing his work, the immediate plans, long range goals, his schedule for the next few months.

“We’re going to have company Thursday night for dinner…only Mami so we don’t need to fuss. She’s eager to see the house…and to meet you.”

As expected he saw her blanch when he dared a quick peek at her face.

“Mia, she’s really a very nice person….you don’t have to be nervous….you’re an excellent cook and anyway she wouldn’t embarrass you by complaining. If anything, she’ll probably chew me out for working you too hard.”

“You don’t…. Urs, I’ve never been healthier…or happier…my gawd, Urs you don’t even let me do housework… I never meant for you to hire that cleaning crew on a weekly basis…I thought about it just for the initial cleaning, so you would have some time to enjoy your new home.”

“You’re much too valuable to me to waste your energy on washing floors and dusting. And I enjoy your company…. It’s nice to have someone intelligent to talk to or just hang out with when I don’t feel like being chatty….it’s like having a sister that doesn’t nag.”

She laughed.

“Why do I get the feeling that growing up with three sisters was not something you remember fondly?”

He grimaced then grinned.

“Don’t get me wrong…I love all three of them but when they were young…Scheisse…one of them was always involved in a crisis of some kind….” His thoughts wandered to memories that had annoyed at the time but seemed funny now.

‘Urs I have nothing to wear for the party….Urs, Irma stole my new nail polish…. Urs, Hans asked Inge to the dance, I don’t have a date…..Urs, Mami won’t let me color my hair….Urs, I’m going to fail Algebra, will you help me?.....ah the trials of being the elder brother in a single parent family…but I wouldn’t have it any other way now…..it made us close, deepened the bond our family has.’

“Just wait until Christmas when the whole family gets together…..there’s usually about 30 adults or more that get together at Mami’s to celebrate, plus their families of course…..the decibel level is incredible, especially when all the children are awake. We take up three pews at the church for the evening services.”

Mia had a pensive look in her eyes as she listened to him.

“Mom and I used to go to midnight mass…before she got too sick to go out….the last couple of years of her illness, she would insist that I go but it just isn’t the same if you don’t have anyone to share it with.”

He reached across the table and took her hand briefly.

“This year, you can share it with me.”

‘Is he real? Why is he so kind to me? Does he have a hidden motive? Could I be so terribly wrong about him? He seems so kind, so giving and caring…. And what about all this touching…and the good night kiss on the cheek that’s become a nightly ritual? Should I be reading something into that?... or is he just a very tactile person? …that must be it…he even talks with his hands… what in Hell am I doing? …Trying to convince myself that everything is alright?...of course it is…’

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PostSubject: Chapter 7 * A Cozy Home * Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:30 pm

She rose from the table abruptly, taking the dishes to the sink to be washed, returning to put away the condiments and leftovers.

‘I’ve done it again….crossed some invisible boundary that made her tense up…..trust me, Mia….I won’t hurt you or let anyone else…let me be your friend, Little One…’

He rose from the table and took the drying towel as she began to wash up the few dishes, ready to share the chore.

“Do you think we should get a dishwasher? I could fit one in at the end of the sink area without much problem.”

Mia looked up at him in surprise, her hands immersed in the soapy water as she washed the few plates, single bowl and two mugs.

“It hardly seems worth it, don’t you think? Really, we could do dishes once a day, let them pile up…except it would drive us both crazy….there are so few since there’s only the two of us…and I tend to do up anything I use as I’m cooking…a dishwasher would only get used if we have a lot of company. You don’t have to help me you know…although I do appreciate it.”

He laughed and flipped the towel at her, making her jump…she retaliated with a blob of suds on his chin that she said made him look like a naughty little boy stealing whipping cream.

“I don’t mind drying, you know…it was always my job for some reason…the girls always managed to get out of it with some lame excuse or the other…and of course Pasquale seemed to break as many things as possible so he was banned from kitchen chores…I always wondered if he actually did it on purpose.”

Mia smiled as she thought of it.

“Likely…he seems the sort to spend an enormous amount of thought on how to get out of things. So that left you to be the conscientious brother, the one to assume the responsibility for helping your Mami make everything run smoothly. It may have seemed tough at the time but it made you into the generous, caring man that you’ve become. Your Mami must be very proud of you.”

Urs smiled at the thought.

“She always has been…of all of us….she encouraged, loved, ruled with a velvet glove, as the saying goes, was always there for us no matter which direction we chose to take our lives. The only thing we ever really disagreed on was my motorcycles…it took her a while but she finally gave in…I never told her that I used to ride my first old bike nearly a year before I was legal, taking it out at night, on the side roads so I wouldn’t get caught…I’ve a feeling I might even have got my butt warmed over that.”

He put the last of the dried dishes away and watched as Mia wiped down the counters, checked the table and replaced the small crystal tray with the often used condiments, {salt, pepper, paper napkins, an oblong crystal bowl full of coffee spoons, a matching one with sugar for his coffee}. She straightened the chairs around the refinished heavy oak table that had been assembled to replace the rickety one here on arrival….that one was in the workshop, awaiting Urs’ tender ministrations since he planned to sand it, cut the legs down and turn it into a coffee table.

“You really are very neat, logical…there must be some Swiss blood in your family tree.”

Mia laughed and took the towel from him, hanging it on a hook to the side of the cooker where it would dry.

“I don’t think so….we never did trace the family back but I think Mom’s folks came from Ireland, way back…even before the Potato Famine…. I just found over the last years that being neat meant less work in the long run…and with Mom so ill so much of the time and Dad and Bryan no help at all I learned to be as efficient as possible. Before that I was like any other teen…messy, sometimes loud, often thoughtless…you know that old saying: ‘what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’…in my case it was true.”

They wandered into the lounge to settle in for some quiet time. Mia took up her crocheting, working on one of a pair of bootees to match the tiny sweater and cap she had already finished. Urs sorted through some CD’s until he had a stack that appealed to his mood and started the player. He tinkered with the fireplace for a few minutes before heading for his favorite chair.

‘We’ve become like a long acquainted couple of friends…no need for idle conversation, comfortable with the quiet moments, content to just be together peacefully. I didn’t know how much I craved this…. Not until now.’

He stood and looked at Mia as she worked, the light from the fireplace glinting off her hair, her cheeks rosy from all the fresh air she got on their walks, the bruising gone and too, the sadness that had been so evident when she first arrived.

The girl next door look had softened, replaced with a sensuality that could only have come from better health and her pregnancy. Her eyes sparkled, green now most of the time and her naturally bright lips seemed always about to smile.

They had shopped again, stocking the kitchen with often used supplies, some wool and crochet hooks from the limited selection in the chain store and picking up some proper maternity clothes for her, stylish tops and jeans with inserts, fuzzy slippers to wear around the house. She was wearing one of her new tops now, a teal color that enhanced the glow of her eyes, unbuttoned far enough for a peek at the soft green lace trim of her bra when she leaned over to untangle some wool in the basket at her side.

She looked up and caught him staring, smiled and raised her brows in question.

Urs laughed nervously, embarrassed at being caught staring.

“I was just thinking how much you’ve changed over the past 3 weeks….and how settled we’ve become,” he answered honestly as he moved over to plop down in his chair sideways, throwing his long legs over the arm and leaning back in the soft leather.

“You’ve made a wonderful home here, Urs…it would be hard not to relax in this atmosphere….and I find you a comfortable person to be around.” She stopped the incessant motion of her hands working the hook and wool and smiled timidly, a little hesitant to go on. “I’m happier than I’ve been for a long, long time….Thank you for taking a chance on me.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back in the chair, unwilling to analyze the emotion he could see in her eyes, only able to escape her scrutiny by denying her access to the emotions he knew would be evident in his.

“We took a chance on each other, Little One,” he murmured. “And it turns out our instincts were right on.”


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PostSubject: Chapter 8 Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:32 pm

CHAPTER EIGHT

It had snowed again, several times actually, this time accumulating on the ground and lending a clean, pristine look to the fields and slopes. Urs had arranged for a service to keep the lane clear though it was obvious at first that the driver wasn’t eager to come this far out. Mia suggested that if he used their parking area to turn the plow around he could also use the small shed for a break, warming himself and maybe enjoying a hot drink, possibly some of her home baking…they would see to it that the little building, attached to the workshop, was kept warm and supplied with the necessities…and there was a fully equipped loo, even a bunk if the weather turned and he needed to stay over.

Urs teased her on their return trip from the office, saying she used her condition, as well as her irresistible smile, to coerce the poor man…he hadn’t stood a chance.

Mia just smirked and patted her tummy, mouthing “Danke” to the baby.

That settled, Urs got serious about shopping for a car. The rental he had been using was fine for now, but he hated to shell out so much every week on something he didn’t own. The choices were limited in town and he resigned himself to waiting until they went to Luzern or even Geneva. While he had the rental he let Mia drive and was pleasantly surprised to find that she did that well also…confident, careful, aware of the road and any hazards that cropped up…within a few K he relaxed and settled back in the passenger seat to enjoy the ride.

“You ever ridden on a bike?”

“Of course…I had a ten speed when I was around 12…you never forget how to ride, they tell me.”

He chortled with laughter.

“No, I mean a motor bike…motorcycle, like a Harley or Triumph … like mine that’s in the garage.”

Mia laughed at the misunderstanding.

“No…I’m not sure I would be brave enough…it does look…liberating though….you don’t ride in the winter do you?”

“Not here…road conditions are just not good enough and anyway with the wind chill I’d be frozen solid in no time…in the spring I’ll take you out on the bike and see what you think.”

‘Was that too obvious? Will she answer so I know if she plans on still being here in the spring? Mein Gott, what’s the matter with me…only a couple of weeks and already I’ll miss her like one of my hands if she leaves.’

He glanced at her profile and saw a little smile creep across her face.

‘Does he want me to stay? Is that what this is about? Look at him…those expressive eyes give away how eager he is for my answer…. Be careful, girl…he’s such a special person…don’t promise more than you have to give.’

“We’ll have to see if we can squeeze a ride in on a day when we aren’t busy with the gardens….I’m so looking forward to Spring…I think it’s my favorite season…renewal of the land, the promise of wonderful months to come…I do hope that you know something about fruit trees and plants though…I’m willing but rather uneducated about growing things.”

She heard his sigh of relief and peeked to see the grin that crinkled his eyes and made his dimples appear.

“I almost became a botanist……then music got into my soul and that was the end of those dreams, the lure of music was so much stronger..…there should still be some books in the library on gardening…and we can get some more.”

The rental purred along the twisting roads towards home while the occupants made plans for the Spring, speaking of tilling the land, pruning trees, long neglected, even going so far as to decide on plantings to enhance the beauty of the buildings, each making a private mental note that with all this planned they would need to still be together, at least until Summer.

**

That evening they opted for a late dinner since both had become involved in projects and lost track of time until well after their usual dinner time was long gone. Only her grumbling tummy drew Mia out of the office where she had been alternately working on Urs’ files and her art work…Urs had gone to the workshop and was nearing completion on his coffee table and for once, time had slipped away from the always punctual Swiss.

He found Mia in the kitchen when he came in, feigning starvation and collapsing at her feet, weakly whispering ‘Food, I need food!’ as he clutched at her ankles.

“Get up you silly man…I’m making something so just hang on a few minutes….how about Movie night, chili and toast? It’s quick and filling, even with your appetite…and you get to pick the movie.”

“Sounds like a good deal,” he said with a grin as he scrambled to his feet, grabbed a beer out of the frig and headed for the den.

“You need any help?” he remembered to ask when he reached the doorway but she shooed him out, saying that she would use the trolley and he had 5 minutes to pick the movie.

Five minutes later he had the fire going, the movie chosen from his DVD library and heard the trolley being wheeled down the hall.

The trolley was loaded: another beer for him and a juice for Mia, a casserole of homemade chili, a tea towel wrapped basket of toast and a mixed salad, along with all the necessary condiments and serving pieces.

“It isn’t ‘rip your face off hot’ but you can add some zip to yours if you like…that tall thin bottle…Baby doesn’t like spicy stuff… neither does Mama.”

She settled on the leather sofa after they transferred dinner to the low table he had pulled up. Urs popped open his beer and took a deep scent of the chili.

“Smells great…I completely forgot to watch the time…but the table is finished…I put the last coat of stain on…it should be dry tomorrow.”

“Me too…I have your calendar up to date now, including the time you’ll be in L.A….you just have to let me know by e.mail if anything unexpected comes up.”

Urs rose to grab the remote that he had forgotten and clicked ‘Play’ on the video he had already set up.

“I must have watched this vid about 20 times, but I never get tired of it…Mario Lanza in the Student Prince…it’s kind of corny but the music is great…the man had an amazing voice.”

“Corny is nice…I like corny sometimes…” she said as she helped herself to some toast and offered it to him.

They ate their meal, enjoying the movie, pausing it long enough for Urs to take the few leftovers to the Kitchen { he insisted that it was his turn}, then settled down to watch the rest with Aramia stretched out, half reclining, on the sofa and Urs in his favorite movie watching position, sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa. She smiled as he quietly sang along with the voices coming from the speakers.

‘I wonder if he’s even aware he’s doing that? I don’t think he can help himself…it must be interesting being with him when he goes to watch someone else perform in an Opera.’

She had to bite her lip to avoid laughing at the image that came to mind…. A Tenor on the stage glaring up at the box seat where Urs was accompanying him in his role…perhaps even doing a better job.

He leaned his head back against her hip and glanced at her upside down.

“What are you laughing at? I can feel you shaking….that scene wasn’t funny….unless I missed something.”

“Sorry…just a random thought and I guess I got the giggles. I’ll behave.”

When it was over he reluctantly clicked off the machine, returning the video to it’s proper case and slot on the shelf.

“It’s early yet…we could watch one more if you aren’t too tired.”

“I’d like that…Urs, I don’t remember…do you have CATS? I saw it when it played at the Royal Alex in Toronto, twice in fact…it’s probably my favorite Andrew Lloyd Weber production….but I want to clean up the kitchen and dishes…and Baby thinks its time for a Pit Stop. Why does he think that night time is the right time to kick me in the bladder, again and again and again?”

He did indeed have CATS and they shared the kitchen duties then returned to the den to watch it. As she always did, Mia cried when Grizelda sang Memories and Urs teased her, asking how many boxes of tissues she would need for something really sad, like Tristan and Isolde.

“I’ll tell you what, Sport…you sing it and I promise to weep buckets before, during and after….it’s the adult version of Romeo and Juliet as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he helped her up off the sofa.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you…I talked to Mami on Instant Messenger…she says Irma and Magda are planning to come by tomorrow to see the house and ‘the brother we never get to see except on the Television’,” she said with a small frown at her faulty memory.

‘Gott bless Mami for easing the introduction by talking to Mia online…’

“Hmmmm…if we leave right now we can be in Geneva when they get here.”

Mia laughed and gave him a little shove.

“You know you love your sisters…why do you pretend you don’t want to see them?”

“They’ll want to change everything…they always said I have no taste…and yet whenever they needed a fancy dress or a new hairstyle, guess who has to help them decide?”

“I have trouble believing that…you have a great sense of style…has it just developed in middle age?”

“Middle age? What do you mean middle age?”

As she had hoped, that wound him up and it was a few minutes before he stopped and started to laugh.

“You’re getting good at pushing my buttons…and I’m keeping score, so be warned.”

He leaned down and kissed her brow, then left her to bound up the stairs to his suite, grinning and looking forward to another good day tomorrow.

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PostSubject: Chapter 8 Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:33 pm

**
Urs stood on the deck watching the car pulling down the driveway as his sisters left. He grinned, thinking how quiet the house would seem now that they were gone.

‘Mia was right…I do love them…but they’re so…so noisy…well not really noisy in a bad way, just so full of life and laughing all the time…that should make me feel good…they’re happy with their lives….but they sure do talk a lot…that hasn’t changed…when they were younger they used to fight so much of the time, over boys, over who a certain outfit belonged to…what to wear to parties….and now they seem to finally be the best of friends….and they really took to Mia…I’m glad of that…. Girls day off!!... It is nice for them to have some time away from cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids…they’ve been really lucky, picking good men to marry, even Ilsa though it took her twice to get it right….and they’ve invited Mia to their homes while I’m away…that’s good…she needs some friends.’

He shivered and headed back inside. The night air was much too cold to be out without a jacket…but it was beautiful, the sky clear and vast, sprinkled with millions of stars, the moon hanging over the mountain peaks and bathing the snow with silver light. A soft wind had come up and stirred the trees…he could hear the thump as clumps of snow fell off the branches and far off, the call of a night predator, sharp and clear, a victory call of another meal caught and consumed. Way out near the tree line he caught movement and when he focused near it he could see the outline of a slowly moving deer, warily making it’s way to the food he put out. Foraging here in the foothills was difficult once the snow began to accumulate…he felt a proprietary fondness for the animals on his land, as if they were HIS animals, as if he had a responsibility to see they were cared for.

He smiled at the foolish thought. Of course he didn’t own them…but they were on his land so by default they were his to provide for and protect. The land was posted…he hoped that would be enough.

Mia had finished tidying up in the Kitchen, though there hadn’t been much to do since the girls had insisted on helping after dinner, even washed up the few items they had used during and after the chatting that they had done for a couple of hours after dinner…mugs and plates for just one more dessert and hot drink. She came out of her room, dressed for bed and with a fluffy white flannel robe on that made her look like a short, tubby elf.

“I thought maybe you had gone somewhere with the girls… weren’t you freezing out there?”

He put his hands on her cheeks and she yelped as his icy fingers touched her.

“I was looking at the sky…and I think the grain we put out had a visitor. You heading to bed?”

“Good guess, Sherlock… I like your sisters, Urs.”

“Me too…but if you tell them I said that you’ll be in big trouble!!”

Mia laughed and turned to go back to her rooms.

“Good night, Urs…sweet dreams.”

“Guten Nacht, Klein Eine…Danke.”


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PostSubject: Chapter 9 Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:34 pm

CHAPTER NINE


He finished his coffee and nudged the mug away from him, leaning back in the chair and grinning at Mia.

“It’s a good thing I work out…I could get fat off your cooking… everything tastes so good I likely eat more than I should.”

Mia rose, taking his wiped clean plate that hadn’t even a hint of the cheese and mushroom omelet left on it and motioning with the mug to ask if he wanted another coffee. He nodded and she set it beside the pot while she placed the plate and utensils in the sink of hot soapy water.

“I could always put you on a diet, I suppose,” she teased as she poured another coffee and returned it to him.

“I don’t think so…I’ll just work harder.” He took a sip of his coffee and changed the subject, rubbing his hand over the straggly growth of beard on his handsome face.

“According to your ever-so-efficient calendar tomorrow I’m sure you remember that we have to go to Geneva…some papers to take care of at the lawyers and a TV interview…guess I should shave and look presentable… it’s such a nuisance…my beard grows so fast I have to do it twice a day.”

Mia gave his face an intense scrutiny for a moment, sipping her own coffee, the one cup a day she now allowed herself….her baby book claimed that more was not a good idea.

“Too bad….I quite like it…if it was neater you might get away with it…it makes you look just a bit dangerous. Maybe you could just trim it so it looks tidy.”

Urs looked at her with such a sparkle in his eyes that she knew instantly she was not going to like what came next.

‘What has he cornered me into volunteering for now? Damn, he’s so good at leading me exactly where he wants me to go…..but he does it so gently I can’t even get angry at him.’

“Alright, Machiavelli, what have I got myself into this time?” she said with a wary smile.

He laughed and reached to a bundle that he had placed on the next chair when he came in the Kitchen.

“I’ve tried before and never get it even…would you give it a shot?…if it turns out awful I can always shave it all off…Please?”

In spite of her misgivings, minutes later Mia stood looking at her victim, swathed in an old sheet remnant from his elegant neck down, sitting on one of the kitchen chairs with newspaper underneath to catch any errant trimmings.

He smiled, waiting patiently, seeming at ease, willing to let her experiment.

‘First things first,’ she thought and took up the hairbrush, moving behind him to stroke the brush through his wildly curling hair, gently collecting it at the nape of his neck and securing it with a wide elastic band.

‘Mein gott, his hair is so silky…ohhhh…what an improvement… I’m actually thinking now and then in Swiss German… how often over the past weeks have I yearned to touch his hair, to lose my fingers in those curls…. Calm down, girl…it doesn’t mean anything…’

She moved around to his front, placing the brush on the towel on the table and taking up the thin barber scissors.

‘His legs are so long…. I can’t reach his face easily unless he spreads his knees apart….. I can’t ask him to do that…why not? …well I have to or it will kill my back…’

“Urs,” she began, her voice not much more than a squeak that embarrassed her. She began again.

“Urs, you need to spread your knees apart… so I can reach your face without killing my back.”

She hadn’t been able to meet his eyes or would have seen the twinkle and grin as he moved his knees to allow her access.

“Better?” he asked and she nodded, stepping forward just enough that her legs didn’t touch his thighs and carefully studying his beard, deciding where to start. Of course the tease made matters worse for her by relaxing his legs just enough that they touched hers…..she chose to ignore it…or at least appear to.

The artist in her came to her rescue, an outline clear in her mind and of their own volition her hands began trimming, tidying up the edges, noting where it would be necessary to use the razor to achieve a clean edge, following the natural contours of his chiseled facial structure, extending his sideburns so that there was a smooth flow of beard that arced along his jawline, swirling up into a modified point under his full lower lip, connecting to a curve of moustache that rimmed his bowed upper.

Unlike some men who grew beards, Urs had no need to hide facial flaws…no, this was more an embellishment of his strong jaw, his well defined chin, even accentuating the dimples that appeared in his cheeks when he smiled.

Mia wielded the edging razor with precision, giving the area under his lower lip prominence by clearing a small area on each side of the point and tidying the growth on his neck so that his beard seemed to end just below the sharp bones of his jaw.

She stood back slightly, resting her hands on his cheeks gently, enjoying the softness of his beard, the warmth of his skin….her eyes slid up his face to meet his, the first time since she had started and she felt a surge of heat rush through her at the intensity of his gaze.

‘Danger!!! Make a joke…do something….this is far too intimate…Oh gawd…he is sure to get the wrong idea….Oh, I’m such a damned fool at times…’

Urs saw the fear infuse her eyes and reacted instantly to calm her.
His hands came up to grasp hers and he grinned.

“Do I get to view the handiwork now? …or do you want a head start running for safety?”

She smiled a bit and took a step back, picking up the hand mirror on the table and passing it to him.

“You can always shave if you don’t like it….but I personally think it suits you.”

Urs looked at his refurbished face for several minutes then put the mirror down and grinned.

“Perfect…. I’m afraid you’ll have to add ‘Barber’ to your list of duties…. Danke, Mia….how are you at cutting hair?”

She burst out laughing as she began to clean up the little mess they had made.

“Like that’s going to happen…. From what I’ve read on your website, anyone who cuts your hair short would be strung up.”

**

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PostSubject: Chapter 9 Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:36 pm

By Thursday morning, the day of the ‘Trim’, Mia had changed her mind about the menu for Mami’s visit, four times. Her nervousness had a nearly physical presence, not made any less by the fact that Urs was completely calm and collected, going about his usual routine, humming, laughing at her when she checked the furniture for dust for the umpteenth time.

“Come here, Little One…do you need to do any prep in the Kitchen? No?…then get your vertically challenged body into the office and work on your illustrations for an hour…that always calms you and I’m anxious to see the finished ‘Princess and Eagle’ pic you were working on….then I’ll help in the Kitchen…I need to work on that Aria from Daughter of the Regiment for a bit, keep my range fluid.”

“The one with the nine high ‘C’s’? Would you leave the door open so I can listen?”

He smiled and nodded, once again surprised at her knowledge.

“You can give me a critique later…Scoot!!”

‘He’s right…as usual…I’m stressing too much about this whole dinner with Mami thing…she can’t possibly be a nasty witch, not if she can raise sons like Paco and Urs….I’ll make something comfortable, homey, just like Urs suggested…and just be myself…she likely wants to see the house more than to meet me anyway…..’

She paused at the office door as she heard him warming up his vocal chords with a series of scales, accompanying himself on the piano.

‘I love to hear him sing…even scales…it’s no wonder he’s become so popular…he has an exquisite voice…it reaches right inside, warms the soul…I could listen to him all day…..I wonder what he would sound like doing some of the ALW Broadway show tunes?....’

She had several paintings finished and drying on the walls of the office…the shipwreck cover and a scene of the galleons as the storm approached, the landscape she had finished the night before and the half done scene of the “Princess and the Eagle” from another book…. that was still on her drawing board, waiting the final glazes.

It could go out just as it was, she knew this, knew that the glazing she would do today would be lost in the final transferring of the painting onto the glossy paper of the finished book…the perfectionist in her makeup meant that she would finish it ‘properly’, adding the glimmer of reflected sunlight to the gown on the Princess, to the underside of the eagle’s wings, hazing the mountains in the back ground a bit more to make the figure in the foreground ‘pop’.

She mixed the glaze she would use first, listening as Urs began the Aria, holding her breath in anticipation as he approached the difficult high C’s, a challenge for any tenor since there was little bridging and the notes were just out of the range of most Tenors…especially so many of them in succession.

His first attempt was not something that would please him, the notes just a bit shaky, strained, lacking the purity that was so inherent in his usual performances.

She waited, mixing the glaze again as he paused and started over, this time reaching his goals beautifully, the glissando at the end of the Aria, one of triumph.

A smile lit her face as she went on with her work, enjoying the repetition of the Aria, each one more perfect than the last as he honed his instrument, proving the old adage that Practice does indeed make Perfect.

**

Urs was still working when Mia came down to the kitchen to begin preparations for dinner and a quick lunch for both of them.

She quickly put together the ingredients for a flaky crust to go on the pot pies, wrapped it in plastic when it was at the perfect stage, smooth, firm, molded into a soft mound…she placed it in the frig to settle and cool, turning back to the counter to use some of the same ingredients to make a vanilla sponge cake for the base of her dessert…Pernod Poached Peaches atop a small square of cake and drizzled with a Raspberry Coulis and a blob of Crème Fraiche.

Urs came in as she was cleaning up and parked at the table, as always sitting backwards on the chair.

“Well, what did you think? Or were you too busy to listen?”

She looked at him and grinned, wiping down the counter with the lovely marble top that was so perfect for rolling pastry…another of her suggestions that he had taken and that pleased her greatly.

“Of course I listened…I’m never too busy to enjoy your music….the first time was a bit rough but you improved each time…I really didn’t want you to stop….When do you get to perform Daughter of the Regiment? I’d love to see a real Operatic performance. By the time I discovered how much I like it there was just no time, so I had to be content with CD’s or videos.”

He smiled, pleased that she didn’t gush and was willing to be honest.

‘How long can she travel? Can she go to the U.S. with me in the early spring? Or would it be better for her to go to a performance sooner, in Geneva?’

“The company is doing a brief appearance in Los Angeles in late January…only a week…would you be able to travel then?”

She looked crestfallen as she put some leftovers in the nuke and keyed in the time.

“I don’t think so…I read somewhere that air travel after the 7th month is not advisable.”

“Then you have to come to the performance in Geneva this summer….Geneva is beautiful in the summer time. We’re doing two Donizetti Operas, Daughter of the Regiment and L’Elisir D’Amore, a week on and a week off.”

Mia brought plates and cutlery to the table and shook her head sadly.

“The baby will be a couple of months old in the summer, Urs…I’ll likely still be nursing and won’t be able to leave him.”

He rose and poured himself a coffee from the ever ready pot, put it on the table and went to the frig for the jug of milk, pouring her a glassful before sitting again.

“We’ll get a nice, reliable nanny for times like that and they can both come with us….you’re entitled to a life too, Aramia. With the work you do for me and your own career, you have a full plate already. We need someone trustworthy to be there for the baby so you can enjoy him AND have a full, enriched life as well. If there’s one thing I learned from seeing Mami cope with being a single parent it’s that a woman is a better, more rounded person if she sometimes has a life that does not totally revolve around her children…..I can see the argument you’re just itching to voice…just think about it, Little One…Wait until you meet my cousin Ciara before you decide…”

He grinned, that adorable little boy look that made her laugh.

She brought their lunch to the table, added a basket of sliced fresh bread and joined him at the table.

“Do you always get your own way? And do you have a handy relative for every occasion? Don’t blink your eyes at me like that, Urs Buhler…most women will just want to hug you like their favorite old Teddy Bear when you do that.”

He laughed and did it again, blinking both eyes at once and grinning, his dimples deep in his cheeks and what could be seen of his crinkled eyes, sparkling.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean…and ‘Most women’? Not you?”

She favored him with a scowl that turned into a laugh.

“I’m immune…never had a Teddy Bear…Dad was disappointed that I wasn’t a boy and then when I turned out to be short and small boned he sort of forgot I existed except when there was work to be done. I think that’s why I rebelled a bit when I was a teen…”

She got that sad look in her eyes again and Urs quickly changed the subject.

“So what can I do to help with dinner?”

“Keep out of the way…I’m not going to fuss…Pot Pie with a flaky, butter crust, baby spinach and leek salad with a lemon/honey vinaigrette and toasted pecans, fresh black bread and dessert…no, you can’t have dessert first…you get to pick the wine…red, I think, since the Pot Pie is Beef…and decide where we’re eating, here or in the dining room.”

“Here I think…it’s more like family and Mami would think we’re treating her like company if we use the dining room. If you don’t need my very willing assistance I’m going to work out for a while. I’ll shower after and come back to give you a hand so you can go shower….and yes, I’ll pick the wine.”

He gave her a gentle hug and dropped a kiss on her brow as he went past, humming as he lengthened his stride and headed for the gym.

Mia immersed herself in the preparation of their meal, trying not to think about the imminent arrival of his mother and the evening ahead.

‘What kind of reaction will she have to the baby? Does she know already…did Urs tell her during one of their phone calls…or did Paco…will she be disgusted, appalled, think poorly of me? And why am I so nervous about meeting her? Oh, My god…will she think, like I believe Paco did at first, that it’s Urs’ baby? He doesn’t seem to be upset so likely not…he must have already told her…..please God…I don’t want to do anything to hurt him and if his mother thinks badly of him…Stop It!!! Just be yourself and make dinner, see what happens….she’s probably a lovely lady, just like her sons….’

She finished the batter for the simple sponge cake and poured it in the greased pan, tapping it firmly on the counter to release air bubbles before inserting it in the preheated oven.

That checked off of her mental list she cleaned up the bowls and utensils, wiped the counter and checked the time…

‘No sweat…..lots of time….I can make the vinaigrette now so it will have time to mellow…and toast the pecans so they have time to cool…the filling for the pot pies will take the longest…I should have the beef on about 15:00H, two hours to make sure it’s tender, then in the oven in the ramekins at 17:45….’

While the cake baked she puttered, chopping green onions, rolling lemons to release the juice before slicing and squeezing them, adding them to the blender with sugar, salt, pepper and EVOO, tasting the result and adding a double handful of lightly chopped Italian Parsley and some crushed Basil leaves, then pouring the mixture in a jar when the taste pleased her.

Again she cleaned up, not even thinking about it….a habit from years of being the only person available to keep things tidy.

She set the bag of frozen raspberries in a bowl on the counter to defrost, took the finished cake out of the oven to go on a rack to cool and, with a glance around to see if she had missed anything, left the kitchen and returned to the office.

It was early yet, another hour and a half before she had to put the beef on to sear…time to browse the Internet.

She settled in comfortably in the office chair and booted up her computer, keying in ‘Opera Donizetti’ in the search engine.

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PostSubject: Chapter 10 Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:37 pm

CHAPTER TEN

Gradually she made her way through the listings until she found the one she wanted…Set Design and Costumes.

The story of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ was vaguely familiar to her from the days when she had enjoyed listening to the recordings with her mother. The 1974 rendition from Wolf Trap, starring Beverley Sills as Marie and William Macdonald as Tonio was a classic. The story line was the usual maundering of Operas of that era, an improbable comedy about a young girl who is orphaned and raised by an entire regiment of soldiers…..she falls in love with a young man who saves her from falling over a cliff but their love is doomed as he is captured, found to be an enemy and her guardians have decided that Marie must only marry a member of the regiment.

She was still thinking about the story as she pushed her chair over to the drawing board, soon became immersed in transferring the visions in her mind to paper…lush settings of Alpine regions, men in military outfits, a castle perched on a rocky ledge, ladies in ball gowns…everything sketched roughly but recognizable.

“Did you ever consider set design as a career? Even your rough sketches are better than what we work with now.”

Urs voice brought her back out of her musing and she laughed as she turned to face him.

“I’m just doodling…I refreshed my memory on line and Donizetti inspired me…the easiest way to get him out of my mind was to put something on paper. Did you know he wrote 65 Operas in 30 years? What an incredible body of work.”

He was leaning on the doorjamb, his hair still wet, relaxed and with a fresh scrubbed look from his shower, in jeans and a tee shirt that was a bit faded from years of use….more biker than famous singer at the moment.

‘No man has the right to look like he does…is he aware of how gorgeous he is? And why am I even thinking this way…back off girl!!! Men are not to be trusted…Remember? But Urs is different…look at those eyes…not one bit of deceit or evil….but he likes tall blondes….’

“I’d best get back to the kitchen or we won’t be eating until midnight,” she said with a laugh as she rose, placing her pencil in the slot at the bottom of the drawing board.

“What can I do?”

He didn’t move so she squeezed past him, carefully, but still rubbing her bump against his hip in the confined space.

“I need a half bottle of red, a good Burgundy if you can find one…you make a great wall, Herr Buhler…”

He chuckled and moved, following her down the wide stairs.

“Sorry, I was so taken with the sketches you made…wasn’t thinking….one bottle of Burgundy coming up, Chef.”

He zipped past her, taking the steps two at a time, humming as he disappeared down the hall.

‘He seems so young, so happy when he’s here…I wonder what he’s like away from home…does he play the STAR? ….is he moody and quiet or boisterous, maybe suave? I can’t believe that he’s all that different…but then I guess he has to be, has to fit into the world that his talent has taken him to….I’m glad I met him here, where he can just be himself.’

Urs went down the hall to the last door, sped down the few steps into the cellar and opened the door to the wine cellar, closing it quickly behind him and flipping on the light.

His collection was growing, slowly of course since he had only started collecting after he put in the bid on the house. Still he thought that his Oenophile friends would be impressed with some of the vintages, if not with the excellent cellar he had provided to keep them perfectly.

He browsed the racks, settling in the end on a 1998 Pinot Noir Vaudois that he knew would work well, not precisely a Burgundy but with enough of the attributes that he thought Mia would be content to use it.

She was busily cubing a slab of beef shoulder when he returned to the kitchen, big chunks about 1½ inches square that she dropped into a bowl, one of the big cast iron skillets heating on the cooker.

“Swiss wine…most people don’t even realize that the Swiss make wine…it has something to do with the small quantity and the national market consuming most of it…I have heard that it’s very good.”

“I plan on concentrating my collection on our own products…this isn’t really a Burgundy but I think it would work well…want to try a sip?”

“Yes please,” she nodded and he worked at the foil and cork, pouring her a small amount in a stemmed glass. She smelled it, took a sip and swirled it around in her mouth before swallowing and delivering her verdict.

“Perfect…that really is very nice…if you like we can use the rest of the bottle with dinner…I only need about half.”

She washed off her hands, checked the heat in the skillet and began dredging the beef chunks in flour and dropping the pieces into the hot EVOO and Butter.

“Why are you using both Olive Oil and Butter…wouldn’t just one or the other be enough?” He liked watching her cook, her movements sure and swift, economical, using both hands equally.

She kept working but raised a brow and smiled….”What is this…remedial cooking 101…or a pop quiz? The butter is to brown the beef and the olive oil is to prevent it from burning…I know the oil is healthier but just a Tablespoon of butter gives it a nice rich taste.”

Mia put him to work: washing the vegetables and passing them off for her to cut into chunks.

“I wish I had paid more attention when Mami was trying to show me how to cook….she always said that it’s a big mistake to raise sons who can’t cook since they eventually leave home and spend far too much eating out if they can’t even boil water. I’m pretty good with homemade soups and pasta dishes but that’s about it. What can I do now? Put the veggies in with the meat…?”

“Not yet, Herr Impatience…you can give the beef a stir to get the other side brown…be careful… it might spit at you…”

He did as she asked and jumped back laughing when the raw side hit the fat and sputtered.

“I couldn’t do more than a grilled cheese sandwich and I used to burn about half of those before Mom got sick. She had a bunch of cookbooks and recipe cards so I read everything I could get my hands on and practiced…now I seldom use a recipe….Okay, you can turn the burner off now so we can add the wine without catching the kitchen on fire….half a bottle….Perfect…now put the heat back on, just a bit under medium and it’s time to add some flavor…Basil, Bay Leaves, some thyme, salt and pepper….and two cups of beef stock…it’s in that container with the blue lid.”

They worked together easily, as if they had always done so, peeling and poaching the peaches, mashing the berries and whizzing them into a coulis in the blender, cutting the cake into squares, until at last all that was left was to wait for the beef to tenderize over the low flame and add the finishing touches.

Mia went off to shower, leaving Urs browsing through a magazine and listening to the latest Ozzy Osborne CD.

Mami arrived early, as Urs had known she would. He met her at the door with a hug that lifted her off her feet and swept her into the hall, both of them laughing as he brushed the light snow off her cape and hat.

“When are you going to retire this old cape…you’ve had it forever, I think?”

“I know it’s not fashionable but I like it…it’s old and familiar…and warm,” she said with a laugh, swirling it off her shoulders and into his waiting hands.

She was a compact woman, fairly tall for a woman but with not an ounce of fat on her wiry body, her grey hair long enough to braid neatly into a coil at the nape of her neck. It was evident where Urs got his hazel, slanted eyes…one look at her face was enough to confirm that this indeed was his mother.

He put the voluminous bag she had brought in with her on the bench seat in the foyer and took her through into the kitchen. She reached both hands out to Mia, smiling broadly, her eyes crinkling just like Urs’ did.

“I’m so pleased to meet you at last…both of the boys speak so highly of you…may I call you Mia? And you must call me Mami…I think half the Canton does. Oh my dear, something smells wonderful in here….and what a lovely Kitchen…I can tell that this isn’t my son’s planning that made it so perfect to work in.”

At first Mia was a bit shy, hesitant with the bubbly woman, unsure how to respond, but her laughter was infectious and her pleasure when she looked around so real that it was impossible not to relax and enjoy her company. Soon they were chatting like a couple of old friends while Urs looked on with an indulgent smile, not able, nor eager, to interrupt their conversation.

Urs took Mami on a tour of the house when Mia insisted that she needed no help in the kitchen. He kept waiting for her to ask questions or make comments about the arrangement he had with Mia….but only for the first few minutes until he remembered that it wasn’t her style to pry. He would know, by her attitude, if she disapproved but there would be no insinuations, no thinly veiled criticism…that just wasn’t her way.

“And this is the office…Mia uses it for a studio as well…she’s really very talented…that’s some of her work pinned up to dry.”

Mami strolled around the room, looking at the sketches and the finished works in oil or acrylic that were clipped into brackets he had put up on the wall.

“Lovely…she has a keen eye….and you say these are for books, to illustrate the stories? They’re good enough to hang on the wall….that one of the galleon…you can almost feel the breeze from the coming storm…and this landscape…it looks familiar…”

“It’s the falls in the pass…she did it from memory….I love that one too.”

“You must encourage this talent, Urs…it would be a shame to have it go to waste.”

They checked out the conservatory, a little bare yet but ready for the plants that Mia wanted for the kitchen, reminding herself of this every time she cooked….she yearned for little pots of fresh herbs like she had on the kitchen window sill back in Canada.

Mami clapped her hands and grinned, looking so much like Urs when she did, went to the bag they had left in the hall and dug out a carefully covered package, wrapped loosely in newsprint and plastic.

“I have a little house warming gift, for Mia…for the Cook and the Kitchen.”

She gently unwrapped the little pots inside under the watchful eyes of the Cook…chives, rosemary, sage, thyme.

Once more Urs saw Mia’s face flood with uncontrolled happiness, even as happy tears fell from her eyes and she threw her arms around his mother’s neck to hug her.

“What a perfect gift…thank you, Danke!!!”

**

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PostSubject: Chapter 10 Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:38 pm

Dinner was a huge success, everything turned out perfectly and the conversation was interspersed with a great deal of laughter as Mami related some of the antics that came with raising 5 children.

“You will learn to pick your battles when it comes to your son…sometimes it’s good for them to think they have fooled you….Like Urs when he got his first motor bike…he used to take it out at night, thinking I didn’t know….but I knew that he would be very careful so he wouldn’t have to explain any injuries…he did it for almost a year before he was legal.”

“You knew? And all this time I thought I pulled one over on you…” he looked at her, astonished and laughing as he shook his head.

“You were so obsessed with it…I didn’t want to spoil your fun…but I didn’t sleep each time you went out until I heard you coming back in. Tante Sophia admitted that she knew when I spoke to her….she said I had to learn to let go and to trust you, that you were a good boy and would turn into a good man…and she was right….but then she usually was.”

Urs face took on a look of sadness as his mother spoke of the aunt he had loved so much, the one he had always gone to when he didn’t want to worry Mami, the same beloved Tante who left him her treasured antiques as well as years of lovely memories.

“I miss her….her place was like a second home to me…and she never let me get away with anything. I remember once complaining about having to practice so much when I really wanted to go skiing… ‘God has given you this marvelous talent and you would show so little respect that you would waste it? Do your duty to yourself first, child and let the Good Lord find you the time for skiing when you’re done…then you can play without feeling guilty…guilt is a terrible burden…don’t wish it on yourself.’ And she was right…I had just finished practicing when Papi dropped by and offered me a ride to the runs…someone had given him free lift tickets. Whenever I think about taking the easy way out, I think of her little lesson about guilt…”

Mami nodded and reached over to pat his hand.

“Sophia had a way of teaching that made the lessons stick…she is sorely missed.”

Mami left before midnight, hugging both Urs and Mia before she donned her hat and scurried through the chilly night air out to the warmed car that Urs had started for her. He accompanied her out and she hugged him again before she got in, whispering so only he could hear… “I like her, Urs…you’ve done a good thing for both of you by offering Mia a home and work….it will take a very strong man to overcome the fear she undoubtedly has of intimacy, someone who will let her be in control, but I believe she will be worth the effort…..and I like your new home…it suits you…both of you.”

He watched until the taillights disappeared around the curve, thinking about what she had said.

‘Am I reading something into what she said that isn’t there?...She does understand that Mia and I have a business arrangement, nothing more…doesn’t she?’

He smiled and shivered from the cold, taking the steps in a leap and hustling back into the warmth of the house, filing away his mother’s comment for another time.

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PostSubject: Chapter 11 * Sophia's Story * Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:49 pm

CHAPTER ELEVEN…SOPHIA’S STORY

They had planned to leave for Geneva early in the morning, not a problem since they were both early risers. Breakfast and the all important coffee fix was ready when Urs came downstairs, freshly showered and dressed casually…he would change later at the condo for the meetings and the interview.

Mia left him to tidy up while she had her shower, dressed and by the time the sun was warming last night’s light snowfall enough to make the eaves drip, they were entering the nice warm Volvo rental, ready to leave.

“Did you make your bed?” she asked with a cheeky grin, just a bit excited about her first trip to Geneva.

“Does it snow in the Alps in winter?” he shot back with an equally wide grin.

“You’ll like Geneva…it’s old and picturesque, lots of beautiful buildings, a real continental flavor…and some of the best restaurants anywhere. I’ll have to abandon you part of the time to see the lawyer, interview a new manager…though I might be better off to have you present then to see what you think of him…but then I have part of the day off so we can sight-see, play tourist if you like.”

“And there’s your TV interview…is it live or taped?”

“Ah yes, the dreaded interview…always the same questions…it’s done live but you can come if you like, either backstage or in the audience.”

He drove skillfully, a little over the speed limit but confidently, his turns smooth and even as he talked to her, never ceasing his constant alertness of the road and the traffic when they got on the motorway, always aware of the other vehicles and their proximity.

Mia settled back into her seat, enjoying the scenery and the music that wafted out of the car stereo, an older Nightwish CD.

‘It’s so different, being with Urs…there’s always music, either from the stereo or his lovely voice…he even hums when he’s working…I wonder if he does it subconsciously, if he’s even aware of it? And he’s such a study in contrasts…Nightwish to Wagner, Ozzy to Te Kanawe, Chopin to ACDC….at least he isn’t boring…’

The baby gave a massive kick that made her jump. She put her palm against her stomach to feel the movement, wondering inanely if it was a comment on the music.

“Kicking?” he said with a quick glance at her.

“Football, I think…or maybe dancing…I guess you’ve been through this a few times with your sisters.”

“A bit…I was away a lot, in France and Amsterdam but I remember Magda’s first…Mina…she used to keep her Mami up nights with all the kicking…Mina is 4 now and she’s still a night owl…she often wakes about 4 a.m. ready to start her day….unfortunately Magda is the only sister who likes her bed in the morning….her husband, Pol, is a morning person so it works out. You’ll meet them all at Christmas.”

“Will we have a tree for Christmas?”

“Absolutely…but I hope you won’t be disappointed…I don’t like the idea of cutting down a tree for a few days of pleasure so I prefer to use an artificial…it’s a good one, looks very real when it’s set up. I bought a bunch of LED lights for it last year…you know, the energy efficient new ones…and I have several boxes of old decorations from Tante Sophia.”

“You loved her very much didn’t you? Your face takes on a sad but loving look when you speak of her.”

“Yes, I did and still do…she was an amazing, kind woman who gave of herself without question…she never married after losing the one love of her life during the war….”

“Tell me about her, Urs, about her life…”

He laughed self consciously and dared another glance at her.

“It may take a while…she lived to be 87, you know.”

“Please…we have nearly 3 hours before Geneva.”

He took a moment to organize his thoughts, decided to begin at the beginning and started.

“Tante Sophia was actually a cousin of Papi’s but everyone who knew her called her Tante, she was just that kind of person. She was born in Zug in 1920 and never set foot outside the borders of Switzerland in her entire life, except we think during the War, but when she died people who loved her came from all over the world to pay their last respects.

“Her early years were typical of a young girl at that time…school, chores on the farm, playing with her friends in the fields and hiking on the mountains, skiing, sledding. She was very artistic and studied to be a teacher and in the late 30’s, before she turned 20, met another teacher, just a couple of years older than her, Friedrich Getzler. She told me once that she loved him even before she knew his name…just one glance across the square at his laughing face as he talked to his friends and she knew. She called him Getzi and they were inseparable after that first night.

“Getzi was already teaching, Sophia had one more year of study and working as a substitute teacher before she was accredited, but they made plans, wanting to wait until Sophia graduated and then be married and both work until the babies started coming. They bought a house in Willisau and gradually furnished it with pieces that would last forever. Getzi taught at the Academy and there was to be a position offered to Sophia since she had excelled in her studies, top of her class in every field, but her specialty was art…Life looked wonderful for them.

“Then the war that had been imminent for so long erupted with the assassination of the Arch duke in Sarajevo and the advance of the Nazis into country after country in Europe….As a neutral country, Switzerland was swarmed by the Nazis and the Allies…the atmosphere changed, like being in the middle of ravenous dogs who wanted to fight but were holding back. Getzi was approached by an old friend who tried to recruit him into the Resistance….at first he said no, he would not take arms against anyone…she told me once that he was a very gentle man, couldn’t even kill the chicken for their Sunday dinner…but he was also very thoughtful and intelligent. He saw how the Nazis were creeping closer and closer to possibly annexing our country as well and finally decide that it was time to make a stand.

“Sophia cried and pleaded, they talked all one night and by morning she was convinced that he had to follow his heart…and she had to do all she could to be supportive….he joined the Resistance.

“At first it was just a question of helping people escape over the mountains, then when Paris fell they became more active….he would be gone for days at a time…she would teach his classes at the Academy while back in their little house, the basement was crammed with friends who would have been shot…or worse…if they had been found…they were Jews or Gypsies, others who offended the Nazis and soldiers that had to be ferried to safety. Our ‘neutral’ country was becoming a dangerous place to be.

“Sophia wouldn’t talk about it but Papi told me that several times she donned her skis and took arms or supplies to the men in the Resistance, hidden in the mountains….at least once she was shot by a patrol but not captured since the sound triggered an avalanche that buried the soldiers.

“Then she vanished and it wasn’t until the war was over and the members of the Resistance came home that word reached the family of her survival.

“She had gone out with medical supplies, was to be met by Getzi and another man…she came to the meeting place just as a patrol shot him….she never told anyone what happened then but I’ve often thought that somehow she killed those soldiers and went on to join the Resistance and fight alongside them until the end…”

He stopped for a moment, thinking about the grief mixed with anger that his dear Tante must have felt.

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PostSubject: Chapter 11 * Sophia's Story * Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:51 pm

“After the war she moved back into the little house in Willisau and went back to teaching. She was the kind of teacher who did not suffer fools kindly and those who took her classes knew that they must always do their best…still she was always approachable, willing to give of her time and patience, spent hours with poor students, helping them through the intricacies of irregular verbs and math problems that seemed to be written in a foreign language.
She demanded much, but never belittled, always seemed to know just how far a student’s abilities could take him, encouraged, praised, and rewarded…her house was always full of laughter and young people and the scent of fresh baked cookies…she was always there with a hug or a quiet calm manner as she listened without judging to the problems that teens find earth shattering, allowing them to realize the solutions themselves merely by talking it out.

“She didn’t slow down much as the years went on, even though she retired at 66…and she didn’t change…still dressed in black, her hair snow white since she came back when the war ended, still helping whenever she could, perhaps a little slower when she skied or tending to nap more the last few years. And then one morning, last winter, there was no smoke coming from her chimney and when the neighbor checked on her she was gone…gone to be with her Getzi, dressed as she had requested for her funeral, in the bridal gown that she had purchased so long ago and never used….”

Mia had watched as he recounted the story, watched the tears that threatened then spilled when he pulled over into a rest stop.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t realize it would cause you so much pain…”

He wiped his face and smiled at her…”No…I needed to share that with you…it feels…right, to remember her.”

“She will never really be gone, Urs, not so long as you keep her in your heart.”

He stared at her for a moment and then softly gave her a compliment that she treasured for years after.

“She will never be far from my heart, I know that as surely as I know my own name…you remind me of her…strong, brave, determined, talented…you even look a bit like her…not too tall and with that curly mop of hair, that twinkle in your eyes, the way you make the best of a situation and always seem about to smile.”

He engaged the gears once more and eased out onto the motorway.

“I think if I ever have a daughter I would like to name her Sophia.”

Mia nodded, wiping her own tears away.

“A fitting memorial, I think.”

They rode in silence for a few moments then Mia laughed a bit ruefully.

“What?” Urs asked, glancing at her.

“I was just thinking how wrong first impressions can be. I thought that you weren’t the kind of man who thought about getting married and having children….just shows you how off the mark I was.”

“Not necessarily…I don’t think much of marriage except as an almost business like arrangement…now children…that’s something else entirely…I don’t find that marriage is needed in order to have a family.”

Mia looked at him in surprise…. “But what about vows and promises…what about the children having the father’s name?”

“Just a matter of red tape…a promise between two people should be enough…when I make a promise, I will do anything to keep my word…and as for the children…unless some one contests the child’s right to bear the father’s name, what would the problem be? That’s why common law marriages work…mutual trust is far stronger than any paper issued by the government or church.”

Mia sighed…”I think we are about to have our first real argument, so maybe we better change the subject…except…are your views perhaps twisted by coming from a single parent family?”

She saw him tense and wondered if her blunt way of speaking had touched a raw nerve.

After a strained silence he answered but didn’t look at her.

“Maybe…I don’t know what happened between them…neither of them ever talked to us about it except to say that they still loved us above anyone or anything in the world and the split had nothing to do with how much they cared for us. Papa did what he could for us after that but he went back to college and money was tight for a long time…I’ve never heard either of them say anything bad or mean about the other and we kept as close as possible, even after he finished his degree, got a good job and re-married. DeeDee is a nice woman, not very motherly but then they never had children. Also my sister Ilsa is divorced after 4 years of hell with the wrong man so I don’t have really great examples of marriage in my family…though she’s with a really nice guy now, one who treats her as he should.”

“Neither do I but I come from a small family anyway…and Mom would never have left Dad, regardless of how cruel and mean he was…she loved him, married him and went to her death with his name on her lips, loving him to the end. As far as I know he never hit her, only me when Bryan wasn’t around and Bryan only until he got big enough to fight back…it made my brother mean though …oh, how he loves to cause pain.”

Again he looked at her for a split second then back at the highway. She had paled as she thought about her family and he quickly changed the subject.

“You ready for that Pit Stop yet? I think I can hear your little family singing ‘Time for a break, Mama!!’

She laughed, as he had hoped she would and agreed that a nice hot chocolate would go down well about now.

He took the next exit and soon pulled into a chalet type building that was part small Hotel and part restaurant for weary travelers. He took Mia’s arm to aid her across the slippery surface of the parking area while she carefully picked her unwieldy body over the few icy patches, shielding her bump from a nippy wind off the mountain range with her arms.

Inside a young woman spotted Urs and flung herself on him, wrapping her arms around his neck to give him a loud, wet kiss that he didn’t resist…much.

“Bea, look at you…how you’ve grown!!”

“You bad boy…it’s been forever since you dropped by…wait until Onkle Dieter hears that you’re here. Oh…”

Bea was tall and slender, the natural icy blonde hair that Urs had said he favored wound around her head in a braid that circled twice, rosy cheeked, full bosom and tiny waist that Mia with her present girth, envied. The girl almost reluctantly offered Mia her hand when she finally noticed that Urs was not alone.

“I’m Beatrix…I’ve known Urs forever I think but haven’t seen him for a while.”

“Bea, this is Aramia, my assistant,” he said, fully aware of the crush that the teenager had suffered for him over the years and rather enjoying the bristle between the two women.

‘Behave, you fool…these are not two cheap little hussies that you would like to see fight over you…although I think if she weren’t trachtig, Mia could take her…”

He smiled and asked Bea for a booth, guiding Mia between the tables and moving the table a bit to accommodate her tummy. He helped with her coat and pretended not to notice when Bea left them to peruse the menus, her gait a bit stiff, definitely in a huff.

Mia leaned over and grinned at him, speaking softly.

“You let her think the worst on purpose didn’t you? That this is your baby….have I been promoted to running defense for you now against young, infatuated girls?”

He grinned back.

“Sorry…ever since Bea matured she’s been a bit…over zealous…I had forgotten that she sometimes works here on the weekends.”

Mia laughed.

“Liar!! You aren’t sorry at all…in fact I think you rather enjoyed seeing us face off….and in front of the Baby too…for shame, Urs.”

He roared with laughter, inordinately pleased that she hadn’t lost her sense of humor.

They warmed up with hot chocolate and pastries, used the facilities and were soon back on the road, leaving a very subdued Bea behind to mourn her ‘lost love’.

When they were safely back on the road Urs was quiet for a while then voiced what had been niggling at his subconscious.

“Mia please don’t do that again…put your pregnancy down or call the fact that people think the Baby is mine ‘the worst’. I would be proud to have you carry my child, in fact I find myself thinking of Baby as ours a lot of the time…a child couldn’t want a better parent than you will be and I’m happy to be sharing this time with you.”

She was silent for so long that he grew nervous and stole a peek at her. Her face was turned away and it wasn’t until he reached over and took her hand that she turned tear filled eyes to him.

“You mad at me?” he asked, forcing himself to concentrate on the road.

She squeezed his hand.

“No…how could I be? I couldn’t think of anything to say, except ‘I’m sorry’ and that didn’t seem sufficient. You really are a lovely, caring man, Urs Toni Buhler, one of a kind. I would be proud to share this tiny life with you.”

He retained his gentle grip on her hand, resting it against his thigh for a long time, only releasing her when they came to the last bit of slippery ‘S’ curves before the down grade to the motorway, humming softly along with the stereo, for the first time really understanding how his sisters’ husbands had felt about the anticipation and pride pregnancy caused in a man’s life.

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PostSubject: Chapter 12 * Geneva * Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:53 pm

CHAPTER TWELVE…GENEVA

Such an early start meant that they arrived at the condo in Geneva mid morning.

It was a secured building with uniformed guards in the glassed in lobby, just in front of a bank of elevators. Urs was recognized, stopped for a moment to ask about messages and then took Mia’s arm to lead her to the lift. He used his key card on the call button and seconds later they stepped in and were whisked soundlessly up to the 9th floor.

Everything was posh, in Aramia’s estimation like a luxury hotel …the hall way to the two suites on this floor, decked out with thick muted designed carpet and elegant tables with masses of tropical flowers rising from stone and moss filled crystal vases.

Urs opened the door to the suite on the left and motioned her inside, taking both of their bags and placing them on the highly polished floor of the foyer and dropping his key card on a small marble topped entry table.

He had told her during the drive that the condo was Designer decorated and she could see it immediately, the contrast between the farm and this residence was striking, as if it had been done for a magazine…or a different man.

Cool, elegant, stylish…those words fit the sleek lines of the modern furnishings of molded Acrylic, Steel and glass, everything very minimalist, done in tones of metal, glass and leather, black and white with accents of silver predominating, the only color in the Lounge coming from a splash of red in a huge ultra modern painting on the long wall leading to the sliding doors of the balcony.

The concept was open, airy, not unpleasant but just a little devoid of emotion, the lounge flowing across polished concrete floors, painted with coat after coat of ebony that gave a feeling of depth, as if you would sink into the surface, on into a spacious dining area with a glass topped oval table, the angular high-backed chairs lending a bit of softness with black velvet covers, the table base a bit of whimsy as it was composed of 3 stainless steel treble clefs. No matter where you looked there was nothing personal in evidence, nothing to indicate an occupant, no personal stamp to delineate the soul of the owner.

To the left a doorway opened into a well equipped kitchen, again following the black, white and steel theme, all the usual appliances, plus a wine safe built into one of the counters. All the small appliances and tools were housed, out of sight…a very neat space that gave the impression of seldom being used.

“I don’t spend much time here,” he said, coming up behind her as she stood in the dining area, absorbing the surroundings. “It’s very chic I guess, but not very welcoming…. Every night when I would come back from the venue, I thought about doing something to cheer it up, but performing is so draining that I just crashed and didn’t do anything…if you think of anything to make it more…homey…I’d really appreciate your advice. C’mon, the bedrooms are down the other side…they’re just as austere though.”

Mia smiled at him and followed him down the hall.

“I don’t see much of the man I know in this place…or do you become someone different here in the city?”

He laughed and opened the door of one of the bedrooms.

“Only in public…. This will be your room…if you want to change anything, just go for it.”

Again the room had been done in minimalist style, few furnishings: King sized bed with four black iron posts, foot and head board, glass and steel side tables, lamps, a black leather chaise and a plasma TV built into the wall opposite the bed, above a glass topped steel table that held an onyx vase with an orchid spray arching out of the depths. One white wall was almost all closet, the catches hidden, a wide doorway at the end was the entrance to the 2 room bath.

“My suite is across the hall…I couldn’t stand the lack of color, couldn’t sleep there until I snuck in a red duvet, like the one I have at home.”

Mia grinned at him.

“Your blankie???...no problem…a few little touches, the kind that would drive your decorator to tears and you’ll feel right at home…do you want me to run the changes past you first?”

“Surprise me!!” he said with a cheeky grin and left her to collect their bags from the hall.

**

Urs dropped Mia off at a complex of stores then sped away to keep his appointment with the lawyer. She had refused to clue him in on what specifically she was looking for to brighten up the coldness of the condo, repeating his words, ‘Surprise me!’, each time he tried to wheedle it out of her and laughing at him when he pretended to sulk. ‘That’s alright,’ he thought. ‘I may just have a few surprises to unveil myself after meeting with Nate.’

He was a well known face at the legal offices and was escorted right in to the inner office. Nate rose from behind the desk and came around to shake Urs’ hand, eager to find out what was on his friend, and client’s mind.

They had known each other since Urs was very young, met for the first time at Tante Sophia’s house when 10 year old Urs went looking for sympathy from his aunt and found her tutoring the older boy in the intricacies of Swiss law. The six year age gap came to mean nothing to them…they had a mutual interest in the kind woman and over the years had developed an open friendship that wasn’t affected by distance or diverging careers….or lifestyle choices.

Nate was openly gay, back at a time when it was not popular to be forthcoming about your sexuality. The fact of his friend’s lifestyle mattered little to Urs…their friendship wasn’t based on anything as banal as sex, though as the years went by they found that the topic naturally cropped up now and then…Urs was comfortable teasing Nate that he was his only male friend that never caused a problem by vying for the same woman…Nate shot back that Urs was safe from him since he preferred husky partners, not pretty boys.

They settled on the long leather sofa with a beer each and Urs told him about Mia, everything he knew, keeping nothing back.

“Are you worried about the legality of hiring Aramia as your assistant? I don’t foresee a problem there, if she has been honest with you. I can take care of the red tape for you, make the applications etc….you just have to give me the details, like wages, benefits and so forth. This business with your agent is a bit more troublesome. I’ll draw up the papers to take care of that as well and have Cari notify him that his services are terminated….I have some friends at the accounting firm that will expedite things in a timely fashion, so there won’t be any time for him to try to hide what he’s done….from the little I’ve been able to discover from what Mia sent me, it looks like your automatic withdrawals for investments weren’t touched, just your personal accounts and retirement funds…it kind of looks like they skimmed off the top, hoping you wouldn’t notice so you don’t need to tighten your belt or anything…you still have plenty to meet your commitments and a nice buffer unless you start buying those bimbos more jewelry…. you realize that collecting what was taken may be a long drawn out process?”

“I’m more concerned that it ends and doesn’t happen to any-one else….and there’s something else that I want to check out with you…it’s about Mia and her child….hear me out first and then I promise to listen to what you think….”

Nate raised his brow, then his hand…he went to the little bar frig and got them each a beer, sat opposite Urs again and nodded for him to continue.

“I’ve been thinking about ways that her family could trace her, and a few areas popped up that have me worried….”

Nate listened, wanting to break in to the monologue but waiting until Urs had run down before voicing his opinion…at length.

**

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PostSubject: Chapter 12 * Geneva * Part 2   Wed May 27, 2009 9:55 pm

She was late meeting him for lunch and giggled a bit as she strode rapidly down the sidewalk, knowing that the minute he saw her coming he would glance at his watch.

Her morning shopping expedition had gone well, everything she wanted had been easily found in 2 stores and the storekeepers had been quite willing to deliver everything late in the afternoon…that worked out perfectly since Urs had a dinner party that evening and she would have time to arrange everything just the way it was laid out in her mind.

She found the restaurant easily enough and stepped inside, approaching the hostess as she took off her gloves and unbuttoned her coat.

The woman was busy and Mia scanned the room, saw him seated at a choice window table, saw the quick smile and the glance at his wrist before he raised his hand and beckoned for her to join him.

The hostess turned to her but Mia smiled and motioned towards Urs.

“Thank you…I see my friend…I’ll join him.”

She made her way through the crowded establishment, moving quickly and easily, not aware of the glances of the patrons, a lovely, elegant young woman, radiating happiness and pleasure, the inescapable glow of fertility about her rounded body, her cheeks flushed from the cold and good health.

Urs rose as she approached and took her hands, kissing her cheek softly as he whispered ‘You’re late!’ and laughed. He helped remove her coat, holding it out for a server who had magically appeared to take it out of sight, seated her and returned to his chair.

‘Why have I never noticed how lovely she is? So pure and sweet, so…so vibrant… so…alive…’

“How did the shopping go?”

Mia grinned at him, fully aware that he was about to try and find out what her plans for the condo were.

“Perfect!! I found everything I wanted: the orange and pink fun fur pillows, the disco ball, lava lamps, the most amazing chandelier made from old bike wheels, movie posters from the 30’s…” she couldn’t continue and lost it completely, laughing at the emotions that flooded his expressive face….disbelief and fear being the dominant ones until she broke into laughter.

“I didn’t believe you…Paco might do something like that to me but not you…I didn’t believe it, not for a second,” he protested.

“Right…that shade of grey is your natural color is it?”

The server saved him from further protestations, though she did catch the muttered “she’s going to pay for that” and the little smile as he hid behind the menu.

Over lunch he told her about the lawyer’s recommendations regarding his accounts and his wish to fire the agent. She agreed to go with him to interview the new firm and waited for him to talk about what else they had discussed but he was holding something back, not yet prepared to talk about it, so she let it drop.

“What are you doing between now and time to go to the studio?”

“I have to be there early…a meeting with the assistant Director to discuss the new contracts for the touring company but I have until 1700hrs…did you need some help?”

Mia shook her head…

“Not really…boring stuff you would likely hate…I need to pick up some art supplies that Otto ordered for me and then I might go shopping for some more suitable clothing…and new boots.”

“And a nice coat…I’ll go with you…you need a man’s perspective and I’ve had a lot of practice…sisters…remember?”

As it turned out, his help was greatly appreciated. Not only did he act as pack animal, with only the occasional complaint, but he was tireless, getting her to try on outfits and model them for him, humming a little ‘runway-music’ for her, his eye for color, style and fashion only out done by his practicality as he encouraged her to mix and match, most outfits doing double duty…the only thing they argued about was the coat.

Mia had looked lovingly at a full length black suede coat with a zip out hooded fun fur lining for the most severe weather, but blanched when the clerk mentioned the price. It suited her perfectly, was belted but looked equally stunning without as it would have to be at the present time and would suit her after, when her figure returned.

“Look at it logically, Mia…you will have this coat still when your son is 10 and it will still be fashionable…quality lasts forever… like that old cape that Mami is so fond of.”

She was caving in, he could see it and nodded to the clerk who smiled and hung it from a silver rack and slid a soft leather carrier over it.

While she was still amenable, he steered her to the boots, added gloves and a soft cashmere scarf and bustled her out of the store with the leather carrier over his shoulder, his hands laden with almost as many bags as he could manage.

‘She looks in shock…has no one ever encouraged her to treat herself? Silly question, Fool…of course they didn’t…it’s funny…I’ve been shopping with other women I know, spent a lot more money, and usually on useless things, bracelets, designer shoes or handbags… but I’ve never had this much fun doing it before… she looked so cute, prancing out of the dressing room in time to the music, twirling around for me…and that laugh…it starts deep in her gut and just kind of bubbles out….wish I could have got her to tell me what she bought for the suite…’

They made a quick trip to the condo to unload, Urs changed his shirt for a deep burgundy one with a matching silk tie for the interview and they were off to the Studio.

**
The Television world was a new experience for Mia. There seemed to be organized chaos everywhere as people scurried around, calling out to others, cables snaked across the floors, making walking a hazardous enterprise, makeup people hovered, half dressed musicians stood outside getting one last puff on their cigarettes, those who would be on camera wandered, dressed in their finery but with tissues tucked into the neck of their shirts/gowns to protect against the heavy stage makeup that the cameras made necessary.

Urs wound his way through the mob with ease, accustomed to the noise and activity, one long arm around Mia’s shoulders to protect and lead her. They found the meeting room where he was to discuss contracts with the Assistant Director of the Grand Theatre and entered, shutting the door to seal out the activity in the rest of the complex.

The next hour was a swirl of activity for Mia as she was introduced, offered a beverage and seated in a comfortable chair with her recorder and a pad and pen to take notes.

Urs and Franco ironed out the details, making crossouts on the old contract, adding lines here and there, debating the nuts and bolts of who should be in the touring company, how many support staff would be needed, who would do the arrangements for the tour and what venues of the many that had requested performances, would be the most viable for the tour.

Finally they settled on an arrangement that was agreeable to Urs, who would be singing the principal roles and was the “Name” that would sell tickets. He shook hands with Franco and almost seemed surprised to still find Mia sitting slightly behind him, listening and taking notes….she had been so quiet.

“We need to have new contracts drawn up and then I’ll sign them once they have the corrections made…could you see if the secretarial pool here would have time to do it so I don’t have to make another trip?”

“Urs, I can do it while you do your interview…just give me the revised contract…and I have my notes and the tape…if I can just borrow a computer and a printer I should be able to finish it by the time the show is done, then you can sign it. I’ll make a copy for you as well, Herr Rubelin…I assume you will be staying until the end of the show.”

“Ja, Ja, my dear…most efficient of you…I will leave immediately after…I shall not attend the reception, though I did enjoy it last time…their caterer is superb.”

That settled, they separated, Urs to makeup, Mia to find an office that might loan her the use of a computer and Herr Rubelin to do his favorite thing…watch the pretty women who worked at the studio.

As they parted, the Director leaned close to Urs to make a comment that ruffled Urs feathers, though he tried not to show it.

“Such a pretty and efficient little thing…it’s sad to see her in her present state…so young, so lovely…very kind of you to do the right thing, take responsibility and give her some work…though of course there will be talk…”

As calmly as he could without losing his temper, Urs replied.

“Aramia is in her mid twenties, Director…and quite happy with her condition…I’ve only known her for a few short weeks but she has done wonders in tidying up my life…her ‘condition’ doesn’t have any bearing on her value to me as an assistant.”

“Of course, of course…I just…” he blustered, realizing too late that he had over stepped.

“Excuse me…I have to get made up for the cameras.”

Mia had hoped to watch at least part of the show in person but it was not to be. By the time she found a desk and equipment that wasn’t needed, the show had started. She made a rough copy of the new contract then printed it, made corrections, cleaned it up and re-printed it again, checked the wording, then re-checked it for typos before printing clean copies, one for Urs, one for the Director and as insurance, one for her to keep on file in case Urs’ lawyer needed a copy.

She had been watching the show while the printer was doing it’s thing, checking it out on the TV’s that seemed to grow from every wall in the complex. The interviewer asked all the usual questions but Urs handled them as if they were fresh and never tendered before. He sidestepped personal questions neatly, managed to avoid the manicured hands of the blonde interviewer most of the time and kept his eyes on her face when she insisted on leaning what obviously were enhanced breasts, dangerously close to spilling out of her already low cut top.

It was almost a relief when he rose and joined the small orchestra to sing an Aria….except that several times the cameras cut back to the hostess, Claudia something or other, apparently a very popular afternoon talk show hostess.

As always he sang beautifully, caressing the notes, embracing the melody, giving it life and feeling…there was a feeling of loss when the music faded and he bowed his head to the small audience.

Mia tidied up the little mess she had made, turned off the equipment and gathered up the contracts, placing the third one in her briefcase with her notes and going in search of Herr Rubelin before he could leave.

She caught him in the hall, busily shrugging into his top coat. He signed the contracts without reading them, almost apologetic in his haste, took his and bid her goodbye, nearly running out of the stage door with his driver having to quick step to keep up with him.

‘What a funny little man…he acted like he was scared of me… and he needs Urs signature on that copy…he should have waited, just for a moment….’ she thought as she folded Urs copy over and went in search of him.

The reception was in full, noisy swing when she returned from cornering Herr Rubelin so she bypassed the busy conference room and went on down the hall towards the dressing rooms.

It wasn’t urgent that he sign the papers today, tomorrow would do since they were well ahead of the deadline. She would leave it with his briefcase so he could read it later, perhaps in the limo on his way to dinner at Le Rendezvous, reservations already made by herself earlier while he was busy with his interview in the studio ….. Herr Buhler, party of 12 for 2030h. It would be a close call but she could make it back to the condo, accept the delivery and return just as the reception ended and Urs was ready to leave for the restaurant.

The door was closed but she didn’t knock, assuming that he was still at the reception…she froze, startled into immobility when she opened it quietly and saw him inside.

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PostSubject: Chapter 13 Part 1   Wed May 27, 2009 9:56 pm

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

He was locked in a passionate embrace with the tall blonde who had conducted the interview, taking many opportunities to touch his hand or lean over to him to expose her enhanced cleavage.

The scene was engraved in her mind in detail, the tenderness and passion of his open mouth caressing the full lips, the rosy pink of his tongue delving between her parted lips, the silk clad leg of the blonde as he pushed her gown up and stroked across a bare hip, his hand disappearing and making the woman moan….. His suit jacket was gone, there was nothing to hide the straining bulge in his trousers, nor his wide stance and rapid breathing…..

For only a moment Mia was frozen in place….the contract fluttered to the floor from nerveless fingers as she came back to life and pulled the door closed, hoping desperately that she had made no noise to alert him that she had seen the two lovers.

She fled down the hall and outside, trying for calm in the cold air, shivering with nerves and shock, after a few minutes remembering the contract and moaning as she envisioned it falling to the floor.

‘What’s the matter with me? Of course he’s attracted to her…she practically raped him with her eyes all during the interview….why do I have this feeling of…what the hell is it?...jealousy, loss, grief…lust? He’s my friend, my boss…nothing more…but mein gott what a sensual man he is….so full of passion and yet he was being so tender with her, his mouth on hers gentle but demanding, those lovely, long fingered hands touching…STOP IT!!!! Stop wishing for what you can’t…no, SHOULDN’T have, shouldn’t want….it’s selfish, insane…you have responsibilities, he has needs… and you’re damaged…even now thinking about Urs and …and HER, Milo’s face intrudes….’

When she could stand the chill no longer she went back in, hoping to retrieve the papers and her coat without being seen, but of course it was not to be.

He came from the reception as she was halfway down the hall, unsmiling, walking up to her and reaching inside his suit jacket to retrieve the papers, a partly full glass of something in his free hand that he downed in one long pull before speaking.

“I signed them….I assume you have already edited them since your initials are on each page, so there’s no need for me to. You made the reservations?”

“Yes, for 2030h….Urs….I’m sorry….”

“This is not an appropriate time to discuss what happened, Mia…would you take my briefcase back to the condo, please, then join us for dinner at the restaurant….it will seem odd if you don’t attend so I would like you to, at least for a while.”

Abruptly he spun on his heel and went back to join his friends, leaving her in the hall. Near tears, she retrieved her coat, both briefcases and her handbag and left the building, walking out to the street and flagging a taxi to return to the condo.

He mingled with the people at the reception, putting on his actor’s face and appearing gracious, though perhaps a bit cool. Inside he was seething.

‘Why didn’t I lock the door? and why in hell do I feel so guilty? Mia is my friend, my assistant, that’s all…then why do I feel like I was caught cheating on her? And with Claudia, of all people… she’s nothing but the modern version of a courtesan, cheap, flashy, easy…and it’s been far too long…Mein gott, my head hurts trying to figure this out…all I can see is her face when I glanced in the mirror and saw her standing in the doorway…and then in the hall…I was so afraid she was going to say she was leaving me…I felt like my mouth was frozen…and I treated her far too harshly, not the way she deserved….ACCCCH!!! ….there must be some Stolichnaya here somewhere…this sissy champagne just isn’t dulling my headache…’

He found the bar and the Stoli, abandoned his flute of champagne and wandered off to a quiet corner with the Stoli and a glass, trying desperately to turn off his brain and dull his guilt.

**

She really didn’t have the heart for decorating when she returned to the condo. Somehow the austere, cold feeling of the décor suited her mood and she left her coat in the foyer, slumping in one of the leather chairs and thinking about what had happened.

‘I upset him…I didn’t mean to, it was an honest mistake…but it did upset him, I can tell…there was a distinct scent of liquor about him when we talked in the hall and in the few short weeks I’ve known Urs I’ve never seen him indulge in hard liquor…well there was a reception going on…maybe he felt he had to be sociable…Gawd, I don’t want to go out for dinner with his friends…I just want to crawl into bed and pull the blankets up over my head…why is this upsetting me so? I don’t want him and he’s made it abundantly clear I’m not his type…but for a moment there I just wanted to rip that blonde’s face off…that’s jealousy, Girl and you have no right to be jealous!!!’

She shook off her useless maundering and went in her bedroom to choose what to wear to the ‘Command Performance Dinner’. Security buzzed the intercom to announce the delivery of her purchases as she was hanging up the outfits she had bought with his help, a welcome interruption since the fun they had modeling and picking out her new clothes no longer gave her the same pleasant memories. She accepted the delivery, asking to have everything placed in the little alcove near the grand piano…tomorrow would be soon enough to try and generate some enthusiasm for transforming the space.

By quarter of eight, or 20:00 H as they would say here, she had dressed, added a bit of makeup to a too pale face and was ready to join Urs and his party at Le Rendezvous. She had purposely chosen a shimmery black maternity two piece, long skirt and full top with a long sleeved, modestly scoop necked top, austere and business like, no flash, much like her mood. She bundled up in the long coat and decided to walk a bit since she was early.

Geneva was really a pretty city, especially at night…the streets were already decked out for the Christmas season, glowing with wreaths and fairy lights on many of the buildings, even the boats in the harbor getting into the early season spirit by stringing lights from mast or smoke stack, some even playing carols over their sound systems.

Her mood lightened as she walked along in the crisp air, enjoying the views, the drifts of music coming to her from open doors or the slowly moving boats. As if he knew how she felt, the baby began kicking, gently exercising in his watery world. She slid her hand into a pocket and felt the movements, communing with her child, indulging in the joy that thinking of him always gave her.

‘Why do I love this little being so? I used to think about one day marrying, of having children but ones born of love, not the violence and pain that created this small being inside of me…it doesn’t make sense to love him so much…but I do…after everything that’s happened over the past years, this is like a gift from God, a precious life given into my keeping…I won’t let you down, Baby Boy…I promise, I won’t let you down!’

Soothed and strengthened, she flagged down a taxi and went on to the restaurant.

**

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